I often get asked about treatment options for PCOS. More specifically, patients are usually interested in knowing if there are any supplements that can help curb their PCOS symptoms.
While I absolutely believe that proper testing is the best way to get a handle on PCOS, there are certain supplements that can help.
I find many women on the lookout for pills and drugs that are slightly different from conventional prescriptions. Most commonly, women with PCOS take up birth control pills as a form of treatment. It may or may not work for you but contraception pills come with a range of intense side-effects that eventually just exacerbate your PCOS condition. I’ve written extensively about the drawbacks of birth control pills—not just for PCOS but for other health conditions too. You can read more on it here and here.
You see, traditional medication is only going to mask your PCOS symptoms. It’s not really going to address the root cause of the problem.
However, you can rest assured with this fact: PCOS is absolutely treatable. You can do it with simple changes to your diet and overall lifestyle.
I can say this with guarantee because I’ve worked with hundreds of patients who have found success in the treatment options I offered them.
Now over to the main question; can supplements treat PCOS effectively? It sure can. Not in isolation, of course. But with the right supplements you can improve hormone health, gut health, methylation, Thryoid health, blood sugar control, adrenals and inflammation. This in turn can help regulate your menstrual cycle—Critical Big Picture factors that are central to the PCOS epidemic.
In today’s power post, I’ll be discussing some supplements to help you reduce your PCOS symptoms—many of which I’ve recommended to my patients. Read on to uncover the details!
If you’re reading my blogs for the first time, it’ll probably help for you to know that PCOS, which stands for polycystic ovary syndrome, is a hormonal disorder that affects one in ten American women of childbearing age.
Insulin resistance is a major cause here. Basically, insulin is a type of hormone produced in the pancreas that’s necessary for breaking down the glucose in your blood. That’s what gives your body the energy to perform all its vital functions.
Now, if your body doesn’t produce enough insulin or isn’t utilizing its insulin properly, your blood sugar levels will spike. And to counter this effect, your pancreas will make extra insulin—in hopes of metabolizing that excess sugar. A prolonged case of high blood sugar levels and extra insulin can lead to serious hormonal imbalances and PCOS is just one of the many resultant disorders.
Another important thing to know here is that insulin resistance can lead your ovaries to excrete excess androgens, especially testosterone. High levels of testosterone can cause the development of small cysts on the ovaries. Though, sometimes women with an androgen excess problem have completely normal looking ovaries. I know it sounds a bit complex right now but you can read more about on my last power post article.
So if all of this is happening inside your body, how do you know you actually have PCOS?
PCOS symptoms vary from person to person, depending on the severity of hormonal imbalances. They can include the following:
- Weight gain
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Missing period
- Heavier than usual menstrual flow
- Hirsutism (excessive body hair growth)
- Hair loss
- Depression and anxiety
Most PCOS women experience many of these symptoms but not everyone exhibits the exact same signs. Because of the individual variance, it’s hard to treat PCOS without comprehensively reviewing each woman’s case.
PCOS can affect your cardiovascular health, metabolism and can cause diabetes so you can imagine it’s going to take a while to heal.
The good news is that with the right supplements, your symptoms can reduce at a significantly faster rate and you’ll be able to speed up the healing process. Additionally, supplements make subtle changes to your system, all while ensuring that the body is receiving its fair share of nutrients.
What About Nutritional Diets?
When we talk about supplementation and nutrition, our diet is something we can’t ignore. Honestly, there is nothing that can replace a bad diet. Remember that the supplements I’m going to recommend to you below are meant only to complement your diet and lifestyle changes. In my experience with PCOS patients, anti-inflammatory diets, Paleo, AI Paleo, Keto diets and a focus on whole foods have yielded the best results.
The thing is that a majority of PCOS cases link back to inflammation in the body and insulin resistance in one way or another. This is worsened easily when you include tons of packaged, starchy and processed foods in your diet. Eat fresh foods! Have meat, eggs, vegetables, nuts and fruits regularly. Keep your carbohydrate intake low since that can easily raise your blood sugar levels.
Top Supplements for PCOS
Omega-3s are fatty acids commonly found in fish oil. They’re a great way to add healthy fats to your diet and they help with weight loss. Omega-3 works well for PCOS patients who have weight and obesity-related problems.
Research shows that Omega-3 fatty acids can help regulate the menstrual cycle and can reduce testosterone levels in women battling PCOS. There are more studies showing that as Omega-3s reduce testosterone levels, they simultaneously increase SHBG levels.
SHBG stands for Sex Hormone Binding Globulin. It’s a kind of protein that binds your testosterone to estrogen hormones in an effort to normalize the levels of free-floating hormones.
Another great benefit of consuming Omega-3 supplements is that it can reduce inflammation in your body. Some researchers claim that inflammation is a major cause of insulin resistance and other PCOS symptoms. So if you’re taking fish oil, you have a chance to reduce inflammation and help your cells absorb as much insulin as they can. Plus, it reduces leptin levels in your system too, which is crucial for regulating your appetite. This way you also maintain a healthy weight with Omega 3s.
Commonly known as vitamin B8, this is one of the best supplements women with PCOS can use. That’s because it helps maintain your blood sugar levels and promotes overall ovarian health. So this means vitamin B8 is going to help your body absorb and use more insulin, regulate an out-of-whack menstrual cycle and boost fertility. Plus, some studies show that vitamin B8 can also decrease the risk of developing gestational diabetes.
