Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) may essentially be a hormonal issue at its core but its effects are all-encompassing. From skin problems to cardiovascular health, PCOS patients are at risk for many secondary health problems.
Arguably, the most potent effect of PCOS is the wide range of nutritional deficiencies it brings with it. And this happens even when you’re trying to maintain a healthy diet. You could be eating organic, whole foods comprising lots of fruits, vegetables and proteins but you can still be nutritionally deficient!
This is one of the many reasons why PCOS can be frustrating to deal with. Often, you’ll find conventional medicine fail in the face of this ailment. That’s because taking medication isn’t the solution to most, if not all, PCOS symptoms. Masking the illness only makes it worse and traditional treatment plans don’t make the cut.
As a functional medicine expert, I believe it’s important to keep the individual’s physiological history in mind when assessing a case of PCOS. No two women exhibit the same PCOS condition. The severity, symptoms and duration of illness all vary. This is why I advocate for customized diet plans that actually work for the patient to help them overcome nutritional deficiencies.
Now, before we get to the treatment aspect, let’s uncover some common nutritional deficits caused by PCOS. In today’s power post, I will be talking to you about important vitamins and minerals to help you overcome your PCOS ailment.
I’ll walk you through some food items you can consume to bridge the gap and any supplements that can help you. However, I will recommend that you come to see me at my office before you pick and choose a diet from this article.
What are Vitamins and How Do They Work?
Vitamins are a small group of organic compounds that need to be taken in small doses from external sources because the human body cannot synthesize them on its own. They play a crucial role in the work of enzymes, aiding them in their work in the shape of co-enzymes.
An enzyme is essentially a protein that’s responsible for various chemical processes such as hormone secretion in a certain part of the body. Most enzymes are unable to fulfill their function without the help of a co-enzyme. This is where vitamins step in and help complete scores of chemical reactions for healthy bodily functions. There are two main types of vitamins:
- Fat-soluble vitamins
Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed directly into the bloodstream. However, they need a special group of fat molecules known as chylomicrons to enter the bloodstream with them. Once they’ve entered, the vitamins and molecules are carried through the blood vessels via a group of proteins.
Excess amounts of vitamins are stored in our fatty tissues. Therefore, vitamin doses must be carefully checked should they pose the risk of becoming toxic. Usually, vitamins over-accumulate in tissues because of the inappropriate consumption of supplements—not your diet.
Some examples of fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E and K.
- Water-soluble vitamins
Water-soluble vitamins don’t need special proteins to help their absorption in the bloodstream. These are actually capable of moving freely throughout our body. Any excess amounts of water-soluble vitamins are readily secreted via urination. Therefore, there’s no danger of toxic accumulation.
Vitamins B and C are examples of water-soluble vitamins. B vitamins are particularly useful in correcting PCOS symptoms. Let me give you an idea of how these vitamins can help your case:
- Vitamin B2: Helps process sugar, fat and protein molecules and converts them into energy.
- Vitamin B3: Helps balance blood sugar levels and is released into the bloodstream should these levels rise.
- Vitamin B5: Helps metabolize fat to control weight gain.
- Vitamin B6: When present in combination with vitamins B2 and B3, B6 is capable of regulating hormonal balance, especially in the thyroid. Any deficiencies here can deregulate thyroid function and lead a chain reaction of metabolic processes.
How Vitamin Deficiency Affects PCOS
Any healthy diet plan needs a balanced repository of vitamins and minerals. However, dieticians often get carried away, trying to focus on the “macros.” Studies show that women with PCOS are often at risk of nutrient deficiencies in some common minerals like potassium and magnesium. In terms of vitamins, B12 and B9 are usually present in insufficient amounts.
The deficiency of vitamin D is also linked with PCOS, depression and insulin resistance.
High levels of insulin are also harmful to reproductive function because they trigger the ovaries to produce more androgens. And these excess androgen levels cause increased acne, body hair, and an irregular menstrual cycle.
Plus, studies show that insulin resistance can intensify PCOS symptoms and heighten the risk of diabetes.
Common Nutritional Deficiencies
Magnesium is a trace mineral present in abundance in the human body. It plays an important role in shaping over 600 different enzyme reactions that affect our metabolism, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and muscle function.
We’re able to regulate our magnesium intake easily by maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. However, a balanced diet doesn’t always make the cut with PCOS women who commonly face magnesium deficiencies.
If you’re someone who takes birth control pills to deal with your PCOS, you’re also likely to have lower levels of magnesium in your system. Ironically enough, birth control pills may be able to give you regular periods without regulating your menstrual cycle. As I have mentioned in my previous article, the Pill is not a solution to your PCOS dilemma. In fact, it’s going to hurt your magnesium levels that are essential for controlling insulin resistance. This leaves you prone to chronic inflammation and a high risk of developing diabetes.
To boost your magnesium intake, you can take the following foods:
– Nuts (hazelnuts, almonds)
– Seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds)
– Legumes (black beans, peanuts, soybeans)
– Whey protein
– Vegetables (potatoes, spinach)
– Grains (oats, rice, sorghum, teff, barley)
– Raw cacao
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for the regulation of reproductive hormones such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), progesterone levels and anti-mullerian hormone (AMH). Vitamin D also helps reduce insulin resistance and improves blood sugar levels.
