PCOS, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is a disorder that affects females, normally after puberty. The disorder is caused by the formation of multiple cysts due to elevated production of androgen and estrogen in the body.

Cysts, are sac or capsule-like structures with thin walls filled with liquids, gas or semi solids. The causes for the formation of cysts are many including genetic factors, hormonal imbalance and infection.

You can also listen to a doctor’s answers to questions related to PCOS on a podcast.

Causes of PCOS

Causes of the disorder are many and the severity depends upon nature, size, and place where it is formed. It may be genetic or due to other physiological conditions like obesity or irregular menstrual cycles or over menstruation or inadequate physical exercise.

The disorder surfaces generally after attaining puberty. Appropriate diagnosis will reveal whether the disease is due to family history or due to other environmental factors.

The exact cause of PCOS may not be ascertainable but the symptoms that surface are many which point to the disorder.

Symptoms of PCOS

One obvious symptom is irregular menstrual cycles. If not diagnosed in early years after puberty, it may have to be compulsorily tested before pregnancy. PCOD could adversely impact the fertility of those affected by it and lead to complications while trying to get pregnant (1).

The disorder PCOS can be misleading. The disorder may not be due to multiple cysts alone. In fact, people who have multiple cysts in the ovary may not suffer from PCOS. Similarly, those affected by the syndrome may not be having multiple cysts.

Moreover, multiple follicles in the ovary with eggs may be misconstrued as cysts. The point here is that, only a laboratory diagnosis will reveal the disorder. Symptoms noticed may only accelerate the requirement for a diagnostic process.

Some of the symptoms which point to the possibility of the syndrome are:

  • Weight gain
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Frequent periods
  • Long gap between successive periods
  • Excessive menstruation
  • Shorter duration of menstruation with light bleeding
  • Over anxiety
  • Depression
  • Loss of scalp hair

Fatigue combined with anemia is also an important symptom. Fatigue may be due to thyroid issues or low levels of Vitamin D or B12.

Difficulty in conceiving is a definite clue to examine whether the person has PCOS. Gestational diabetics, migraine headache, miscarriages, pelvic pain, swellings in the feet or leg, acne, pimples and excessive hair growth are some other symptoms. In addition to the above-mentioned symptoms, there may be many more symptoms noticed. (2)

Foods you need to avoid

Having understood what PCOS is and having diagnosed the disorder, the person affected has to get it treated based on various symptoms.

Diet plays a very important role in the treatment of PCOS. The first attempt to treat the disorder can be by selecting the appropriate diet. Women affected by the syndrome normally have higher insulin levels. As we know, insulin helps the body to convert sugar into energy. Insufficient insulin level will raise the blood sugar levels. At the same time, excessive insulin will lead to enhanced production of androgens. In order to maintain the optimum level of insulin secretion in the body, it is essential to select the varieties of food that form part of the diet. (3)

Food that contains a higher amount of fiber, lean protein and which have anti-inflammatory characters are good for people suffering from the disorder. More than including diet that is useful, it is important to avoid food that is detrimental to the treatment of the disorder. Two foods that have the same amount of carbohydrate can have a different effect on the insulin levels of the person concerned. Hence the selection of the food is very important in treating PCOS.

Now, let us focus on the specific foods which have to be avoided by PCOS patient.

Reduce carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, in general, have the tendency to increase the blood sugar levels. More particularly when such carbohydrate is refined and included in the food as in the case of white bread, it is more harmful and needs to be avoided (4).

Carbonated drinks

Snacks and soft drinks that have high sugar content must be avoided.

Avoid white food

It is a thumb rule that ‘four whites’ – white bread, white flour, white sugar, and white rice need to be avoided by persons suffering from PCOD. The common negative factor in all these four food items is that they drastically increase the blood sugar level besides accelerating weight gain.

Processed food

Foods that have the potential to cause inflammatory tendencies, such as processed food and red meats are equally harmful.