Another study indicates that consuming Vitamin B8 can also decrease insulin resistance. Myo-Inositol specifically helped ovarian health as it enhanced the development of follicles and promoted egg maturation.
With so much to offer, it’s no surprise PCOS women love an inositol supplement.
This trace mineral is particularly suited to improving your insulin situation and helps regulate the balance of various hormones. According to one research, chromium can help decrease blood sugar and insulin levels in PCOS patients. Another one found that regular intake of chromium supplements can reduce blood glucose levels. Since excess glucose can lead to hormonal imbalances and weight gain, this supplement should work well for those experiencing serious weight problems.
In my experience, a mineral complex works much better than a single mineral supplement, so I suggest you use this supplement; it includes an optimum level of chromium among other trace elements.
Also known as Chase Tree Berry, Vitex has is a sub-tropical flowering plant that has been used in the Mediterranean for centuries as a means to promote female fertility.
Vitex helps regulate hormonal balance, especially progesterone levels. The interesting thing is that Vitex is one of the very supplements listed here that can actually influence the pituitary gland, thereby influencing how ovaries function.
Some studies show that Vitex can boost progesterone and regulate testosterone levels. So with this supplement, you can expect a reduction in the severity of PCOS symptoms like acne, PMS, ovarian cysts, miscarriages, and the risk of endometriosis.
Magnesium is a trace element that should be taken whether you have PCOS or not. Low levels of magnesium in the body are linked with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, osteoporosis and diabetes.
Low magnesium levels in the body make diabetes particularly worse and that’s because magnesium is used by the body to break down sugar and use insulin. According to one study, a 300mg intake of magnesium before bed can help regulate blood sugar and insulin levels. So it’s safe to say that your magnesium supplement can help sort out your insulin resistance problem, all while improving mood, energy, hormonal balance, and bowel functionality.
I also recommend magnesium supplements to many of my patients who experience menstrual cramps. The element is quickly absorbed in chelate form and is also better retained by the body as compared to other forms.
A standard dose of magnesium ranges from 300–450 mg. But I cannot emphasize this enough that you need to take magnesium in a form that’s highly absorbable!
This is yet another trace element that can help your body get rid of excess testosterone—if and when it’s used in combination with other elements (such as saw palmetto extract). At the very basic level, zinc helps decrease this enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase that transforms testosterone into a more potent androgen; DHT.
So consider DHT as a Hulk version of testosterone with amplified effects.
Now, since zinc is able to reduce DHT levels PCOS patients can see some visual changes if they take the supplement regularly. For starters, it’s effective in reducing Hirsutism and acne. It also regulates mood and stabilizes weight. On the whole, studies show that zinc has a positive influence on the metabolism of PCOS women.
7. Saw Palmetto
As mentioned above, a mix of zinc with saw palmetto extract can help significantly reduce the activity of 5-alpha-reductase, thereby reducing the production of DHT.
DHT is one of the prime causes of symptoms like facial hair growth, acne, hair thinning and menstrual cycle irregularities. By inhibiting the conversion of testosterone hormones to DHT, saw palmetto helps diminish the intensity of PCOS symptoms.
Apart from androgen regulation, this supplement also possesses the potential to relieve pelvic pain. I’d suggest a daily intake of 450mg.
8. Vitamin D
Research shows that vitamin D deficiency can have detrimental effects on PCOS patients. On second thought, vitamin D deficiency is good for everyone. It’s a core vitamin that helps so many vital functions in the human body and without it you may experience:
- Insulin resistance
- Increased weight gain
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased risk of diabetes
Vitamin D helps maturate and develop eggs in the ovaries; so if you’re low on this vitamin then your ovaries can’t release fertile eggs. By taking vitamin D supplements you can actually help boost the creation of healthy ovulary follicles that are crucial in helping women ovulate and conceive. So you can tell this feature is of paramount importance to PCOS women who are often battling with ovulary dysfunction and infertility.
From the functional medicine perspective, a dose of vitamin D in combination with calcium can have a positive influence on:
- Weight loss
- Egg and follicle maturation
- Regulation of the menstrual cycle
- Improved fertility
- Improved insulin sensitivity
Commonly known as vitamin B-9, this supplement is especially useful for women who are struggling to get pregnant. Studies prove that a combination of inositol with folate can improve fertility in women battling PCOS because the mixture is great for boosting insulin sensitivity.
Folate also has the potential to reduce the risk of miscarriage and promotes the birth of the child full term. I’d say 200mcg of this supplement should do the trick.
Not every type of supplement listed here is going to work for you. Hormonal imbalance is not the name of a specific kind of ailment. It’s an umbrella term for a score of androgen-based problems.
One PCOS patient may have a completely different hormonal imbalance problem than another PCOS patient, even when the symptoms may be the same. This is why it’s important for you to work with a certified functional medicine practitioner who will investigate the “BIG picture”.
If you’re interested in working with my office to beat your PCOS symptoms, I would invite you to take a few minutes to complete this health questionnaire right away. This will tell me details about your health condition and once we’ve discussed your personal health goals, I can begin devising a testing/treatment strategy that will be tailored to meet your individual needs.