Readers often ask me what some of the best supplements for PCOS, a metabolic disorder that can cause a whole lot of hormonal symptoms. Many women are looking for alternatives to the typical lineup of prescription drugs, which only mask the root cause rather than address the concern head on. The most common treatment offered to women with PCOS is a birth control pill which can have intense side effects that often end up worsening symptoms of PCOS.
However, PCOS is 100% treatable with changes in diet and lifestyle.
I know this firsthand. Every day I help women with PCOS eliminate their symptoms and bring their body back in balance through natural, healthy lifestyle regimens.
Supplements can be an effective way to fast track healing and support healthy hormones. A balanced hormonal system can create more predictable periods, glowing skin, healthy hair, and reduced and PCOS symptoms.
In this guide, I’ll discuss which supplements for PCOS my patients have reported most beneficial while working in my clinic and a bit of the research on how they can help.
What Is PCOS?
PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, is a hormonal disorder that affects 1 in 10 women. Despite the name, it doesn’t actually stem from a gynecological concern at its source. In fact, PCOS is entirely to do with the endocrine (hormone) system.
Insulin resistance and inflammation are the major causes of PCOS.
Insulin resistance that is a result of inflammation may actually cause PCOS rather than being a result of the disease.
This metabolic disorder can contribute to hormonal imbalances that further worsen PCOS symptoms. Having elevated testosterone is one common symptom in PCOS. While it is healthy for women to have some testosterone, excess levels of testosterone can create problems for the female body, like causing you to lose hair on your head or grow it on your chin. Moreover, an imbalance in hormones like progesterone or estrogen can also lead to heavy periods, acne, mood swings, breast tenderness, and other unwanted symptoms.
Insulin Resistance and PCOS
Insulin resistance is one of the major causes of PCOS. Being the enzyme that helps bring sugar into the cell, insulin is incredibly important. When the body doesn’t have enough insulin or isn’t using its insulin properly, sugar levels in the blood rise.
If your body is insulin resistant, your pancreas needs to make extra insulin to keep your blood sugar normal. This extra insulin and a high level of blood sugar can cause serious hormone and glucose imbalances in the body.
Insulin resistance can cause the ovaries to produce more testosterone and androgens, thus contributing to PCOS symptoms. When this type of hormonal imbalance occurs, the ovaries can develop a number of small to medium sized cysts, which is where the disease gets its name. “Poly” means many and “cystic” refers to the cysts on the ovaries. But not everyone with PCOS has cysts. I know, that is a little confusing, right?
Insulin resistance is also linked to weight gain, lack of ovulation, infertility, diabetes, gestational diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even a possible risk for endometrial and breast cancer.
What Are The Symptoms Of PCOS?
Symptoms of PCOS can vary based on the woman and her hormonal imbalances. They can include one or multiple of the following:
- Weight gain or obesity (despite healthy eating and active lifestyle)
- Menstrual irregularities
- Absent period
- Heavy menstrual flow
- Abnormal mid-cycle bleeding
- Acne (especially back and chest)
- Hirsutism (excessive body hair)
- Hair loss
- History of ovarian cysts
- Recurrent miscarriage
- Anovulatory cycles (when the ovary doesn’t release an egg)
- Estrogen excess symptoms like PMS and fibrocystic breast disease
Because PCOS hormonal symptoms can vary and not all women will experience the same symptoms or have the same imbalances associated with PCOS, which can make it challenging to treat without taking a comprehensive view of each individual woman’s case. PCOS affects your metabolism, heart health, can lead to diabetes, plus it is messing with your hormones! It’s a lot, which is why it can take time to heal.
But supplements can help reduce these symptoms for some women and fast track their body into balance. Supplements are an effective way ensure the body is getting the nutrients it needs to naturally and effectively balance the hormones, reduce inflammation and help balance blood sugar.
The body’s needs for vitamins and other nutrients can increase under times of increased stress, including inflammation and hormone dysregulation. You can “balance this imbalance” by giving your body the nutrients it needs to function properly.
Can Diet Help PCOS?
Diet can absolutely help PCOS. Remember, you can’t substitute supplements for a poor diet and lifestyle. Supplements are meant to complement diet and lifestyle therapies and help fast track healing. Eating a nutrient-rich diet is essential to reversing symptoms and balancing hormones.
In working with patients, I’ve found a whole foods, anti-inflammatory diet is one of the most effective in helping bring hormones back into balance. Most cases of PCOS relate back to insulin resistance and inflammation in some way.
A diet that focuses on whole foods is void of all processed and packaged foods. This means you’re giving your body whole nutrients, providing your body the tools it needs to operate properly.
