PCOS is a common hormonal condition that you might have yourself, or maybe you know someone who has it.
If you’re new to the management of PCOS, you probably have questions.
Understanding how you can naturally treat PCOS is a great place to start in your journey to improve your health.
Keep reading to find out the best supplements for PCOS and lifestyle changes you can make to improve your symptoms.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a condition that impacts hormone levels in women. Most often, PCOS causes high levels of androgens, a type of male hormone.
While it’s normal for women to have some testosterone (the main type of male sex hormone) present, PCOS can cause abnormally high levels of testosterone which disrupt a woman’s hormone balance.
PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility and is estimated to impact 6-12% of women of childbearing age. PCOS can affect you regardless of your weight, though many women with PCOS are considered overweight or obese.
There is a link between PCOS and insulin resistance. It’s estimated that as many as 80% of women with PCOS are insulin resistant (1).
Insulin resistance occurs when your body doesn’t respond to insulin (the hormone that lowers your blood sugar) the way it should, leading to high blood sugar levels. Having PCOS is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
PCOS is diagnosed if you meet at least two of three categories: high androgen levels (testosterone levels), lack of or absent ovulation, and cysts on your ovaries as visualized on an ultrasound.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
Elevated levels of androgens can lead to PCOS symptoms such as:
- Irregular periods due to lack of ovulation
- Cysts on the ovaries or enlarged ovaries
- Weight gain
- Oily skin and/or acne
- Unwanted hair growth (especially on the face; also called hirsutism)
- Hair thinning
How can supplements help PCOS?
Some supplements can help correct the hormonal imbalances that cause PCOS symptoms, while others might help promote healthy egg development and regulate ovulation patterns.
For insulin-resistant PCOS, certain vitamins, minerals, and supplements might help improve your insulin sensitivity.
7 best supplements for PCOS
1) D-chiro inositol and myo-inositol
Myo-inositol and D-chiro inositol are vitamin-like substances with insulin-mimetic properties, so they act similar to insulin.
Myo- and D-chiro inositol have been studied for their ability to improve insulin sensitivity and are often recommended for women suffering from PCOS to reduce symptoms.
Metformin is a medication for type 2 diabetes that is used off-label to treat PCOS. Inositol has been studied in direct comparison with metformin in insulin-resistant women.
Both metformin and myo-inositol were found to have similar positive effects on insulin levels, fasting blood sugar, and hormone levels associated with PCOS (2).
Inositol can also improve ovulation patterns and help those with PCOS who want to conceive naturally. In a study of 50 insulin-resistant women with PCOS, over 60% ovulated after the administration of myo-inositol (3).
Another study concluded that myo-inositol improved oocyte (a developing egg) maturity, which can boost your odds of conceiving if you’ve struggled with PCOS-related infertility (4).
Finally, inositol has shown to be effective in improving insulin sensitivity and lowering androgen levels in lean women with PCOS (5).
You can buy inositol supplements that contain D-chiro inositol, myo-inositol, or a blend of both.
Berberine is a compound we can find in certain plants. It is often used as a natural PCOS treatment.
Berberine might help improve insulin sensitivity, which is important with insulin-resistant PCOS (6). Additionally, berberine might also help reduce blood triglyceride levels and waist circumference, which are some signs of insulin resistance.
Berberine may also assist with weight loss, which can be more difficult among women with PCOS.
A review of five studies on over 1,000 women concluded that berberine helped reduce visceral fat (fat around the belly), improved insulin sensitivity, and improved ovulation rates (7).
The authors of the study concluded that berberine is a safe option for use in premenopausal women with PCOS who want to get pregnant and with few side effects.
3) N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
N-acetyl-cysteine is used by the body to make antioxidants. Antioxidants help fight inflammation, a driving factor behind many chronic diseases that may play a role in PCOS.
NAC improves insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS with insulin resistance, according to a small study (8). Another study on the use of N-acetyl cysteine for PCOS found that NAC improved ovulation and pregnancy rates compared to a placebo (9).
Another study compared NAC to metformin for PCOS management. The results showed that NAC significantly reduced total testosterone levels and BMI (10). But, there weren’t significant differences in pregnancy rates, fasting insulin, and certain reproductive hormones like luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone between NAC and metformin.
4) Vitamin D
Compared to the general population, women with PCOS are more likely to be deficient in vitamin D (11). Vitamin D deficiency might worsen endocrine disorders like PCOS, as well as metabolic disorders.
Some signs of vitamin D deficiency include fatigue, muscle weakness, muscle cramps, bone pain, and mood changes such as depression.
