Weight Loss Helpful for Female Hormone Condition
A low-calorie diet may lead to weight loss and enhance fertility in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), reports a study in Fertility and Sterility (2004;81:630–7). PCOS is one of the most common hormonal disorders in women of childbearing age, often causing infertility.
PCOS is characterized by elevated levels of male hormones (such as testosterone) that lead to excess facial and body hair growth, male-pattern baldness, and acne. It is also frequently associated with obesity, which worsens the condition. The hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS prevent ovulation from taking place regularly, causing the ovaries to enlarge and form multiple fluid filled sacs (cysts). Irregular or absent menstrual periods are a hallmark of the condition. Chronic pelvic pain may be present, and blood fats (cholesterol and triglycerides) may be elevated in women with PCOS. Later in life, women with PCOS are at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and uterine cancer.
The causes of PCOS are not completely understood but may be related to excess insulin levels, leading to defects in blood sugar regulation similar to those seen in diabetics. High insulin levels are thought to increase male hormone production. For this reason, PCOS is often treated with antidiabetes medications such as metformin (Glucophage™). Oral contraceptive pills may be prescribed to regulate menstruation, decrease male hormone levels, and clear acne. Exercise and weight loss are also recommended to help treat the condition.
Previous studies have shown that weight loss can decrease male hormone levels, cause the return of menstrual periods, and enhance fertility in women with PCOS. However, an ideal weight-loss diet has not been established for the condition. High-protein diets are sometimes advocated to treat PCOS, but these diets have not been studied in detail. The new study sought to compare the effects of two different low-calorie diets in women with PCOS. Twenty-six obese women with PCOS completed the four-week study. The participants were instructed to consume either a high-protein diet (consisting of 30% protein, 40% carbohydrates, and 30% fat), or a high-carbohydrate diet (consisting of 15% protein, 55% carbohydrates, and 30% fat). At the beginning and end of the study, hormone levels, indices of blood sugar control, blood fats, and weight were measured. By the end of the four weeks, participants in both diet groups had experienced significant weight loss. There were no differences between the high-protein and high-carbohydrate groups with respect to hormone levels, blood sugar regulation, or blood fats. When the results of the two groups were combined, it was found that weight loss in general led to significant reductions in male hormone levels and blood fats, as well as to significant improvements in blood sugar control. The results of this preliminary trial suggest that high-protein or high-carbohydrate diets that are low in calories may be equally beneficial for women with PCOS.
This study confirmed the results of others, demonstrating that weight loss may correct some of the abnormalities associated with PCOS. These changes have the potential to enhance fertility in women affected by PCOS.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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