People who suffer from inflammation caused by lactose, gluten, or soy will find advantages to following dairy-free, gluten-free, or soy-free PCOS diets. However, in regards to a PCOS diet, no scientific data currently exists to support restricting or avoiding entire food groups or specific items to improve symptoms. Diet and movement are the most important parts of managing PCOS. Knowing the right types of foods to eat (or not eat) will help improve PCOS symptoms.
PCOS and Inflammatory Conditions
The theory goes like this: PCOS is associated with low-grade inflammation. So, to help alleviate PCOS symptoms, focus on treating the inflammatory conditions directly. The CCRM Fertility Center recommends eating antioxidant rich foods to relieve minor inflammation. While we believe that this is supportive of overall health, antioxidant foods cannot "cure" PCOS - and we also know that a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods can help you manage PCOS and avoid immune system complications.. Instead, dairy-free diets can directly treat lactose-related allergies and sensitivities, while gluten-free diets can benefit those people with Celiac Disease.
Some anti-inflammatory foods you can eat include:
- Vegetables: Broccoli, kale, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, mushrooms
- Fruits: Strawberries, blueberries, cherries, oranges, blackberries, raspberries, grapes, avocado
- Grains: whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, whole wheat pasta
- Minimally processed meats: fish, poultry, lean beef
- Probiotic rich food: kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles
Does Dairy Matter?
Various studies have investigated a potential link between diary consumption and fertility disorders. This comprehensive scientific review did not find a significant connection between dairy consumption (mostly, milk) and PCOS. The scientific reviews and number crunching are mixed at best.
Truthfully, scientists have been trying to nail down the cause of PCOS for a long time, with little success. Some studies suggest an indirect link between dairy consumption, obesity, and PCOS. However, there is no clear connection between these topics.
There is a relationship between consuming milk and increased frequency of acne – and acne is a very common PCOS symptom. The two conditions are often observed together because some types of acne are caused by androgen, a natural chemical that that is released from eating dairy products. Reducing dairy may alleviate acne, but there is no proven link between restricting dairy and improving your PCOS.
As you may expect, research linked to infertility is a popular topic, ranging from these diet-based investigations to chemicals and pesticides.
Fertility and Dairy
Yep, scientists have studied this relationship as well. A study by Chavarro et al. suggested that high-fat dairy products can promote fertility. If you are trying to get pregnant, you may want to discuss this aspect of your diet with your doctor or dietitian. Many people associate dairy with calcium. For people who limit dairy in their diets, due to allergies or acne-related side effects, there are numerous non-dairy Calcium sources. Our PCOS Nutrition Center lists kale, broccoli, bok choy, salmon, seeds, and quinoa as excellent sources of calcium. As you may know, some women with PCOS struggle to become pregnant. Talk to your doctor about PCOS and fertility as well as how to incorporate dairy into your diet
If dairy does not contribute to PCOS, what can I do?
Unfortunately, there is no magical, perfect diet for PCOS management. Here’s a few things that you can do:
- Eat regularly: every 3-4 hours to keep blood sugar and energy levels stable.
- Include protein, fats and carbohydrates in most meals.
- Take vitamin B12 supplement and have your vitamin D levels tested in order to maintain a healthy level.
- Work with your doctor and a dietitian for PCOS to see if any additional supplements may be needed.
We do know that to improve PCOS symptoms, it helps to lose 5-10% of your body weight and exercise regularly. Your dietitian will be able to work with you to determine a specific PCOS diet to optimize your health. The combination of improving your food choices, being more active, and working with a dietitian and your doctor can be the jump-start you need!
To read more about foods to avoid, foods to eat and how to make easy changes as part of a healthy PCOS diet, download our PCOS Nutrition Guide.