A Dietitian Reveals Whether You Need to Give Up Dairy If You Have PCOS

Photographer: Jae Payne
POPSUGAR Photography | Jae Payne
POPSUGAR Photography | Jae Payne

When I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, I did a ton of research about the condition and what that meant for my overall health. I learned that overhauling your diet is the first line of defense and knew that limiting sugars and refined carbohydrates was the best way to stabilize my blood sugar and combat the weight gain that often goes along with PCOS.

I had also read that dairy wasn't good for women with PCOS. Some people claim the hormones in dairy can disrupt your hormone levels; women with PCOS already have an imbalance of hormones including estrogen and testosterone. Others say dairy is inflammatory for some people, and PCOS itself is an inflammatory condition, not to mention the number of adults who may be lactose intolerant and not even realize it.

But PCOS expert Martha McKittrick, RD, CDE, and certified health coach, says you don't have to give up dairy entirely if you have PCOS. "While I'm not a proponent of large amounts of dairy, I have no problem with plain Greek yogurt and small amounts of cheese," she told POPSUGAR.

In fact, the research conducted on how dairy affects PCOS is extremely limited, she said, and health coaches tend to point to the only two studies available. One study, published in the Journal of Obesity Weight Loss Therapy, found that a low-starch and low-dairy diet is beneficial for PCOS, but it only assessed 24 women. The other, published in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine, found a higher consumption of low-fat and fat-free dairy among women with PCOS but was based on self-reported dairy intake information and wasn't a randomized controlled study.

In general, McKittrick recommends paying attention to how your body reacts to dairy. For some people, dairy makes them break out, and acne is already a symptom of PCOS. A study published in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology that examined teens and dairy consumption found that low-fat and skim milk, but not full-fat milk, were positively associated with acne.

If dairy doesn't make your skin worse and you don't have lactose intolerance, then feel free to enjoy small amounts of dairy. Stick to unsweetened Greek yogurt or an ounce of cheese, and don't be afraid to enjoy full-fat dairy products in moderation.