PCOS stands for polycystic ovarian syndrome and something that I see in my practice all the time. It is also one of the number one causes of infertility and is a hormonal disorder that many women don’t even know that they have. PCOS affects anywhere from 5-20% of women who are of childbearing age, and if you are trying to get pregnant and have been unsuccessful, this may be something you may want to look into. Not only does PCOS cause an issue with fertility, but it can also lead to other serious health conditions which is why it is very important to treat it appropriately as PCOS can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and even type 2 diabetes. Another thing to keep in mind is that there is a genetic link with PCOS so if someone in your family suffers from polycystic ovarian syndrome, there is a higher chance that you could too. (1) In this post, I am going to answer the question what is PCOS, and talk about things you can do to support symptoms and hormone balance.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a fairly common condition that affects women and is related to a hormonal imbalance. This condition happens to be the leading cause of endocrine disruption in women of childbearing age. However, this condition often goes undiagnosed. It is caused by an imbalance in reproductive hormones which can create an issue with the ovaries. (2) During each menstrual cycle, the egg may not develop or it may not be released during ovulation each month.
Symptoms of PCOS
Since PCOS often goes undiagnosed, it is important to keep an eye out for the most common symptoms of this condition so that you can get to the bottom of what may be going on and treat it appropriately. Here are some of the most commonly seen symptoms when it comes to polycystic ovarian syndrome.
- Irregular periods
- Weight gain
- Hair loss or increased hair growth
- Decreased libido
- Changes in mood
- High testosterone levels
Keep in mind that symptoms can vary and not all women will have all of the same symptoms. Some may have a handful of these symptoms, while others may have all of them.
What Causes PCOS?
So, what exactly causes PCOS. It is thought that insulin resistance plays a huge role in the cause of this condition. Insulin resistance happens when the body does not respond to insulin appropriately, and the insulin levels in your blood spike higher than they should. There is a huge link between PCOS and insulin resistance, and unhealthy eating habits, being overweight, or living a sedentary lifestyle can all put you at an increased risk of developing insulin resistance.
Another potential cause of this condition is having high levels of androgens. (2) Women make small amounts of androgens despite the fact that these are often associated with male hormones. Women who suffer from PCOS happen to have an increased level of androgens which can cause issues when it comes to releasing an egg each month. The increase in androgens can also lead to acne as well as an increase in hair growth. These are two very classic signs of polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Supplements for PCOS
While PCOS can be devastating for women who are trying to conceive and can lead to long-term health issues, there are a number of natural approaches to treating this condition. In my practice, I use a functional medicine approach to treating the hormonal imbalances present with polycystic ovarian syndrome. The first approach is looking at potential deficiencies and choosing appropriate supplements. Here are some of the supplements I recommend my patients use when supporting PCOS.
- Inositol: Inositol is a sugar alcohol that is commonly found in fruits, nuts, and grains. This is an important supplement when dealing with PCOS as it is thought to help promote ovulation which is something that many of the women suffering from this condition may have issues with. It is thought that it may also be able to help support the symptoms related to PCOS.
- Magnesium Glycinate: I often recommend magnesium to my patients with PCOS as it can help support the thyroid and it is also needed for estrogen and progesterone production.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is important, but vitamin D levels should be tested first as it is a fat-soluble vitamin. It can help support insulin activity.
- Zinc: Zinc is helpful for supporting normal menstrual cycles, but it is also great for immune health as well.
- B-Complex Vitamins: B-complex vitamins are great for detox and also energy support.
A Dietary Approach to PCOS
On top of appropriate supplementation, I also use a dietary approach for supporting PCOS. The first thing I always stress is that a whole foods diet is crucial. Since insulin resistance is often at the root of the problem, eliminating foods that can cause blood sugar imbalances is key here. You will also want to fuel your body with nutrient-dense foods to help support hormone balance, support natural detoxification, boost metabolism, and combat fatigue. A diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can also be helpful so you will want to fuel up on foods like low-sugar fruits, vegetables, grass-fed animal products, and healthy fats like coconut, avocado, nuts, and seeds.
