There are dozens of PCOS diet books and programs being sold online and in the bookstores. Some of the PCOS diets are basically low-carb or low glycemic index (low-GI) diets. You can find the same advice by reading The South Beach Diet book.
These PCOS diet books and programs promise that if you just keep to their eating program for a set amount of time, you'll get pregnant. Your doctor may have even suggested trying a low-carb or low glycemic index diet for PCOS.
But can one of these PCOS diets help you get pregnant?
Research on PCOS Diet
While many of these PCOS diets claim to be based on research, the fact of the matter is that no particular diet has been shown to increase the likelihood of pregnancy in women with PCOS. There may be some anecdotal evidence for PCOS diets -- in other words, stories of how so-and-so got pregnant after starting a particular diet. But these stories do not prove that the diet is what actually helped them get pregnant.
There was one study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in July 2010, which found that women with PCOS who started and kept a low-glycemic index diet had their menstrual cycles become more regular. In the study, 95% of the women keeping a low-GI diet had improved regular cycles, compared to just 65% for the women who were eating a healthy diet, but not specifically low-GI.
However, this study was small in size, and pregnancy rates were not looked at.
Basic Diet and Exercise for PCOS
While a specific diet has not been shown to help women with PCOS get pregnant, several studies have shown that healthy weight loss can help.
Research shows that losing just 5 to 10% of your current weight, if you're overweight, may help ovulation return and even help you achieve pregnancy.
Exercise has also been shown to improve pregnancy rates for women with PCOS. Note, however, that it's important not to go overboard, as too much exercise can actually harm pregnancy efforts. Training for a marathon is out for now. Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise, three times a week, should be fine, but speak to your doctor to figure out the best exercise schedule for you.
When choosing a diet plan, besides making sure the diet is healthy and includes the nutrients and healthy fats your body needs, it's important to choose a diet that you can stick with. If a diet is extremely restrictive, or involves consulting detailed lists of good and bad foods, you are unlikely to keep it long enough to see weight loss results.
If a low-GI diet seems right for you, and you can stick to it, then there is no harm in trying it out. However, if it isn't a diet you can stick with, and you feel more comfortable with a basic low-calorie, low-fat diet, then go with that.
Losing excess weight in a healthy way is the only research-proven diet-related technique for fertility with PCOS.
Crosignani PG, Colombo M, Vegetti W, Somigliana E, Gessati A, Ragni G. "Overweight and obese anovulatory patients with polycystic ovaries: parallel improvements in anthropometric indices, ovarian physiology and fertility rate induced by diet." Human Reproduction. 2003 Sep;18(9):1928-32.
Farshchi H, Rane A, Love A, Kennedy RL. "Diet and nutrition in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): pointers for nutritional management." Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 2007 Nov; 27(8):762-73.
Kate A Marsh, Katharine S Steinbeck, Fiona S Atkinson, Peter Petocz and Jennie C Brand-Miller. "Effect of a low glycemic index compared with a conventional healthy diet on polycystic ovary syndrome." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vol. 92, No. 1, 83-92, July 2010.
Kate Marsha1, Jennie Brand-Millera1. "The optimal diet for women with polycystic ovary syndrome?" British Journal of Nutrition. 2005, 94:154-165.