The Kind Life is a community around Alicia Silverstone and The Kind Diet where friends, doctors, experts in green living, and members share vegan tips.

Kind Cures

Treat PCOS with a Vegan Diet

I’ve seen a few of you kind-lifers asking about PCOS in the forum. I wanted to ask expert Dr. Neal Barnard to weigh in on this syndrome and how a vegan diet can help. Read his insight below…

Plant-Based Diets for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
By Neal Barnard, M.D.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a disorder involving excessive hormone production by the ovaries and the adrenal glands. It affects approximately 5 percent of women in the United States and usually begins during puberty. Although PCOS has no specific cure, weight loss, medical treatment, and dietary changes such as a implementing a low-fat plant-based diet can usually control most symptoms.

Common PCOS symptoms include obesity, hirsutism (growth of thick hair in areas where hair is normally minimal or absent, such as the face, chest, and breasts), and absence of menstrual periods. Affected women generally have multiple ovarian cysts and may be infertile. They often have diabetes, male-pattern baldness, and acne.

The cause of PCOS is unknown. But it appears to be, in part, related to diet and lifestyle factors, particularly those that influence body weight and insulin. Although weight loss is an accepted treatment, even relatively lean women may develop PCOS, and diet changes may affect the outcome of this disorder even in the absence of weight change.

A diet that addresses cardiovascular risk factors is appropriate for women with PCOS. Roughly half of women with PCOS are obese, and losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of weight results in a resumption of menstrual periods and a decrease in androgen hormones.

A plant-based diet is the best option for women with PCOS. The majority of women with PCOS also suffer from insulin resistance. If insulin isn’t working properly then hormones get out of kilter, among other mishaps. Fiber helps tremendously with hormone issues, and of course fiber is only found in plants!

There are several additional reasons why a diet low in fat and high in fiber and whole grains (aka a vegan diet) is superior to other weight-loss treatments. Such a diet helps reverse diabetes, which affects 50 to 70 percent of women with PCOS. Low–fat, high–fiber diets also reduce body weight and effectively address unhealthy cholesterol levels.

 

Do you know anyone who suffers from PCOS?

Do you have any more questions about how a plant-based diet can help treat this syndrome?

Are there any other health benefits of a vegan diet you’re curious to know more about?

Leave all your questions, answers, and comments in the comments below! I’ll do my best to answer your questions or requests in a future blog.

 

Photo source: flickr.com / wecometolearn, photoxpress.com / .shock

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  • Jenny Penrod

    It might be beneficial if it were mentioned that potatoes, white bread (really anything with white flour), white rice, and refined sugar (and possibly soy) should be avoided, or at least limited by most, if not all women with PCOS, and why. All of these come from plant sources, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for us. (Yes, I have PCOS, and I’m working to get and keep myself healthy.) The fact is, all of these are really terrible options for those who have PCOS (or diabetes, heart disease, insulin resistance… and the list goes on) along with just about every other refined “food”.

    Since this is an article about plant source foods and PCOS, you might want to bring up nuts, seeds & their oils, flax (yes, it’s a seed, but it’s extra helpful for PCOS) olives & olive oil, avocados, and blueberries, and why these are especially beneficial for women with PCOS.

    Any discussion on PCOS should to mention exercise, and that simply adding walking, swimming, stretching and/or yoga can have a really positive effect on women with PCOS.

    Without these things, this article feels incomplete.

  • Heidi Efner

    I have PCOS and had an oophrectomy and hysterectomy aged 36 (now 42).
    The PCOS presented in my early thirties when I went off the Pill. I
    noted various changes after going off the Pill but the most significant was sudden, cystic acne after a lifetime of good skin, and weight gain that deposited in
    new/different places. I became an apple after being an hourglass all my life; I put on 20 pounds in a matter of months. The changes were significant to me but didn’t make much of an impression on my doctors. A dermatologist suggested oral antibiotics. My GP suggested I cut back on calories. My then-husband commented on everything I put in my mouth and then bought me candy bars if I started to look better than he thought I should.