While there are foods you will want to add to your diet to support PCOS, there are also some foods you will want to avoid. Avoiding things like artificial sweeteners, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods, and damaged fats such as hydrogenated or trans fats is super important.
Below, is an infographic explaining some PCOS diet Do’s and Don’ts.
Adapted from PCOS Diet Support
Lifestyle Approach to Supporting PCOS
On top of diet and supplements to support this condition, there are also some lifestyle factors that play into supporting your body and hormonal balance. Reducing stress is super important. This is important when dealing with any type of hormonal imbalance as stress is a huge cause of hormone imbalance to begin with. Stress impacts the endocrine system, so it is important to incorporate some daily stress-reducing activities such as yoga, meditation, or anything that helps calm your mind. Brisk walking, reading, or even diffusing some essential oils can be helpful.
Sleep is also critical here as not getting enough sleep can worsen a hormonal imbalance. Strive to get at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. Exercise can also be helpful here, but be mindful of the fact that just like not getting enough exercise can pose an issue, too much exercise can be just a damaging when dealing with a hormonal imbalance. You don’t want to overly stress your body with too much exercise, and it is important to point out that female athletes tend to be more likely to suffer from menstrual irregularities. Just be careful not to totally overdo your workout routine and pay attention to how you feel after exercise. If you feel totally depleted, then you will want to scale back a bit and start with lighter workouts.
Lastly, avoiding your exposure to endocrine disruptions can also play an important role in supporting PCOS. Since this condition has a direct impact on your endocrine system, you will want to avoid as many toxins and endocrine disruptors as possible. Avoid things like perfume, candles, aerosol sprays, and any skin care product that is not considered safe according to the Environmental Working Group Standards. EWG ranks products based on their toxicity level, so always check your products here before using them in order to reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors.
While having polycystic ovarian syndrome can be difficult and extremely discouraging if you are trying to conceive, there are many things you can do to improve your symptoms! The first step, is to uncover PCOS if you have not been diagnosed, but have all of the symptoms of this condition. If you have already been diagnosed, implementing a functional medicine approach could be a game-changer. If you are interested in improving your symptoms, and balancing hormone levels, contact me to set up your consultation so we can talk about starting you on a path towards better supporting your PCOS.
To help support PCOS, I wanted to share an orange smoothie recipe with you that is high in inositol to get you started.
Orange Cream Smoothie
- 1 organic orange, peeled
- 1/2 frozen banana
- 3/4 cup full-fat unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 scoop of Optimal Reset Vanilla Detox
- Simply add all ingredients to a high-speed blender and blend until smooth.
- Enjoy right away.
If you are suffering from weight gain, fatigue, hair loss and more, click here to schedule a phone call with me, so I can find out where you’ve been, where you want to get to, and how I can help you get there.
I know exactly where you are because I’ve been there myself…I remember being so tired that I could barely function. I gained 30 pounds out of nowhere and had a severe case of brain fog. I also started to get severe anxiety and panic attacks. I was driven and motivated…until I wasn’t. I didn’t know what was happening to me. All I wanted was to get my life back…
Finally, I learned about functional medicine and found a practitioner that I hoped could help me. They ran specialized tests that were far different than I had ever had before. When I got the results back, it turned out I had candida, parasites, high cortisol, the Epstein Bar Virus and many food intolerances. I also had an issue with my thyroid that no one found before because they were using the conventional medicine lab ranges which are way too broad….which I now know is one of the leading causes of hypothyroid misdiagnosis.
I went through treatment of all of these things and it completely changed my life. I immediately lost the 30 pounds I had gained plus more, I had a lot more energy, and my brain fog was gone. I felt amazing and knew that I wanted to help people find the underlying causes of their symptoms and disease.
- Genetics of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. (2009)
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Womenshealth.gov.
- Chris Kresser. RHR: A Functional Medicine Approach to PCOS.