Pesticides and other environmental toxins found in packaged foods can also disorient the endocrine system by mimicing your natural hormones. This can actually cause hormonal imbalances that can worsen PCOS.
Moreover, a diet low in carbohydrates introduces fewer complex sugars into your body. This can keep your blood sugar level low so your pancreas doesn’t go into overdrive creating insulin.
For this balancing diet, you should be eating primarily meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. Aim to fill half your plate with veggies at each meal to meet your fiber needs and maximize nutrition. Stay away from sugar, dairy, artificial sweeteners, trans fats, grains, and legumes when possible. Learn more about this kind of diet here.
Note that not all supplements will work for all people. PCOS has a number of causes based on the type of hormonal imbalance with which you’re dealing. Thus, your body may have different needs. Different hormonal imbalances call for different supplements. Checking with your doc is of course the best way to know your individualized need.
10 Best Supplements For PCOS
1. Inositol for PCOS
Inositol, or vitamin B8, is one of the best supplements for women with PCOS because of its support of health blood sugar and ovarian health. Most studies have shown benefits with Myo inositol and D-chiro-inositol (DCI) specifically.
Inositol can help improve the body’s use of insulin, reduce sugar levels, regulate menstrual cycles, improve ovarian function, promote egg quality, boost reproduction and fertility, prevent hirsutism,and even reduce the risk of gestational diabetes. With all of these benefits, it’s no wonder this is a favorite among women with PCOS.
Inositol may also help with metabolic issues like inflammation and hypertension, which are part of the metabolic syndrome that causes PCOS.
A study by the Virginia Commonwealth University proved that inositol could help reduce insulin resistance while improving a variety of PCOS symptoms. Researchers found that Myo and DCI were able to enhance oocyte (ovarian cells) follicular development and maturation—which can support ovulation and regular cycles. Other studies have shown that ovarian function overall increases in women supplementing with inositol.
One study showed that Myo encouraged weight loss and raised good cholesterol. This can help reduce inflammation and improve metabolic syndrome, which can alleviate PCOS in tandem.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are a healthy addition to any diet, especially for those looking to lose weight.
Studies show that omega-3s can aid in reducing testosterone and regulating the menstrual cycle in women with PCOS. Another study found that, along with a decrease in testosterone, omega-3s increased SHBG levels.
SHBG, or sex hormone binding globulin, is the protein that binds to estrogen and testosterone to normalize free-floating hormone levels. When SHBG is low, testosterone levels increase. This excess testosterone can contribute to the hormonal imbalance of PCOS.
Omega-3s can help decrease inflammation in the body. Many researchers suggest that inflammation is a possible cause for insulin resistance and PCOS. Fish oil can help lower inflammation and enable your cells to utilize insulin, which is at the root of what is driving PCOS.
Fish oil can also help with stubborn weight by reducing your leptin levels, which is linked to insulin resistance. Leptin resistance is when your brain thinks it’s you need to conserve energy, so causes you to store energy from food, leading to excess weight gain. This extra weight can contribute to inflammation, further blood sugar dysregulation, and overall metabolic syndrome, which are at the core of PCOS.
Fish oil can help lower these leptin levels, so your body stops being in starvation mode. If your body doesn’t think it’s starving, it can start shedding the extra weight. This weight loss can, in turn, help reduce blood sugar levels and reduce PCOS symptoms.
Chromium is a trace mineral that enhances the function of insulin. It can help insulin work more effectively, which can help maintain balanced hormones.
One study found that chromium helped reduce blood sugar levels and insulin levels in women with PCOS. Another concluded that chromium supplements can help lower blood glucose levels—and extra glucose contributes to weight gain and hormonal imbalances.
Chromium is highly effective way to support insulin-related concerns with PCOS.
I often find in my clinic that women do better with a mineral complex rather than supplementing a single mineral. Supplementing a mineral at high dose or for a long period of time can lead to nutrient deficiencies developing.
4. Vitex (Chaste tree berry)
For centuries, Greek and Italian medicine has considered Vitex to be a fertility plant. Vitex agnus-castus supports overall hormonal balance in the body, with a particular influence on progesterone levels.
I typically use vitex as part of a hormone harmonizing herbal blend.
Vitex has an effect on the hypothalamic pituitary ovarian axis. Basically, it influences the master pituitary gland—which is the gland that tells the ovaries how to do its job and how many hormones to make. Vitex can intercept this hormonal feedback loop.
Some studies suggest it can increase progesterone levels and balance testosterone. This has been shown to help with PCOS symptoms like cysts, acne, PMS, miscarriage, and endometriosis.
