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High protein diet benefits women with PCOS, new study shows

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
polycystic ovary syndrome, PCOS, diabetes, high protein diet, obesity

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - According to a new study, women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may do better on a diet with a high ratio of protein to carbohydrates. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. They noted that replacing carbohydrates with protein in a non-restricted diet improved weight loss and glucose metabolism; thus, it appeared to offer an improved dietary treatment of PCOS patients.

Dr. Lone B. Sorensen and colleagues presented their findings December 7 in an online edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The authors noted that, because many PCOS patients are overweight or obese, most dietary regimens have focused on caloric restriction.

The researchers recruited 57 with PCOS and randomly assigned them to eat either a standard or high protein diet. Neither group had any caloric restriction. The high protein diet provided more than 40% of energy from protein, 30% from fat, and the remainder from carbohydrates. The standard diet consisted of 15% of energy from protein, 30% of energy from fat, and more than 55% from carbohydrates.

More than 50% of the women dropped out over the course of the six-month study. Seven women left because of pregnancy and another 23 did so for a variety of reasons; thus, 27 women completed the program.

The women on the high protein diet experienced a significantly higher weight loss than the standard diet (16.9 lbs vs 7.3 lbs). Women on the high-protein diet also lost more body fat (14.1 lbs vs. 4.6 lbs), and had a significantly greater reduction in waist circumference. The women on the high protein diet also were reported to have a greater decrease in their serum glucose level, which persisted after adjustment for weight changes. This positive effect was thus independent of weight loss.

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The authors concluded: "This study shows that it is not necessary for PCOS patients to follow energy-restricted diets because protein satiates so well that a high protein diet will induce a spontaneous reduction in energy intake."

Reference: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

A limitation of this study was the small sample size and high dropout rate.

Polycystic ovary disease is a condition in which many small cysts form in the ovaries. Women with the condition often suffer from menstrual irregularities, reduced fertility, and increased body hair. Other symptoms include: acne; decreased breast size; development of male sex characteristics (virilization), such as increased body hair, facial hair, a deepening of the voice, male-pattern baldness, and enlargement of the clitoris; diabetes; and insulin resistance.

In women with polycystic ovary disease who also have insulin resistance, glucophage (Metformin), a medication that makes cells more sensitive to insulin, has been shown to restore normal ovulation. Losing weight may help to reduce the high insulin levels in the blood. For women with this condition who are overweight, weight loss can reduce insulin resistance, stimulate ovulation, and improve fertility rates.

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