The Link Between PCOS and Weight

focused photo of feet stepping onto scale

With an estimated 50 to 60% of women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) being obese or overweight, the link between these two conditions is undeniable. But why is this, and what does this mean for women with PCOS who want to become pregnant?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and Insulin Levels: What’s the Connection?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that drives sugar (glucose) into cells to be used for energy. Research shows that the majority of obese women with PCOS are insulin-resistant, which can result in:

  • High insulin levels
  • Weight gain
  • Various metabolic issues, including elevations in blood cholesterol and triglycerides

PCOS and Insulin Levels

For obese or overweight women with PCOS who want to become pregnant, achieving a healthy weight can be a powerful first step.

Both proper nutrition and exercise help to lower insulin levels, which has the direct effect of lowering the levels of certain male hormones (androgens) in the ovaries and in the blood. High levels of androgens create a poor environment for egg development.

Reducing weight and insulin levels can help some women resume normal ovulation and improved fertility.

Studies have shown that losing just 5% of one’s body weight can help restore normal ovulation and menstruation, and in turn, increase your ability to conceive.

PCOS and Glycemic Index

One of the ways by which obese or overweight women with PCOS can lose weight is by following a low glycemic index (GI) diet.

High GI foods composed of simple carbohydrates like sugar and white flour, cause rapid spikes and drops in blood glucose levels. Consumption of these foods results in high glucose levels and storage of excess glucose as fat.

Low GI foods help to maintain stable levels of blood insulin thus improving the body’s utilization of glucose. Examples of Low GI Foods include:

  • Vegetables
  • Lean meats
  • Whole grains
  • Fruits such as apples, pears, strawberries and cherries

Foods high in fiber are beneficial as they take longer for the body to digest, therefore slowing the absorption of sugar.

Losing Weight and PCOS: The Benefits

Control of calorie intake is imperative for weight loss. Studies have shown that among people seeking to lose weight, those who are aware of how many calories they are consuming lose more weight than those who do not monitor their calorie intake.

Losing excessive weight does not happen overnight. It takes discipline, perseverance, and time. But the benefits to metabolic health and fertility are often remarkable.

Exercise at least five days a week for a minimum of 30 minutes to help manage weight loss.

As each person has different challenges and experience with weight control, visiting a nutritionist can help create the right strategy for you.

For any additional questions, if you are a Progyny Member, please contact your dedicated Patient Care Advocate.

Dr. Daniel E. Stein is the Director of RMA of New York’s Westside office and is Chief of Reproductive Endocrinology at Mount Sinai West Hospital. Dr. Stein has over twenty years of experience as a Reproductive Endocrinologist and fertility specialist and served for eight years as Medical Director of the In Vitro Fertilization program of the former Continuum Reproductive Center before joining RMA of New York. He is board-certified in both obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive endocrinology and infertility.