No junk

All types of junk foods like chips, French fries, biscuits, pasta, frozen foods, ready to eat foods, cakes made of rice which have a high glycemic index, processed meat and sodas.

Carbohydrates with high Glycemic Index

All types of carbohydrates quickly break down into sugar in the body and increase the blood sugar levels. When the glycemic index is high and beyond the permissible levels, such carbohydrates increase the sugar level to an abnormally high levels (5). Pasta and noodles that are prepared with drum flour or drum wheat flour are rich in carbohydrates and low in dietary fiber. However, other kinds of pasta prepared out of bean or lentil flour can be safely included.

White and refined sugar

Sugar plays a dominant role in causing the disorder. Women encountering PCOD generally are those affected by gestational diabetes too. Whenever gestational diabetes affects during the first trimester of pregnancy, it is very important to control the sugar levels. Otherwise, high insulin level combined with obesity has the potential to cause miscarriage.

Moreover, since obesity is one of the reasons that affects the fertility of the young women, they need to keep a check on their body weight in order to facilitate conception. Sugar is classified into glucose and fructose. It is fructose, which is detrimental to a person affected by the disorder when compared to glucose. Hence, barring all types of food that contain fructose, will treat the disorder quickly.  (6)

Finely ground white flour

Many of the grains are consumed in their whole as well as flour form. When whole grains are consumed, they not only provide carbohydrate but also a high amount of fiber needed for maintaining the blood sugar level. Foods prepared from white flour, provide more calories and pave the way for obesity. Since obesity is one of the factors causing PCOD, avoiding white flour is helpful in multiple ways to combat the syndrome.

Vegetables with high starch content

Vegetables, in general, are good for the overall health and particularly for those women who are trying to get pregnant. But the problem lies with vegetables that have a substantial content of starch in them. Some of them are potatoes, corn, and peas.

All types of canned fruit juice and syrup

Bottled fruit juices and syrup prepared from fruit pulp contain significantly large amounts of refined sugar.

Refined grains

When grains are polished, the outer shell which contains fiber and other nutrients are removed. Polished or refined grains provide only carbohydrates and starch, both promote weight gain and increase the blood sugar.

Dairy products

They are inflammatory in nature and women suffering from PCOS may be sensitive to the intake of any dairy products. Dairy products provide lactose, whey and casein proteins to which people are sensitive. Hence, dairy products barring ghee and butter must be avoided (7).

Soy products

Isoflavanoids present in soy products have the ability to interfere with the functioning of estrogen in the body. Moreover, phytic acid present in soy prevents absorption of minerals in the gut. It may be true that soy is helpful in insulin resistance and checking the cholesterol levels in the blood. But soy products play an adverse role in the functioning of thyroids and ovulation. However, if one must consume soy products then the fermented products of soy can be included as they are not harmful (5). Phytic acid in soy breaks down on fermentation, making it consumable.


Alcohol consumption is highly detrimental to women with PCOS. Even consuming very small quantities of alcoholic beverages could cause damage to the liver for such women.

Vegetable oils

Vegetable oils have a high content of Omega 6 fatty acids.  If consuming such oils without adequate intake of Omega 3 fatty acids it is likely to do more harm than good. Moreover, the inflammatory property of vegetable oils make them not suitable for consumption by people with PCOS.

Even when you carefully watch the food that needs to be avoided to control PCOS, it is equally essential to include low glycemic index foods (8). You also need to keep an eye on lower levels of saturated fats, balanced proteins and carbs, soy and dairy free and non-refined sugars. 

Read the below mentioned links to treat PCOS naturally.

Ramya Srinivasan, PDGBA, earned her Master’s degree in Business. As a result of her passion in native medicine, she got her Diploma in Traditional Siddha Medicine from Bharat Sevak Samaj registered under the Indian Planning Commission. She is certified by Stanford University School of Medicine in Introduction to Food and Health.