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While PCOS cannot be cured, exercise and a healthy diet can help you manage your condition. A regular exercise program may also make you feel more in control of your life and symptoms.


Exercise helps the body's cells use glucose for energy, reducing blood glucose levels. Research has shown that for people who have type 2 diabetes, even mild (but regular) exercise may help the body use insulin more efficiently and gradually reduce insulin levels. In addition, regular exercise:

  • improves circulation
  • reduces blood pressure
  • increases levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or "good cholesterol”)
  • builds muscles
  • can help you lose weight

Weight Issues

Many women with PCOS are overweight or obese. Whether obesity is a cause or a result of PCOS is unclear. Researchers have developed a clinical distinction between the "lean" and "obese" PCOS patients. A greater distribution of fat in the centre of the body (sometimes called an "apple" shape), as opposed to the thighs and hips (a "pear" shape) is associated with a greater risk of hypertension, diabetes and lipid abnormalities.

Many metabolic disorders improve with weight loss, but PCOS is not "cured" by weight reduction. The symptoms of PCOS may be lessened by weight loss, or increased by weight gain, but the syndrome is not caused solely by weight or body mass. Weight issues can be tremendously frustrating for women with PCOS and are similar to the challenges faced by women with type 2 diabetes. You may wish to visit the pages on body image in the Diabetes Health Centre for more information on this topic. Some women with PCOS also experience changes in their hair and skin.

Healthy Eating for Women with PCOS

While there are no specific dietary treatments for women with PCOS, a well-balanced diet, combined with an active lifestyle, can help you manage your weight and reduce your insulin resistance.

Include a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy and meat or meat alternatives in your diet. If you have weight concerns, managing the size of your portions and engaging in an appropriate exercise program can reduce or help prevent insulin resistance, high blood pressure and lipid disorders.

For heart health, limit the amount of foods you eat that are high in saturated and trans fats (for example, fatty red meat, whole-milk dairy products, butter and stick margarine, chicken skin, fried foods, high-fat snacks and rich desserts). Select mainly foods with monounsaturated fats, such as non-hydrogenated margarine, olive and canola oils, and foods with omega-3 fats, such as nuts, flaxseed and fatty fish, such as salmon and bluefish.

Limit your total fat intake to help manage your weight. You may do this by choosing one-percent or skim milk, leaner cuts of meat, lower-fat cheeses and salad dressings; by removing the skin from chicken and the visible fat from meats; and by using only scant amounts of oil, margarine and butter.

For more about heart-health eating, see our Cardiovascular Health Centre. Health Canada provides information on eating a balanced diet and staying physically active in Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide.

Coping with PCOS Symptoms

This page describes some conditions associated with PCOS, and offers information about the treatment and management of symptoms.


Increased androgen levels can cause acne. The androgens increase skin oils and dead skin tissue, which clog pores and allow bacteria to cause inflammation. Oral contraceptives and anti-androgen medications, such as spironolactone, flutamide, cyproterone acetate, and finasteride, can help reduce acne. (See the Treatment pages for more information on these medications.) Most physicians do not use anti-androgens exclusively for acne, since oral contraceptives are effective treatments. Talk to your physician before taking these medications, as many cannot be used if you are trying to get pregnant.

Isotretinoin (Accutane®), a prescription medication used to treat severe acne, is also contraindicated for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive, as it is known to cause fetal deformities. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have advised women who could be pregnant to have two negative pregnancy tests before using Accutane®.

Some over-the-counter medications may also reduce outbreaks.

Darkened Skin Patches

Patches of darker skin, called acanthosis nigricans, are often seen on patients who have endocrine disorders, such as insulin resistance and PCOS. In women with PCOS, the presence of acanthosis nigricans indicates that insulin resistance is probably more severe.

Skin patches may range from tan to dark brown to black. These patches commonly appear on the back of the neck, in the groin area, or under the armpits and breasts. Sometimes they may also appear on the elbows, knees and hands.

Acanthosis nigricans cannot be cured, but can improve when a woman’s hormone balance is restored or if she loses weight. Some prescription medications, such as Retin-A, 15 percent urea, alpha hydroxyacid and salicylic acid, may reduce the discolouration.

Thinning Hair

The loss of hair on the scalp is also associated with elevated androgen levels. Reducing androgen levels to restore hormone balance can help reduce or stop hair loss. Treatment possibilities include using minoxidil (Rogaine®), spironolactone or other anti-androgens. Some women choose to have hair transplants or wear a hair weave.

Excess Hair

Excess hair on the face and other parts of the body is one of the more common cosmetic concerns of women with PCOS. The hair growth is triggered by the increased production of androgens. Restoring normal hormone levels with proper diet and exercise, in combination with certain hormone therapies, may reduce unwanted hair growth. Some women with PCOS choose to have electrolysis or laser therapy to remove unwanted hair.


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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital