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In this article, we’ll delve into the science behind PCOS and how certain supplements, backed by research, can play a crucial role in managing this condition. We’ll provide an overview of each supplement, its benefits, and guidelines for incorporating them into your routine.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, more commonly known as PCOS, is one of the most common hormonal endocrine disorders in women of reproductive age. While the main symptoms such as irregular periods, excessive hair growth, acne, and weight gain can be frustrating, the health concerns extend beyond these. PCOS is often linked to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance leads to weight gain and increase your risk of serious health issues like diabetes and heart disease.
Causes and Effects of PCOS
While no one can really say what causes PCOS, one key factor is insulin resistance. Up to 70% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance. This can lead to higher levels of insulin in the body, which can in turn increase the production of androgens (male hormones) like testosterone. These male hormones are often higher in women with PCOS, disrupting the development and release of eggs during ovulation. Additionally, lower levels of progesterone are common, which can lead to irregular periods. Another significant factor is inflammation. Women with PCOS often have increased levels of inflammation, which could be linked to insulin resistance.
It’s important to know that the effects of PCOS extend beyond these symptoms. Women with this condition are at a higher risk for several health issues, including diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease, and endometrial cancer. Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety also are present more often in women with PCOS.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is characterized by a variety of symptoms and signs, although not all women with the condition will experience all of them. Common symptoms often include irregular or absent periods, which is frequently one of the first signs of PCOS. Many women with PCOS may also have difficulty becoming pregnant due to irregular ovulation or failure to ovulate. Around 70% of women with PCOS experience excessive hair growth, typically on the face, chest, back, or buttocks, a symptom known as hirsutism. Other potential signs of PCOS include weight gain or difficulty losing weight, thinning hair or hair loss from the head, and oily skin or acne. Many of these symptoms are related to insulin resistance.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin acts like a key to let blood sugar into cells. Insulin resistance is when the keys don’t work well and, even though you may have plenty of insulin, your blood sugar increases. So this problem leads to high levels of both insulin and glucose in your blood. It’s a key factor in developing type 2 diabetes.
If you have insulin resistance, you might experience a few distinct symptoms. This includes weight gain (especially around the waist), dark patches of skin on the back of the neck (acanthosis nigricans), and feeling tired after meals. Most women with PCOS have insulin resistance, but some 20-30% don’t.
If you suspect you have insulin resistance, there are several lab tests your healthcare provider might recommend. These could include a fasting insulin level, HOMA-IR, or a glucose tolerance test. Each of these tests provides different information about your body’s insulin sensitivity, so they’re often used together to provide a comprehensive picture.
Women with PCOS can come in all shapes and sizes. You might be surprised to learn that not all women with PCOS are overweight or have insulin resistance. This condition, known as “Lean PCOS,” can be particularly challenging to diagnose since it doesn’t present the typical physical signs of PCOS. On the other hand, if you have PCOS and carry extra weight, especially around your midsection, you are much more likely to have insulin resistance.
Understanding your insulin resistance status is important because it directly impacts the lifestyle choices you’ll want to make. Research shows that specific dietary modifications, such as adopting a low-carb or Mediterranean-style diet, can help manage insulin resistance. Regular exercise, particularly a mix of cardio and strength training, can also improve insulin sensitivity. Don’t forget about stress management too; practices like mindfulness, yoga, or even simple breathing exercises can contribute to better insulin function.
Dietary supplements are not designed to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article aims to offer valuable insights into which nutritional supplements have undergone scientific study and shown promise in supporting specific health conditions. We break down the research, so you can work with your medical providers to make informed decisions about adding supplements to your health regimen. For personalized advice tailored to your needs, we recommend consulting with a registered dietitian in addition to your primary care provider.
Check with your physician when adding supplements. While supplements are generally safe for most people, do not add nutritional supplements without your physician’s specific approval if you are pregnant or nursing, are undergoing cancer treatment, have a history of organ transplant, liver or kidney disease, or take medications that interact with supplements.
Nutrition Supplements in PCOS Management
Supplements can play a role in helping to manage PCOS by balancing hormones and managing symptoms. Here are a few key supplements known to be beneficial:
- Berberine: Berberine has been shown in studies to potentially improve insulin sensitivity, regulate menstrual cycles, and reduce androgen levels, making it a promising supplement for managing Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). A review of the studies on berberine in PCOS showed that berberine seemed to be just as effective as a common medication called metformin at improving insulin resistance and other related factors. Combining berberine with metformin didn’t appear to provide any additional benefit, but combining berberine with a medication called cyproterone acetate did seem to improve some aspects of reproductive hormone levels. [PMC6261244]
- Chromium: Chromium is a mineral that enhances the function of insulin and could be beneficial in managing insulin resistance in PCOS. Not all studies on chromium and insulin resistance show consistent results, but many well-constructed studies show benefit. In a 6-month study of women with PCOS, half were given 1000 micrograms of chromium picolinate, while the other group received a placebo. All participants were encouraged to follow the same diet and exercise routines. After six months of taking chromium picolinate, BMI decreased, fasting insulin levels decreased, and insulin resistance was reduced. Notably, the chances of regular menstruation and ovulation nearly doubled after five months of treatment with chromium picolinate. [PMID: 26663540] In a separate review, researchers looked at studies that had explored the effects of chromium supplements (typically 200–1000 mcg/day) on measures related to PCOS. These measures included hormone levels, blood sugar levels, insulin sensitivity, and others. They concluded that chromium supplements can help in managing PCOS by reducing body mass index, fasting insulin, and free testosterone levels. [PMID: 28595797]
- Vitamin D: Many women with PCOS have been found to have a Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is involved in the regulation of several aspects of fertility and healthy glucose metabolism. Supplementation can help to correct this common deficiency, potentially improving symptoms and overall health.