    Today I am vegan and I take 1000 mg of Metformin
    each day. I run about 40 miles a week and strength train 3-4 times a
    week. I’m 5’5 and weigh 161. When I was on the pill I weighed about
    135-140. I went vegan after being faced with a lifetime of eating
    scrambled egg whites and chicken breasts – food I absolutely hated. I had been
    vegetarian in the past and so it was easy to do, and I find that I am
    generally happier with my food choices as a vegan. I haven’t seen
    dramatic weight loss as others have – or decreases in my cholesterol
    levels. This is very frustrating. I eat better and am more active than
    most people I know and yet…my trainer and my doctors tell me to just “try
    harder.” As if there is something I’m hiding. Even my own vegan community questions that modest success because they’d rather publicize the dramatic weight loss and blood pressure drops of other folks. And so I try “harder” and the results are very modest. Do I feel better? Yes. Do I look better? Yes. Am I on half the medication? Yes.
    Do I have lots of muscle vs. fat? Yes. Can I run a 10K “fat” when I
    couldn’t run a mile “thin?” Yes. But it’s tough to be 161 lbs and not
    135 lbs. I haven’t measured my body fat lately but two years vegan I’ve lost just one inch from my hips and one inch from my waist (though I see a visible difference through my whole body.) It’s just tough. It’s tough to be different at the dinner table when those results are so modest. I continue with vegan because I enjoy the food and I am an animal lover, but it is sometimes hard to keep my chin up. Thanks for listening.

    • 1521CeCe .

      Thanks for sharing your story. I completely understand how it is when you eat right and exercise but Doctors and people in general think that you are doing something wrong otherwise you would not be so overweight. I had one friend say,”if you want to see a change then do something about it.” Despite the fact I was working out 6 days a week and eating low GI foods. So yes, I connect with your story. PCOS sucks! I do try to see the positive which is if I didn’t have PCOS I would not be so concerned with health. Before I was diagnosed I was caught up in life: working, taking care of family and me on the back burner. Perhaps the changes I’m making now will help me live a lot longer.

    • I won’t let PCOS defeat me

      What makes a difference is not worrying so much about the weight factor, more of the health factor. When I wanted to lose weight to lose weight, it never happened. Now that I’m doing it for my health so I look into healthy supplements, enyzmes, probiotics etc, it’s a different story. It does take a lot of research because doctors are not helpful with nutrition stuff and even nutritionists just believe in portion control and calorie counting which does absolutely nothing to someone with IR. Someone being severely overweight is a sign of a health issue, not laziness. Oh yeah, and who cares what others think. They don’t know how it is to live with PCOS. They don’t even know what PCOS is. I had been bullied so much for being fat and hairy. I am a very educated person yet I have noticed many times that because of my looks, people are usually surprised about that. Subconsciously people do think good-looking people are better and smarter plus women with PCOS usually have low self-esteem so we are often underemployed in the lack of confidence or because of depression and anxiety.

    • Sharonacles

      I know exactly how you feel. I’ve tried so hard in the past to lose weight, but even eating healthy & exercising hard I still hardly lose anything. And then when I get sick of pushing myself so hard & take a break I gain back everything I lost & then some. When I don’t try to lose weigh, I at least maintain the same weight. I have had so many people make “helpful” comments thinking I’m lazy & overeat, but I eat healthier & less quantity than most people I know. It’s very depressing. I wish I had a support group, but reading people’s stories on Herr makes me feel less alone. Thanks.

  • Gedd Whitford

    Glucose free diet is also recommended, many are glucose intolerant, its hard to test for so a glucose free diet would be beneficial also.

  • Candy Coatedbeauty

    Omg I would love to see a kind life infertility book! I have pros and know several women/couples that suffer from infertility and would benefit from all the natural healthy ways to conceive.

