Natural treatments and lifestyle changes may help with the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
PCOS is a complex hormonal disorder that affects many females of childbearing age.
Though researchers do not know the exact cause of PCOS, they suspect that the body’s regulation of hormones, such as insulin and testosterone, may be responsible.
The symptoms vary from person to person but commonly include:
- irregular periods
- ovarian cysts
- hair growth on the face, chest, or other parts of the body
- thinning hair
- weight gain
While there is no cure for PCOS, several medical treatments, such as the birth control pill, can help manage its symptoms.
However, some people prefer a more natural approach. Do these methods work? Does medical research support their use? Have researchers found them to be safe?
Read on to learn about seven natural ways of managing PCOS.
1. Weight loss
Maintaining a healthy weight is a crucial part of controlling PCOS symptoms.
People with PCOS commonly carry extra weight, which can increase their risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other issues associated with metabolic syndrome.
Doctors do not know whether PCOS makes it difficult to lose weight or whether being overweight worsens PCOS symptoms.
In either case, losing 5% of body weight may help relieve PCOS symptoms.
Certain lifestyle changes, such as eating a balanced diet of healthful foods and getting more physical activity can help with weight loss and reduce the risk of health complications.
2. Diet changes
Changing the diet is an essential part of managing PCOS. People with PCOS tend to have higher levels of insulin, a hormone that the body uses to lower high blood sugar.
If the body has persistently high levels of insulin, it may stop responding to the hormone as well. As a result, blood sugar levels may remain high.
The medical name for this is insulin resistance, and it is a precursor to diabetes. Insulin resistance is very common in people with PCOS, and it can make maintaining a healthy weight difficult.
Insulin and blood sugar levels rise the highest after a person eats foods rich in carbohydrates, sugar, or both.
Eliminating simple carbohydrates and sugar from the diet can help stabilize blood sugar levels and keep insulin levels low. This may mean avoiding products such as:
- white bread
- white pasta
- white rice
- granola bars
Unlike simple carbohydrates, complex carbs contain fiber and other nutrients and do not raise blood sugar levels as high. Some common sources of complex carbs include:
- whole grains
- whole-wheat bread and pasta
- brown rice
The best diet for someone with PCOS would comprise complex carbs, lots of fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins.
Exercise is an important component of weight loss. Regular exercise can help lower insulin levels and keep blood sugar levels low.
Exercise is also beneficial for heart health, and it can improve mood and help regulate sleep patterns.
Getting a good workout does not have to mean hitting the gym — in fact, the most effective workout is an enjoyable one. Taking up a sport or an activity that is fun will encourage a person to engage in it consistently and get the most benefits.
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Some people use nutritional supplements to help control their PCOS symptoms.
It is important to note that nutritional supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and may interfere with medications or medical conditions. Speak with a doctor before taking any nutritional supplement.
A 2017 review looked at 24 studies to see whether nutritional supplements were safe, effective ways of managing PCOS. Specifically, the researchers considered:
- omega-3 fish oil
- vitamin D
- vitamin D plus calcium
- vitamin B complex
The authors found no high quality evidence that these supplements were effective, and evidence for their safety was lacking.
However, they report low quality evidence that inositol and omega-3 fish oil may benefit people with PCOS in some ways.
5. Herbal products
Some herbal supplements are also popular among people with PCOS.
A review published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine looked at 33 studies to determine whether the evidence indicated that any herbal supplement could help manage PCOS symptoms.
The researchers found Vitex agnus-castus and Cimicifuga racemosa to be most effective in managing irregular ovulation and resultant infertility.
They also concluded that Cinnamomum cassia may be helpful in treating metabolic complications of PCOS.
The FDA do not regulate herbal products, and these may interact with medications or medical conditions.
There has been increasing interest in the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil in the treatment of many conditions, including PCOS. CBD is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant.
Research into this plant and its health benefits is still in its infancy, so there is a lot that scientists do not know.
While there are no current studies about the effects of CBD on PCOS, some early research has shown that it may help with anxiety and insomnia, both of which are common in people with the condition.
Recently, people have begun to pay a lot of attention to the trillions of bacteria that live in the intestines.
Researchers have now linked alterations in the gut environment, or microbiome, with many diseases, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
A 2016 study in animals found that these alterations may even affect sex hormones, including androgens and estrogen, suggesting that the microbiome may play a role in developing PCOS.
The researchers concluded that probiotic supplements helped reverse symptoms of PCOS in rats.
Confirming that the microbiome is involved in PCOS will require further research. However, doctors generally consider it safe to take probiotics.
Do natural methods improve fertility?
Infertility can result from irregular ovulation and menstruation that stems from PCOS.
When ovulation occurs sporadically, it can be difficult to identify the fertile window when a person can conceive.
Having a regular period can help. There is a possibility that each natural method mentioned above can help regulate menstruation. However, what works for one person may not work for another.
It is important to speak with a doctor about plans for conception, especially if a person wants to have a baby very soon.
PCOS is a complicated syndrome. While there is no cure, a number of conventional and alternative treatments can manage the symptoms and any complications.
People with PCOS should stay in communication with their doctors, in order to ensure that all of their concerns are addressed.