- Many women are deficient in Vitamin D, and this can contribute to problems with insulin resistance. The only way to know for sure is to get your Vitamin D tested. You can order online to obtain a Vitamin D test at you local lab by ordering through our affiliate link. A lab value above 50 ng/ml is considered optimal by many providers.
- Studies have shown that Vitamin D supplementation helps reduce insulin resistance in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). [PMC6266903]
- Folic Acid: Especially important for women who are trying to conceive, folic acid can improve fertility and assists in the metabolization of homocysteine, an amino acid found in the blood. Some research suggests that women with PCOS may have higher levels of homocysteine, which could contribute to the risk of developing heart disease.
- Zinc: Zinc is an essential mineral that may help reduce the production of excess androgens, regulate menstrual cycles, and manage some of the symptoms of PCOS such as acne and hair loss. A study randomized 48 women with PCOS to get either 50 mg/day of a zinc supplement or a placebo for eight weeks. Note that the upper limit for Zinc has been set at 40 mg/day. In a nutshell, taking 50 mg of zinc each day for eight weeks appeared to reduce hair loss, unwanted hair growth, and a marker of oxidative stress in women with PCOS. Also, levels of a substance in the blood called malondialdehyde (MDA), which is a marker of cell-damaging oxidative stress, also dropped. [PMID: 26315303]
- Inositol: Inositol is a vitamin-like substance found in many plants and animals. Specifically, myo-inositol and D-chiro-inositol have been studied extensively for their role in insulin regulation. Inositol can help improve insulin sensitivity, regulate menstrual cycles, and reduce androgen levels, thereby alleviating some symptoms of PCOS. In one study, researchers gathered data from several controlled trials where women with PCOS were either given myoinositol or a placebo. The analysis showed that myoinositol could improve insulin resistance in women with PCOS and it also seemed to increase estrogen levels. [PMID: 29052180] In another study, researchers found that a Myo-inositol and D-chiro inositol combination was more effective after three months. So, the combination of Myo-inositol and D-chiro inositol is the better approach for overweight women with PCOS. [PMID: 22774396] Research on women undergoing various high-tech fertility treatments has shown that myo-inositol improved pregnancy rates. Reference: (3)(11)(13)(21) The 40:1 myo-inositol/D-chiro-inositol plasma ratio is able to restore ovulation in PCOS patients: comparison with other ratios [PMID: 31298405] Myo-inositol and melatonin have been shown to be synergistic in their ability to improve oocyte and embryo quality in women undergoing in vitro fertilization treatments. [PMID: 26507336] Typical Research Dose-Myoinositol: 2000-6000 mg
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These essential fatty acids are known to help lower testosterone levels and regulate menstrual cycles. Additionally, omega-3s may improve insulin resistance and decrease the risk of heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids might help manage PCOS. According to research, taking omega-3 supplements could help improve insulin resistance, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, and increase levels of a hormone (adiponectin) that helps regulate glucose. This makes omega-3 a good addition to a PCOS management plan. [PMC5870911] The research shows that taking omega-3 supplements could help improve insulin resistance, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, and increase levels of a hormone (adiponectin) that helps regulate glucose. This makes omega-3 a good addition to a PCOS management plan. [PMC5870911] But that statement almost seems trivial when you consider the importance of omega-3 intake and its effect on the quality of oocytes a woman produces. Researchers combed the literature for studies of omega-3 intake and embryo quality in women who were receiving high-tech fertility treatments. They concluded that women supplementing with omega-3 produced higher-quality embryos. [PMID: 35779332]
- Magnesium: Magnesium is a crucial mineral involved in hundreds of bodily functions, including blood sugar control. Research suggests that magnesium supplementation can help improve insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS.
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Although this article discusses supplements in detail, don’t forget that we are absolutely committed to the “Food First” approach to nutrition. When it comes to your health, the totality of your eating habits far surpasses the impact of individual nutrients or any single supplement you consume. Even though this article doesn’t delve into the broader picture of your overall diet, it’s crucial to keep this element at the forefront of our minds. Your food needs to provide all the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals to nourish your body systems down to the cellular level.
Food choices, rather than supplements, are the most critical factors for a healthy gut microbiome. These trillions of tiny inhabitants in your gut affect your brain waves; they orchestrate your immune system. They possess the power to create molecules that can switch genes on or off and are even capable of synthesizing neurotransmitters. Opting for organic foods and steering clear of plastic packaging (including those labeled BPA-free) is a smart move to limit toxin exposure. The sum of all these parts leads to a powerful conclusion: the ultimate key to your health lies in the quality and balance of the food you consume. Supplements are secondary.
Go Forth, Eat Well, Move Your Body, and Include the Right Supplements To Help
Understanding PCOS is the first step towards managing it. By recognizing the symptoms and understanding the causes, you can start to take control of your health journey. While there’s currently no cure for PCOS, adopting certain lifestyle changes and integrating specific supplements into your daily routine can improve your insulin resistance, hormonal balance, and overall health. Supplements, along with a healthy diet and regular exercise, can be an effective way to manage PCOS symptoms, balance your hormones, and improve your quality of life.
This Article is Not a Substitute for Medical Advice
Dietary supplements are not designed to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The Supplement Sciences website seeks to provide comprehensive access to the most relevant supplement information along with convenient online ordering. We do not provide medical advice and cannot guarantee that every product suggested is completely without risk. Since each person is unique in their health history and medication use, it is important to discuss supplements with your personal physician. Specifically, pregnant women and individuals being treated for cancer or liver or kidney problems must consult their physician about every nutritional supplement they plan to take. People taking medications for the treatment of HIV or with a history of organ transplant must not take supplements without consulting with their physician.