Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, is very common. It affects approximately 1 in 10 women, and many often go undiagnosed. When PCOS is diagnosed, most women are given little to no advice on how to manage the condition. In some cases, women may be offered medications like birth control or Metformin to manage their symptoms, but diet and lifestyle advice are rarely discussed. The truth is, there are many great ways to naturally manage PCOS, which can dramatically improve symptoms.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a metabolic disorder, affecting up to 12% of women in the U.S. It impacts women who are in their reproductive years. In order to receive a PCOS diagnosis, two of these three criteria need to be met: anovulatory cycles (irregular menstrual cycles), elevated androgens (male sex hormones), and presence of ovarian cysts.
Causes and Symptoms of PCOS
While the true cause of PCOS remains largely unknown, there are likely a number of genetic and environmental factors involved that may contribute to the symptoms associated with PCOS.
- Family history/genetics
- Chronic inflammation
- Insulin resistance
- Excess androgen levels
- Chronic stress
Consequently, these root causes can often contribute to an increase in insulin, which results in the ovaries producing more androgens (male sex hormones). This can cause a number of symptoms such as:
- Irregular periods
- Hirsutism- excessive facial/body hair growth
- Hair loss on the head
- Weight gain
- Food cravings
- Ovarian cysts
It’s also worth mentioning that women with PCOS are at a greater risk for developing the following:
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Eating Disorders
- High cholesterol and/or blood pressure
- Endometrial Cancer
- Fatty Liver Disease
Despite the increased risk for a myriad of conditions with PCOS, there is very little guidance being given on diet or lifestyle changes. While there is no cure available for PCOS, luckily, there are many ways to naturally manage PCOS symptoms. PCOS affects every individual differently, so nutrition guidance should always be tailored accordingly.
How to Manage PCOS Naturally
Managing PCOS naturally and effectively is often a multifaceted approach, including diet, lifestyle, and supplements. These are 6 ways to get started managing your PCOS naturally:
- Eat Balanced Meals- Combining protein, fat, carbohydrates, and fiber at every meal is the key to regulating blood sugar. Cutting out carbs entirely is not the answer to managing PCOS, but rather, balancing your plate with 1/4 protein, 1/4 carb, and 1/2 vegetables. Together, these macronutrients slow glucose absorption, prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes, and keep you full and satisfied. I also encourage eating 3 meals daily to maintain steady blood sugar levels.
- Enjoy Daily Movement- According to a systematic review on the effects of exercise on hormones in those with PCOS, physical activity has been shown to improve metabolic and reproductive outcomes in those with PCOS. A combination of cardio and strength training exercises appear to improve insulin resistance and androgen levels. The most important thing to remember with exercise, is to do what makes you feel good and include movement that you actually enjoy!
- Include Plenty of Anti-Inflammatory Foods in Your Diet– Chronic inflammation is common in those with PCOS. The foods you eat can play a huge role in reducing chronic inflammation. Rather than dwelling on restricting foods that may cause inflammation, consider switching your mindset to focus on the foods you can add to your diet that help reduce inflammation. Some examples of anti-inflammatory foods are: tomatoes, fatty fish like salmon, turmeric, flaxseeds, avocado, leafy greens, and dark chocolate.
- Support Good Gut Health- Research is showing that those with PCOS tend to have a less diverse gut microbiome than the general population. It is still unclear whether gut alterations are a cause or effect of PCOS. In any case, good gut health is incredibly important for overall good health. Support a healthy gut with foods rich in probiotics, prebiotics, and fiber, such as yogurt, kefir, fermented foods, kombucha, potatoes, garlic, onions, bananas, apples, and jerusalem artichokes. Eating a variety of plant foods throughout the week is one of the best ways to help support a healthy gut microbiome.
- Focus on Stress Management– Stress comes in many shapes and sizes, including mental, physical, emotional, and social. Stress in any form over time can increase inflammation, worsen reproductive outcomes, and increase hormonal symptoms. Dealing with a PCOS diagnosis, and lack of guidance on the condition, does not make this any easier! The key is stress management is not to get rid of stressors in your life (although that would be nice!) because that’s usually not always possible. However, effectively managing stress and developing a resiliency to stressful situations is one way to help manage PCOS symptoms. Implement stress management techniques that work for you, such as: breathwork or meditation, journaling, going to therapy, exercise, getting outside in nature, calling a friend, reading a book, or whatever you find helps you manage stress best.
- Supplement with the Help of a Dietitian or Doctor – Every single person is incredibly unique, and those with PCOS are no exception. Meaning, it’s important to understand and address the specific imbalances in your body. What works for one person may not work for another. Because of this, I highly recommend working with a functional medicine practitioner who can help create a custom supplement protocol for you! In general, some effective supplements for PCOS include:
Bottom line: PCOS is a metabolic disorder that can be managed through lifestyle, diet, and supplement strategies. While these steps can be helpful in managing symptoms, it’s always important to understand the root cause of your PCOS to determine the best protocol for you. To learn more about how a custom nutrition protocol can heal your PCOS, click here.