You just found out you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Now what? The condition, which affects five million women in the U.S. alone, can wreak havoc on your hormones and still doesn’t have a known cure. While many women successfully manage their symptoms solely with medication and hormone therapy, some prefer to supplement traditional treatments with more holistic remedies, while some opt for entirely natural alternatives.
“I always look at diet and lifestyle — how I can help patients modify their focus and remove obstacles that may be in their way on the path towards wellness,” says April Blake, ND. “As a naturopathic doctor, I prefer to utilize therapies that are gentle and less invasive, and focus on mind-body medicine and lifestyle. If you’re looking for alternatives to traditional treatments, there are several evidence-based therapeutics that have been shown to be effective.”
“In addition to supplements, I recommend getting to the root cause of the condition,” says FLOLiving.com founder and One Medical patient Alisa Vitti. After suffering with PCOS symptoms for years, the best-selling author of “WomanCode” developed an online program that targets hormonal imbalances through nutrition. “I help women eat in a way that supports the endocrine system as a whole,” Vitti says. “Supplements are an important way to expedite healing, but nutrition and the mind-body connection are the basis of my practice.”
Here are some natural methods to help manage your PCOS symptoms:
Before trying any treatment option, it’s important to discuss your diagnosis with your health care provider and collaborate on a plan that works for you.
1. Be strategic with calories.
One study indicates that caloric intake timing can have a big impact on glucose, insulin and testosterone levels. Lowering insulin could potentially help with infertility issues. Women with PCOS who ate the majority of their daily calories at breakfast for 12 weeks significantly improved their insulin and glucose levels as well as decreased their testosterone levels by 50 percent, compared to women who consumed their largest meals at dinnertime. The effective diet consisted of a 980-calorie breakfast, a 640-calorie lunch, and a 190-calorie dinner.
2. Decrease AGEs.
Women with PCOS have been shown to have higher levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in their blood. AGEs are compounds formed when glucose binds with proteins, and are believed to contribute to certain degenerative diseases and aging. One small study found that cutting down on dietary AGEs significantly reduced insulin levels in women with PCOS. Foods high in AGEs include animal-derived foods and processed foods. Applying high heat (grilling, searing, roasting) increases levels.
3. Bone up on vitamin D and calcium.
A case control study examining 100 infertile women with PCOS found that those who supplemented a daily 1500 mg dose of metformin, a medication commonly used to treat PCOS symptoms, with calcium and vitamin D saw improvements in BMI, menstrual abnormalities, and other symptoms. The women in the study added 1,000 mg of calcium a day and 100,000 IU of vitamin D a month to their daily metformin dose for six months.
4. Get enough magnesium.
Many women with PCOS exhibit symptoms of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, risk factors that raise the risk for heart disease and other problems like diabetes and stroke. Low magnesium levels are often associated with diabetes, and some research indicates that a dietary supplement of the mineral may improve insulin sensitivity, a factor in the development of type 2 diabetes and PCOS. One study found that overweight, insulin-resistant subjects who received 300 mg of magnesium at bedtime showed a significant improvement in fasting blood glucose and insulin levels, compared to subjects who received a placebo.
5. Increase your chromium.
Chromium is an essential mineral that helps the body regulate insulin and blood sugar levels. Some research suggests that chromium supplements can help people with diabetes lower their blood glucose levels. One study examined the role of the mineral in women with PCOS. The results indicated that 200 mcg daily of chromium picolinate significantly reduced fasting blood sugar and insulin levels in subjects — enough that the effects were comparable to the pharmaceutical, metformin. While metformin was also associated with lower levels of testosterone, taking a daily dose of 200 mcg of chromium picolinate could help regulate blood sugar levels.
6. Load up on omega-3s.
Fish oil has been associated with a long list of health benefits, and some research indicates that omega-3 supplements can decrease androgen levels in women with PCOS. One study found that women with PCOS who were given three grams of omega-3s a day for eight weeks had lower testosterone concentrations and were more likely to resume regular menses than subjects who received a placebo.