PCOS is a hormonal condition that is associated with reproductive symptoms as well as metabolic dysfunction. The population affected by PCOS is women of childbearing age. The hormonal imbalances that accompany PCOS are linked to a number of symptoms, like irregular periods and infertility. Luckily, this condition can be successfully managed with diet changes and supplements for PCOS.
Read on to find out what you need to know about PCOS natural treatment, including diet changes and supplements.
What Is PCOS, Anyways?
PCOS – also known as polycystic ovary syndrome or polycystic ovarian syndrome – is a condition that affects premenopausal women. PCOS is characterized by high levels of testosterone, which is a male sex hormone. Imbalanced hormones from PCOS cause many symptoms in women. Symptoms of PCOS include:
- Hirsutism: Hirsutism describes excess hair growth that results from excess androgen levels. Women with PCOS often notice excess hair growth on the face and chest.
- Acne: As a result of high testosterone levels, women with PCOS often develop acne on the cheeks and jawline.
- Hair loss: Some women with PCOS may experience hair loss and baldness.
- Irregular menstrual cycles: An irregular menstrual cycle is one of the common PCOS symptoms.
- Infertility: PCOS may result in infertility and lower egg quality over time. Hormonal imbalances and irregular menstrual cycles mean that the body is not ovulating regularly. Anovulation or irregular ovulation significantly decreases the chances of becoming pregnant.
- Polycystic ovaries: Women with PCOS may develop cysts or numerous follicles on the ovaries. These cysts usually cause no direct symptoms, although they may sometimes cause pain or soreness in the ovaries.
PCOS and Metabolic Conditions Are Connected
In addition to symptoms affecting endocrine and reproductive function, PCOS is also associated with metabolic conditions. Women with PCOS are more likely to also suffer from conditions like:
- Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance occurs when insulin does not function properly in the body and cells do not respond to the presence of insulin as they normally would. Insulin is a hormone that is responsible for signaling cells to utilize sugar in the bloodstream for energy.
- High blood sugar: Women with PCOS are more likely to have high blood sugar levels.
- Type 2 diabetes: Insulin resistance and high blood glucose over time can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Obesity: Women suffering from PCOS and metabolic conditions are more likely to be overweight or obese.
- Fatty liver disease: Fatty liver disease describes the accumulation of fat particles in liver tissue. Over time, fatty liver disease can cause liver inflammation and damage.
Best Diet Changes and Supplements for PCOS
If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS, do not despair. PCOS can be successfully managed with diet and lifestyle changes. Certain supplements can also help balance hormones and mitigate symptoms.
Diet Changes for PCOS
Here we go through a few tips for adopting a PCOS-friendly diet.
Avoid Refined Carbohydrates and Sugar
Staying away from refined carbohydrates and added sugars is important for reversing PCOS and associated metabolic conditions. Refined carbohydrates have been subjected to an intensive industrial process that removes nearly all nutritional value, including protein and fiber.
Steer Clear of Saturated Fat
When making diet changes for PCOS, it’s important to stay away from saturated fat. Saturated fat is found in many meat and dairy products like whole milk, cream, butter, bacon, steak, and cheese. Eating too much saturated fat interferes with the communication between insulin and insulin receptors and contributes to conditions like insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, and other metabolic conditions associated with PCOS.
Moreover, consuming too much saturated fat over a long period of time can increase the risk of developing high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and cardiovascular disease.
Eat Primarily Whole Foods
Eating whole foods is an important strategy in managing PCOS. When eating a diet to manage PCOS, eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, fatty fish, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products. These foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, essential amino acids, and healthy fats; all of the nutrients your body needs to balance hormones and reduce inflammation and oxidative stress associated with PCOS.
When you are eating mainly whole foods, you are also avoiding processed foods that are packed with unhealthy ingredients like sodium, saturated fat, sugar, and preservatives. Avoiding processed foods helps your body decrease systemic inflammation and fight PCOS and metabolic conditions.
Supplements for PCOS
Certain dietary supplements show promise as having a therapeutic effect on PCOS when combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle. Be sure to always discuss new supplements with your physician.
Inositol PCOS supplements may help manage symptoms of hormonal imbalance. Inositol or myo-inositol is a sugar-like compound that is produced in the body. Though more research is needed, inositol may potentially play a role in mitigating PCOS. Inositol in the form of d-chiro-inositol helps improve the function of hormones in the body, helping the body respond more readily to hormones. As a result, different areas of the body can more readily communicate, which can smooth out metabolic and hormonal function.
