Natural Ways to Treat PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)
I have been diagnosed with PCOS—what now?
Since PCOS affects a few different systems of the body, they need to be addressed in a specific sequence that your health care provider will customize just for you. The good news is that many women (including myself) can address all the symptoms and underlying causes of PCOS by making dietary and lifestyle changes that support the body’s natural rhythms to the point where medication is not necessary. However, there is a place and time for medication, too, and that’s okay! Sometimes meds are needed to create a shift in your reproductive health if your symptoms are severe or if you’re looking to get pregnant—it’s all about having conversations with your healthcare provider so you can make better informed choices.
There’s a Pill for That
For PCOS, the conventional treatment depends on what the desired outcome is.
The Pill is sometimes used to address the irregular cycles, acne and excessive hair growth but it certainly won’t work for those trying to conceive. Further, the oral contraceptive pill may also increase the risk of blood clots and certain types of cancers, while depleting vitamin B6 and magnesium. Although the pill may be warranted for certain cases, it should be the last option as it suppresses the production of hormones (and ovulation!) and doesn’t help deal with the root of PCOS.
Metformin is a commonly prescribed medication for diabetes to help with blood sugar control (which oftentimes is an underlying cause of PCOS) and has been shown to regulate menstrual cycles, increase pregnancy rates, and help decrease blood sugar levels. Side effects of metformin are usually seen in the digestive tract.
Clomifene and Letrozole can also be prescribed to induce ovulation, especially if you’re trying to conceive. Side effects include nausea, pain, fatigue, and hot flashes.
Antiandrogens like Spironolactone and Flutamide may be used for those with high androgen levels who display symptoms like hirsutism, high lipid levels, and acne. The good thing is that they can help improve the quality of life for women who suffer from acne and hirsutism quite effectively; however, digestive upset and light-headedness are common side effects.
Make sure to talk to your doctor about all aspects of any prescribed medications, including side effects, length of duration, and which supplements are okay to take at the same time. Having an open dialogue is the best way to make informed decisions and design an effective strategy!
Both diet and lifestyle changes should be considered front-line treatment and can typically be done whether or not you’ve been prescribed medication (check with your doctor first though!). Not only are they safe, effective, and sustainable for both current and future health, they’re really easy to implement!
A great starting point is to steer clear of inflammation-causing junk, refined sugar, and simple carbohydrates. Your body doesn’t need them and they can aggravate PCOS symptoms.
Avoid Triggers. Consider avoiding foods that you know your body is sensitive to. You could also try an elimination diet and remove common inflammatory triggers like dairy, gluten, corn, eggs, and peanuts to see if it helps ease or eliminate symptoms.
Balance Blood Sugar. A healthy, varied diet that includes lean proteins, good fats, fibre, and resistant starch helps keep blood sugar and insulin levels in balance. Try to eat whole grains with some protein and fat to maintain balanced blood sugar levels.
Tip: Smoothies are a great way to get lots of fruits, veggies, protein, and fibre into your body. Plus, they whip up in a jiff! Try our Get Your Greens Smoothie.
Get Spicy. Increase intake of antioxidant-rich anti-inflammatory foods like colourful veggies and healing herbs and spices like turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon.
Delectable Detox. Eat foods that support your liver and your body’s natural detoxification pathways like cruciferous veggies, grapefruit, ground flax, wild organic blueberries, and dark green leafy veggies.
Savour seeds. Seed cycling with ground pumpkin or flax in the first half of your cycle and ground sunflower or sesame seeds in the second half can be helpful to regulate and support your hormones.
Keep it regular. Regularity not only helps promote elimination, but it also decreases the reabsorption of hormonal by-products, making adequate fibre and water intake a definite must!
Curb the caffeine. Consider decreasing coffee intake (especially if you drink more than one cup per day) if your adrenals need support and/or fatty liver is an issue for you.
Tip: When trying to cut down on coffee, replace it with another warm beverage like herbal or green teas. Try our Malted Maca Smoothie for non-caffeinated energy!
Opt for Organic! Pesticides are known hormone-disruptors, so choose organic produce when available (check out EWG’s Dirty Dozen List to make more educated shopping decisions!).
Lifestyle Learning Curve
Work it Out. It should come as no surprise that regular exercise improves your health. Weight-bearing exercise helps improve blood sugar levels and fat distribution in the body which in turn helps decrease inflammation.
Tip: A few minutes of movement are better than none, so even ten squats or a short walk are better than no exercise at all!
Clean Cleanly. Avoid endocrine disruptors in personal care and household products. This includes phthalates, parabens, and triclosan found in many commercial sunscreens, cleaning products, makeup, and hand sanitizers.
Tip: Vinegar and water can be used to clean a lot of surfaces in your home.
Trim the Fat. Weight management is easier said than done, however, research shows that weight regulation helps significantly with PCOS by improving insulin sensitivity, decreasing inflammation, and reducing fatty liver. A diet lower in simple carbohydrates is helpful for better blood sugar levels and weight loss.
Tip: Try having your carbs at dinner only since many people crave more carbs if they start their day off with them.
Bedtime Bliss. Getting adequate restful sleep is crucial for healthy hormones and decreasing inflammation. Plus, when you are well-rested you have more energy and better appetite control. It’s time to say nighty-night to your inner night owl!
Tip: Use blue-light blocking glasses at night to support natural melatonin production (or ditch screen time altogether) and have a warm mug of a sleepy-time tea with herbs like passionflower, valerian, catnip, and chamomile.
Stress Success. Unmanaged stress wreaks havoc on the body and most women who have successfully improved their PCOS symptoms will relapse during times of unmanaged stress (including myself!), making it extra important to have some extra mental, emotional, and physical support around when life throws you a curveball! Not only will stress dysregulate our hormones (ever miss a period when you’re stressed?) but our good choices as well. Vigilance and diligence are key!
Tip: By breathing deeply and slowly for a mere 20 seconds, you can change your stress response.
Quality You-Time. If you feel like you’re taking care of everyone but yourself, make it a priority to carve out some time to focus on you. Dedicating just a few minutes to yourself daily can have a huge impact on your health!
Tip: Set a 2-minute timer at some point in your day: breathe, read, dance, sing, sit and do nothing, comb your hair—do whatever works for you!
There are many ways to help address the symptoms of PCOS and adding in some quality supplements and herbs can be a wonderful complementary tool. Consult with your healthcare provider before taking supplements and herbs to ensure that you’re getting what’s right for you at an appropriate dose.
- B and C vitamins
- Vitamin D3
- Black cohosh
- Chaste tree
- DIM (diindolylmethane)
- Inositol (also good for blood sugar control and egg quality)
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC)
- Vitamin D3
- Vitamins D and B12
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC)
- Vitamin D3
- Berberine (and for NAFLD)
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC) (also for regulating ovulation)
- Spearmint tea
- Saw palmetto
- Nettle root
What’s the right path for me?
PCOS is a multifaceted syndrome whose treatment depends on many factors including medical and family history, symptomology, and overall health goals. Talking to your healthcare team and doing comprehensive testing is a great place to start, and implementing some healthy habits can help along the way. Once you start working toward your goals, you can transform your PCOS to mean something else entirely: a Perfectly Co-operative Ovulation Schedule!