Here’s What a Holistic Doctor & Hormone Expert Wants You to Know About Treating PCOS
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects millions of women worldwide. The symptoms of PCOS can range from irregular menstrual cycles, hair loss, acne, weight gain, and fertility issues. Unfortunately, many conventional women’s health doctors often prescribe hormonal birth control as the go-to solution for managing PCOS. While birth control can be effective in symptom management, it’s not the only option, and it certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
Let’s learn how diet, lifestyle changes, and certain herbs & supplements can help manage PCOS symptoms—without relying only on hormonal birth control.
Before diving into whole-body treatments, it’s essential to understand the key hormonal components of PCOS. PCOS is characterized by hormonal imbalances that can manifest in various ways, including irregular menstrual cycles, ovarian cysts, and symptoms like acne, hirsutism (excess hair growth), and weight gain.
Three primary underlying hormonal imbalances often associated with PCOS include (1):
- Insulin Resistance: Many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, which means their cells don’t respond well to insulin. This condition can lead to elevated insulin levels, increased fat storage, and difficulties in maintaining a healthy weight.
- Inflammation: Chronic inflammation is common in women with PCOS. Elevated levels of inflammation can worsen insulin resistance and contribute to other symptoms like acne and irregular menstrual cycles.
- Androgen Excess: Androgens are often referred to as “male hormones,” although both men and women have them. Elevated androgens in women can lead to symptoms like hirsutism and acne, as well as difficulties with ovulation. Some research suggests that insulin resistance actually causes the ovaries to produce excess testosterone (2).
Now, let’s explore how you can address these underlying hormonal imbalances using diet, lifestyle, and supplements.
Work with your body, not against it
Diet and lifestyle changes are first-line therapy in international evidence-based guidelines for PCOS (3). This approach focuses on improving insulin sensitivity and reducing inflammation, which can help regulate hormone levels and improve PCOS symptoms. Additionally, these changes can also support healthy gut function and reduce stress, both of which are crucial for overall health and hormonal balance.
Contrary to conventional Westernized treatment, hormonal birth control isn’t the only way (or even the best way) to manage PCOS symptoms. Hormonal birth control doesn’t address the underlying insulin resistance and inflammation experienced by PCOS patients. And, it can mask symptoms that reappear with a vengeance once you stop birth control.
Read more: How to Balance Hormones…Fast!
By reducing highly processed foods and sugar, and focusing on nutrient-dense whole foods, you can regulate blood sugar levels which is central to managing polycystic ovarian syndrome. A PCOS-friendly diet includes:
Low Glycemic Index (GI) Diet
A low-GI diet focuses on consuming foods that have a minimal impact on blood sugar levels. This can help manage insulin resistance (4), a common issue in PCOS. Foods with a low GI include greens, berries, other non-starchy fruits & vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats.
Focus on consuming complex carbohydrates like minimally processed whole grains like quinoa, fruits, and vegetables. These provide plenty of fiber which helps stabilize blood sugar levels (4). If you’re struggling adding fiber to your diet, try these tips to avoid bloating and discomfort.
Including sufficient protein in your diet can help control appetite, manage weight, and support healthy blood glucose levels (5). Lean sources of protein such as poultry, fish, and legumes are excellent choices.
Incorporate sources of healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. These fats support hormonal balance and may help reduce inflammation (6).
Include foods rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, such as berries, leafy greens, and turmeric. These can help mitigate the effects of chronic inflammation.
Try these: 9 Easy Anti-Inflammatory Recipes
If you’re looking to manage PCOS symptoms naturally, you absolutely must take an honest look at things like sleep, stress, and movement. Aside from diet, these are the most important factors to reduce PCOS symptoms and protect against long-term issues like metabolic syndrome.
Lifestyle modifications for PCOS include:
Engaging in regular physical activity can improve insulin sensitivity, help you lose weight if that’s your goal, and reduce inflammation. Aim for a mix of cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and relaxation practices like yoga. Don’t overdo high-intensity exercises.
Chronic stress can exacerbate PCOS symptoms (7). Incorporate stress-reduction techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, or spending time in nature into your daily routine.
Prioritize quality sleep, aiming for 7-9 hours per night. Poor sleep can disrupt hormonal balance and exacerbate insulin resistance.
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can significantly improve PCOS symptoms, especially if you have insulin resistance. However, remember that PCOS affects women of all body types.
Inositol: This supplement has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and ovarian function in women with PCOS (8). It’s available in different forms, including myo-inositol and D-chiro-inositol.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce inflammation associated with PCOS.
N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC): NAC is known for its antioxidant properties and may help improve insulin sensitivity and regulate menstrual cycles.
Vitamins and Minerals: Some women with PCOS may benefit from specific vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, chromium, and magnesium (9). Consider working with a qualified holistic provider to determine if you have any deficiencies.
Herbal Supplements: In Chinese and Eastern medicine, herbal supplements such as cinnamon and spearmint tea have shown promise in managing PCOS symptoms (10). Berberine is another helpful plant compound known for supporting insulin sensitivity (11). However, it’s helpful to talk with a holistic provider who’s knowledgeable about these supplements to plan the best course of action for your needs.
What to remember about PCOS
PCOS is a complex condition that can significantly impact a woman’s overall health and quality of life. Understanding the underlying hormonal imbalances is crucial in managing PCOS symptoms. While hormonal birth control pills may be one option for managing PCOS symptoms, they are not the only solution. An integrative or functional doctor can offer lifestyle recommendations, dietary changes, and supplements that can help manage the underlying hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS. By addressing these imbalances, women can reduce their symptoms, improve fertility, and restore hormonal balance without relying on hormonal birth control.