Up to 85 percent of women with PCOS have a Vitamin D deficiency. The risk is naturally elevated if they’re living in regions where sunlight is sparse. The inadequacy is often considered a leading cause of infertility among PCOS women. It also increases testosterone levels and inflammation in the body.
Some foods you can take to boost your Vitamin D levels:
– Fortified milk and other dairy products
– Cod liver oil
– Fish (salmon, swordfish, tuna)
Just like magnesium, zinc is a trace mineral that plays a key role in our body’s enzyme activity. More important for PCOS women is to know that zinc helps regulate the menstrual cycle and promotes fertility. When present in combination with magnesium, the two nutrients are capable of curbing PCOS symptoms like acne, hair loss, high testosterone, inflammation and Hirsutism. However, if you’re taking birth control pills then you’re actively depleting zinc levels in your body.
Here are some foods to help you boost your zinc levels.
– Meat (lamb, beef, bison, turkey)
– Legumes (azuki beans, black beans)
– Seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
– Whey protein
4. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B 12 is one of the most important nutrients often missing in PCOS women. This vitamin is important for nerve function, synthesis of DNA and the formation of red blood cells. Studies show that women with low levels of B12 tend to have higher insulin resistance and problems with obesity.
An increase in vitamin B12 can ward off symptoms of fatigue and boost fertility in women with PCOS. Here are some foods you should be incorporating in your diet:
– Meat (beef, liver, pork)
– Shellfish (oysters, mussels, crab)
– Dairy products
– Fish (salmon, herring)
Okay, before I begin explaining this let me just clarify, folate is NOT the same thing as folic acid. Folate is also known as Vitamin B9 and is naturally occurring in leafy green vegetables. Folic acid, on the other hand, is a synthetic version of the vitamin, produced in controlled lab settings.
This distinction is important to note because patients with MTHFR mutation (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) cannot make enzymes in their body absorb folic acid. Taking the synthetic vitamin can create further complications and I would advise all my patients to visit my office so we can have you tested for MTHFR first.
Folate is a necessary vitamin for women with PCOS since it reduces chronic inflammation, balances blood sugar and lipid levels in the body. You may consume the following folate-rich foods:
– Vegetables (beets, asparagus, spinach, peas, broccoli, collard greens, cabbage)
– Legumes (black beans, azuki beans, soybeans)
– Fruits (oranges, mangoes)
Nutrient Deficiencies Caused by PCOS Medications
I come across many patients who are actively taking medication to cope with their PCOS condition. I’ve previously discussed how birth control pills exacerbate many PCOS symptoms like insulin resistance and testosterone levels. Here’s a list of nutrients you’re depleting while you’re taking PCOS medications.
– Birth control pills: magnesium, folate, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B12
– Spironolactone: sodium, folate
– Metformin: vitamin B1, vitamin B12, folate
– SSRI antidepressants: folate
Optimal Dosages of Vitamins
As explained at the start of this power post, vitamins and mineral are meant to be taken in small amounts. Although water-soluble vitamins don’t pose the risk of toxicity, fat-soluble vitamins do. Let’s just talk briefly about the important vitamins and their doses.
Take magnesium glycinate or magnesium chelate at 400mg. A word of caution: do not consume magnesium in citrate form unless you’re constipated because that would give you loose stools.
If you’re consuming magnesium supplements for the long-term, you can pair them with calcium supplements too. Use them in a 1:2 ratio of magnesium to calcium supplements. That means for every 400mg of magnesium you take, you will need to take 800mg of calcium.
Vitamin D Dose:
There is no optimal dose for vitamin D. However my recommendation is to go for 800 IU per day. Some conventional medicine experts might consider this level too low and may ask you to take it up to 1000 and over. Although, this should only be done if you’re severely deficient in Vitamin D. I would suggest you pair vitamin K with vitamin D to help diminish the risk of calcium stocking in the arteries.
The recommended daily intake for zinc is at 8mg per day for women. Usually, the mineral is not administered for long-term usage because that affects the copper and iron levels in your body. If you’re still unsure and think you need to take up zinc consistently then I’d recommend you pay me a visit and I’ll help you figure out your situation. In the meanwhile, try zinc picolinate; it’s easily absorbed in the bloodstream.
Vitamin B12 Dose:
The recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 is 2.4mcg per day for women. If you’re looking for something that absorbs easily, then you can try Methylated B12. This should also work for patients who have an MTHFR mutation. However, there have been reports of Methylated B12 making symptoms worse in anxiety patients. When you visit my office, I’ll make sure we check for any potential side-effects of the vitamin on you. As a general rule, it’s better to take vitamin B12 as a combination supplement so there’s little risk of imbalances developing.
PCOS and pregnant women should take folate somewhere between 200 to 600mcg per day. You may have to take slightly higher doses if you have MTHFR mutation.
Get in Touch With Dr. Hagmeyer
Want to work with my office to beat your PCOS symptoms? That’s great!
Just fill out these health questionnaires and help me get to know more about your health condition and personal goals. Once you’ve submitted your answers just sit back and let my office take care of the rest.
In around 15 minutes, we’ll send you an email on how to get started on your path to recovery. We’ll also help you chalk out a nutritious and fully-customized diet plan that meets your individual needs.
I look forward to working with you!