  • Candy Coatedbeauty

    P.s.. a great recipe section should be included

  • I won’t let PCOS defeat me

    This is just my 2 cents from personal experience. I have PCOS and had tried everything on Earth to lose weight but before I had cut out ALL sugar, flour, grains in general, the whole grain version ones too, my weight never changed significantly. I had only eaten brown rice and all the substitutes for years, with no significant change. PCOS diet is not the same as a healthy person’s diet, for sure. If you measure your blood sugar after eating a slice of whole grain bread, you will see that your blood sugar level will still skyrocket. The easiest method for PCOS weight loss is not calorie counting and not just simple portion control. If you never eat the things that trigger or make PCOS symptoms worse, you will be very unlikely to gain the weight back later on. If you find substitutes, you will never crave for junk food or cane sugar. In my case, paleo is the perfect lifestyle for PCOS with some supplements especially calcium since dairy is not good for PCOS. Most women with PCOS also have weak bones, low vitamin D levels. So that should be supplemented as well in such cases. Paleo doesn’t mean you eat meat with meat. Once you get used to it, it’s easy. Weight loss with PCOS can be an extremely long process but if you eat the right things, you have nothing to worry about because the weight will go down. Instead of the weight, it is good to concentrate on health improvements that can be noticed right after omitting starchy vegetables (regular potatoes are important to omit), sugar and grains from the diet. It is a good idea to limit fruits that are high in fructose and meat consumption only from grass-fed animals. No more unexplained anxiety. What a change!

  • Yassine Labouch

    Yes this is the secret PCOS Diet that doctors don’t want us to know ?

  • Melissa Baines

    I was diagnosed with PCOS when I was 19 years old after having absent periods for almost a year. I was recommended birth control pills to “fix” the problem, which worked successfully for several years, until I lost my health insurance and could no longer afford the prescription. My periods went awol again for about another year, until I began eating a vegan diet. I made the change for ethical reasons, but a totally unexpected and delightful side-effect was the return of my periods, naturally, after about 4 months of eating vegan. My mother had always shown concern for my new diet, until I told her about this good news. Since then, she has supported it completely!

  • sas

    I would like to thank you for this article. I have a friend who had PCOS. She was hard broken when she found out she had this, her doc told her she could never get kids and it was not curable. Medicin didn’t help her symptoms much, and she really didn’t want to be on meds. She tried different diet books written for woman with PCOS. All focusing mostly on animal products being the most important. she had it for a few years. But After reading this article i told her i had read an article that talked about the way i ate (plant-based) being good for her. After a while she came and asked for more info. She became 100% vegan and 8 months later she was at the doctor. And to the doctors BIG suprice it was gone. She had never seen anything like it, and asked what she had done differently. The doctor would recommend vegan way as an option to other patients:) Another bonus her gluten allergy went away too. So THANK YOU ALICIA for this website!!!

  • Erin S

    I’m only 18, and just found out I have pcos. I am very underweight for my age about 93 pounds, and I can’t seem to gain weight. I really want to do the best I can for my body, so would there be a way to still have a vegan diet but gain weight at the same time ?

    • Valentina Erkkilä

      Hi! Maybe watching the following YouTube video by FullyRawKristina will help you (she used to be underweight)? She is a raw vegan but there are many vegans who do eat cooked food. My favorite is Freelee the Banana Girl (and Durianrider) who promotes raw til 4 lifestyle and unlimited amount of calories (2500+ for females). You should definitely check her out. So I’ve watched all possible YouTube videos concerning vegan lifestyle and it seems that the “best way” to be vegan is to eat 80/10/10. It’s claimed that by eating 80/10/10 you will achieve your natural bodyweight i.e. whether you’re under/overweight your body will find balance. I hope you’ll find this information useful. :)

      PS. Whatever you do, don’t start eating contraceptive pills; I consumed them for almost a decade and it lead to my current condition-PCOS! I really hope 80/10/10 vegan lifestyle (raw or cooked) is the answer (I’ve been on it for 5 weeks now and at least my skin is getting a bit better)! :D

      Watch “Why I Started Eating FullyRaw” on YouTube
      Why I Started Eating FullyRaw: http://youtu.be/9bge-OkyN3E