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Can a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids prevent PCOS?

By Apollo 24/7, Published on - 21 September 2021

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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common hormonal disorders prevalent in women across the globe. It is characterized by an irregular menstrual cycle, abnormal hormonal levels, and cysts in the ovaries. Undiagnosed and untreated PCOS can result in infertility among women. There is no treatment for PCOS but it can be managed with the help of diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes. A recent study conducted at the Chengdu Medical College, China, found that consuming a diet rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may reduce the risk of developing PCOS.

What are omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids?

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are healthy fats that are essential for the proper growth and functioning of the brain and various cells of the body. PUFAs include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to:

  • Lower the levels of triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood) 
  • Slow down the plaque build-up in the blood vessels
  • Maintain blood pressure
  • Reduce the risk of developing an arrhythmia  (irregular heartbeat).

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is most commonly found in plant oils, nuts, seeds, and leafy vegetables while EPA and DHA are found in seafood. The human body also converts ALA into some amount of EPA and DHA. 

The study

The research published in the British Journal of Nutrition on 10th August 2021 aimed at assessing the link between omega-3 fatty acids and PCOS. In this study, scientists included 325 women suffering from PCOS in the experimental group while the control group had 325 healthy women. 

The diet of the participants was assessed using a 102-item food frequency questionnaire. Scientists also measured the fatty acids of the participants using the gas chromatography method.

Results

The results of the study showed that:

  • The presence of omega-3 fatty acids in the body is associated with a lower prevalence of polycystic ovary syndrome. 
  • Women who had an increased amount of total PUFAs and individual EPA and DHA were less likely to develop PCOS.  
  • With the increase in the levels of omega-3 fatty acids, there was an increase in levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). Low levels of FSH and SHBG indicate the prevalence of PCOS.
  • However, the presence of omega-3 fatty acids did not affect the body mass index, insulin levels, testosterone (male sex hormone) levels, and C-reactive protein (a protein found in the blood).

With this study, scientists concluded that a higher intake of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent polycystic ovarian syndrome in women. However, further studies are required to confirm the amount of omega-3 fatty acids required in the diet to reap its protective benefits against PCOS.

What are the sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in both natural and fortified foods which include: 

  • Nuts and seeds such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts
  • Oils such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola oil
  • Fatty fishes such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines and other seafood such as clams, crabs, and oysters
  • Leafy vegetables such as spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, and kale
  • Fortified eggs, yoghurt, milk, juices, and soy products.

How to manage polycystic ovary syndrome?

PCOS cannot be cured but the measures that may help manage the condition include:

  • Exercising regularly for at least half an hour to maintain a healthy weight. Studies indicate that losing even 5% of body weight can help utilise insulin and reduce the androgen levels in the body. 
  • Consuming a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet to prevent weight gain and reduce blood sugar levels.
  • Consulting a gynaecologist frequently to discuss the treatment plan.

Conclusion

Most people believe that fats are not healthy for the body. On the contrary, healthy fats such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can help in reducing the bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides and increase the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) in the body. The recent study has shown that a diet filled with healthy fats can help maintain the hormonal balance in women and prevent PCOS. However, women suffering from PCOS should consult their gynaecologist and dietician before including omega-3 rich foods in their diet.

Explore a range of Omega-3 and 6 supplements.

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