Sunshine exposure is needed for your body to make its own vitamin D. You might be at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency if you don’t spend much time in the sun, use sunscreen, or have darker skin.
Taking vitamin D supplements might improve insulin resistance and excessive production of androgens in women with PCOS, especially if you’re at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Women with PCOS are more likely to be deficient in magnesium than those without and may have lower magnesium intake (12). Magnesium deficiency is also correlated with insulin resistance and might play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes.
Supplementing magnesium for women with insulin-resistant PCOS could help improve glucose metabolism.
There are several different forms of magnesium. The types that are the easiest to absorb are magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate. Magnesium oxide contains more magnesium by weight, but it might not be absorbed as easily.
6) Omega-3 fatty acids
Women with PCOS are more likely to have elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. According to a study, administering omega-3 fatty acids to women with PCOS resulted in improved cholesterol levels as well as more regular periods (13).
Omega-3 fatty acids also have anti-inflammatory properties. PCOS is partly driven by chronic, low-grade inflammation, and women with PCOS tend to have elevated markers of inflammation (14).
You can get omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements, krill oil, cod liver oil, or algae oil if you’re a vegetarian or vegan.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that help restore the beneficial bacteria that live in your gut, known as your microbiome or gut microbiota.
An imbalance of these good bacteria can lead to health issues, including autoimmune disorders, certain types of cancer, and gastrointestinal disorders.
Interestingly, your gut microbiota also appears to play a role in PCOS (15). Administering probiotics to women with PCOS resulted in improvements in blood sugar levels, BMI, and markers of insulin resistance.
The best probiotics for PCOS might be those that include strains from either the Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium genus. They show the most improvement in insulin resistance, cholesterol levels, and markers of inflammation, according to animal studies (16).
Lifestyle changes for PCOS
While supplements can be a great addition to naturally treating PCOS, they aren’t a replacement for healthy lifestyle habits. Combining supplements with lifestyle changes is more likely to improve PCOS symptoms.
Eating a healthy diet
A PCOS diet is essentially an anti-inflammatory diet low in refined carbohydrates and added sugars. This type of healthy eating plan is rich in nutrient-rich foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and plant-based oils.
Eating fatty fish and lean meat like poultry more than red meat is also part of an anti-inflammatory PCOS diet.
If you have insulin-resistant PCOS, you might find that a lower carbohydrate diet helps improve your symptoms. Carbohydrates raise your blood sugar levels, which can worsen insulin resistance.
Instead of eliminating carbs, aim for a balanced diet and focus on choosing healthy carbohydrates. Opt for whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables instead of refined grains, processed foods, and foods high in added sugar.
Regular physical activity has a positive influence on insulin sensitivity. It’s recommended that women with PCOS engage in vigorous aerobic exercise (the kinds that increase your heart rate and make it difficult to speak while you’re doing them) as well as resistance training.
Resistance training, in particular, might improve androgen levels, according to a study (17). Examples of resistance training include weight lifting, using resistance bands, and activities like yoga which can improve your muscle tone and strength.
Women with PCOS appear to have altered stress responses compared to those without PCOS. According to a small study, women with PCOS had higher heart rates and increased psychological stress when placed in a stressful situation (18).
Women with PCOS tend to have higher levels of perceived stress and increased depression and anxiety compared to those who don’t report having PCOS (19).
Stress management looks different for everybody. Getting regular physical activity, cutting down on screen time, practicing meditation, and spending time with loved ones are all popular methods of stress management that might help you.
Losing weight can help manage PCOS, but we all know sustainable weight loss can be difficult to achieve.
Instead of implementing restrictive behaviors to try to lose weight with PCOS, try to choose small, attainable goals instead. Instead of swearing to entirely cut out sugar, aim to keep your added sugar intake below 25 grams a day. Rather than pledging to exercise for an hour every day, pick an amount of time that is reasonable for your lifestyle and that you can maintain in the long term.
PCOS is a common hormonal disorder impacting millions of women of childbearing age. PCOS is often rooted in insulin resistance, but it can also occur without insulin resistance. Women with PCOS are also more likely to be deficient in certain nutrients than those without PCOS.
The best supplements for PCOS have shown the potential to improve insulin resistance, correct common nutrient and vitamin deficiencies, and promote healthy hormone levels.
Coupled with healthy lifestyle changes, supplements for PCOS can help reduce symptoms, improve cycle regularity, and may help improve pregnancy rates in those women wanting to conceive.