Vitamin D is a critical nutrient that the body requires for supporting immune function, metabolic function, and bone health. A significant proportion of the population has a vitamin D deficiency, including women with PCOS.
However, getting adequate vitamin D is not so easy, making low levels of vitamin D common across the population Very few foods contain sufficient amounts of vitamin D. Fatty fish like mackerel and salmon are a couple of examples of fish that offer vitamin D. Smaller amounts of vitamin D can also be found in mushrooms, eggs, and fortified dairy products and cereals. Sun exposure also triggers your skin to produce vitamin D.
Because it’s challenging to get sufficient vitamin D, supplementation is a good idea. Taking vitamin D with calcium and magnesium is also vital for facilitating absorption.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that exhibit potent anti-inflammatory activity in the body. Fish oil is one of the main omega-3 fatty acid supplements that provide eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3 fatty acids are helpful for conditions like fatty liver disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory conditions.
Omega-3 fatty acids may also play a critical role in mitigating PCOS. One study investigated the impact of orange-3 supplementation on women with PCOS. (1) Results showed that, in comparison to the control group taking a placebo, the experimental group had more regular periods and lower testosterone levels. (1)
Essential Amino Acids
Amino acids are the smallest units that make up protein. The body requires balanced ratios of essential amino acids on a daily basis, in order to operate effectively. The body uses essential amino acids to produce muscle tissue, neurotransmitters, hormones, enzymes, and connective tissue. Essential amino acids are used in nearly every physiological process in the body.
Moreover, an Italian pilot study published in Minerva Ginecologica found that essential amino supplementation among women with PCOS was linked to lower testosterone levels, lower insulin levels, and improvement in PCOS symptoms. (3)
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is a potent antioxidant that may play an important role in balancing hormones. A systematic review published in Obstetrics and Gynecology International found that NAC was connected to better fertility, ovulation, and pregnancy among women with PCOS. (4)
Berberine PCOS supplements may help improve metabolic health and hormonal health. Berberine is a compound produced by certain plants and may have a role in mitigating PCOS. In a review published in the Archives of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers found that berberine is associated with better insulin sensitivity, ovulation, and fertility. (5)
Losing weight with PCOS may be challenging, but increasing your chromium intake may make it easier. Chromium is a mineral that is found naturally in many fruits, veggies, whole grains, and dairy products. Increasing chromium intake may have a therapeutic impact on PCOS. A systematic review found that chromium supplementation may encourage a lower body mass index (BMI), lower insulin levels, and lower testosterone levels in women with PCOS. (6)
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that populate the gut. A healthy digestive system is key for reducing inflammation throughout the body. Eating fiber and probiotic foods like yogurt and kimchi can help support the growth of healthy gut flora. Adding a probiotic supplement may also help increase the number of healthy gut bacteria.
Taking a multivitamin with a balance of nutrients like vitamin B12 and vitamin C helps make sure that you’re getting plenty of vitamins and minerals. Though it’s important to get lots of micronutrients from your diet, taking a multivitamin can help fill in any gaps in your diet and promote overall health and wellness.
It’s always best to seek medical advice and discuss all diet changes and supplements with your healthcare provider, to make sure that you’re supporting your health. A registered dietitian or nutritionist is also an excellent resource when choosing the best supplements that help manage PCOS. Plus, it’s important to choose high-quality supplements without extra additives.
Medical Interventions for PCOS
In addition to diet changes and supplements, you may also benefit from medical treatments. Here are a few medications that your physician may prescribe to help you manage PCOS and associated symptoms:
- Metformin: Metformin is a medication used to manage both PCOS and metabolic syndrome. Metformin reduces inflammation, combats weight gain, increases insulin sensitivity, and balances hormone levels.
- Spironolactone: Spironolactone is a medication that specifically helps reduce excess androgens in the body. Spironolactone can help reverse many related PCOS symptoms like excess hair growth and acne.
- Birth control: Birth control contains estrogen and progesterone and can help regulate the menstrual cycle.
- Clomiphene: Clomiphene is specifically used to encourage ovulation in women with PCOS, helping to restore fertility.
PCOS is a condition that affects millions of women in the United States and causes symptoms like excess hair growth, irregular periods, and infertility. Metabolic conditions like insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver disease. Cutting out added sugars and saturated fat help encourage weight loss, insulin sensitivity, and hormonal balance. Supplements like inositol, essential amino acids, and NAC may also help promote hormone balance and mitigate PCOS symptoms. As always, it’s important to discuss all diet changes and supplements with your physician.