Cutting calories helps women with PCOS

February 3, 2003 in Nutrition Topics in the News, Women's Health

Cutting calories helps women with PCOS

Women with a hormonal problem that can lead to irregular periods and infertility experience an improvement in their symptoms after a few months of dieting, regardless of whether they opt for a low or high protein diet.

These findings suggest that for these women, what you eat is less important than how much you eat. The diet type is much less important than the actual restriction in calories say researchers from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

For years, some experts have recommended that people seeking to slim down opt for a low-fat diet, which is usually high in carbohydrates, since foods that are low in fat tend to be rich in carbohydrates.

However, accumulating evidence suggests that patients may also be able to shed pounds on a high protein diet, such as the Atkins Diet, which first gained popularity during the 1970s.

Limited evidence suggests it may help people lose weight, but many experts remain concerned about the long-term health effects of the diet, since protein-rich foods often contains high levels of fat and cholesterol.

All of the women in the current study were overweight and had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This disorder is characterized by fertility problems, obesity, increased facial and body hair and a higher risk of diabetes.

Researchers suspect that PCOS is caused by an excess of male hormones in the body and by insulin resistance, a condition in which the body becomes less sensitive to insulin, and, in response, produces an excess of the key blood-sugar regulating hormone.

Just as the cause of PCOS eludes experts, so do effective means of treating it. Doctors can treat the condition with drugs or surgery, but patients often prefer to manage their disorder through weight loss, a healthy diet and exercise.

In the current study, a group of Australian researchers assigned 45 overweight women with PCOS to either high or low protein diets. The high protein and low carbohydrate diet consisted of 30% protein and 40% carbohydrates, while the low-fat, high carbohydrate diet included only 15% protein. The women were expected to eat a calorie-restricted diet--approximately 1,400 calories per day--for 12 weeks, then to spend another four weeks consuming enough calories to maintain, but not change, their body weight. Study participants were also asked to exercise at least three times a week.

Only 14 women assigned to each diet were able to complete the entire program. Comparing the two groups, the authors discovered that both diets resulted in roughly the same amount of weight loss, and the same decrease in body fat and insulin levels.

Almost half of all participants improved the regularity of their periods, and three out of 20 women trying to conceive did so during the study period. None of the women reported any side effects from following the two diets.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.