5. N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC)
- BMI (aka weight loss)
- Hirsutism (less hair on face, chest and abdomen)
- Fasting insulin (better blood sugar control)
- Free testosterone (less oily skin, acne, and hair loss)
- Menstrual irregularities
Note that they also found that NAC had similar results to metformin, a pharmaceutical that is used to treat high blood sugar. That doesn’t mean you should quit your Metformin if you’re taking it. That’s a conversation for your doctor. And Metformin is well recognized to create a B12 deficiency so supplementing and eating a diet rich in B12 is wise if you are on this drug.
A review of studies found that NAC showed significant improvement in pregnancy and ovulation rate for women with PCOS as well.
Most women should be taking magnesium for overall health. Low magnesium has been linked to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, and other serious concerns. Taking magnesium can help reduce these risks while also improving energy, mood, hormone balance, bowel regularity, and more.
Low magnesium is associated with diabetes, since the body uses magnesium in the breakdown of sugar and usage of insulin. One study found that 300mg of magnesium at bedtime had a significant improvement in fasting blood glucose and insulin levels. Thus, increasing magnesium can help improve insulin resistance—and thus PCOS as well.
Moreover, magnesium can help women with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is related to chronic inflammation, weight gain, and hormonal imbalance, making it a key cause of PCOS. Reviews conclude that magnesium supplements can reduce this risk of PCOS-causing metabolic disease.
A combination of zinc and saw palmetto can help your body eliminate extra testosterone, which causes PCOS. These supplements actually reduce the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase that converts testosterone into a more powerful androgen called DHT (which amplifies the effects of testosterone).
Zinc’s ability to contribute to reducing DHT levels has shown useful for reducing hairiness, acne, mood disturbances, and weight gain in women suffering from PCOS related to excess testosterone. Overall, studies conclude that zinc has a positive impact on metabolic profiles of PCOS women.
Taking zinc at high doses or for a long period of time can lead to copper deficiency. Taking zinc in a supplement that also contains copper, can help protect against this.
8. Saw Palmetto
A combination of zinc and saw palmetto has seen strong effects on reducing symptoms of PCOS. Like zinc, saw palmetto can reduce 5-alpha-reductase activity, which is the enzyme that makes DHT. As discussed, DHT is the androgen that enhances the effects of testosterone. DHT can cause PCOS symptoms like hair loss, facial hair growth, acne, and menstrual irregularities. Inhibiting this conversion of testosterone to DHT can help reduce the intensity of PCOS symptoms.
Moreover, saw palmetto may also help regulate estrogen in women with estrogen dominance. Basically, saw palmetto helps reduce androgens and regulate hormones.
Saw palmetto has been studied as a treatment for pelvic pain.
9. Vitamin D
Research has proven that a deficiency in vitamin D has negative effects on women with PCOS. In fact, it has serious effects on everyone. The symptoms of vitamin D deficiency (VDD) include insulin resistance, increased weight gain, and increased risk of heart disease and diabetes—all of which are all linked to PCOS.
Vitamin D is also involved in the maturation and development of eggs in the ovaries. Thus, without enough vitamin D, the ovaries can’t properly produce fertile eggs. Vitamin D supplements can actually help create healthy follicles in the ovaries that push the eggs through, thus helping the woman ovulate and get pregnant. This is especially important in women with PCOS, whose ovaries aren’t functioning at peak capacity.
One study showed that a supplement of calcium and vitamin D showed positive effects on:
- Weight loss
- Follicle and egg maturation
- Menstrual regularity
- Fertility improvement
Moreover, vitamin D plays a role in glucose metabolism. Vitamin D is insulin’s right hand partner in breaking down glucose and sugar. This can improve insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS.
Folate, aka vitamin B-9, is useful for women with PCOS who are trying to get pregnant. Research has shown that a combination of folate and inositol can improve fertility in PCOS patients due to the combination’s ability to improve insulin sensitivity. Folate can also help women with PCOS reduce their risk of miscarriage and bring the child full term.
Comprehensive PCOS Care
Hormones are at the core of health—including sexual health. Women suffering from PCOS have a hormonal imbalance that their body can’t fight on its own. Supplements step in to help the body rebuild its natural functions to rebalance and renew the endocrine system.
Supplementing your diet and lifestyle with hormone-balancing vitamins is a natural and effective way to overcome PCOS.
It’s time that you take control of your hormones and PCOS symptoms.
At my root cause women’s medicine clinic, Rubus Health, we believe that you are in control of your health and wellbeing. With a few lifestyle changes, you can lead the happy, healthy life you deserve.
Schedule a call with us to learn how you can build an expert-recommended supplement plan that will rebalance your hormones and get you on the track towards optimal health.