You just found out you have poly-cystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Now what? The condition, which affects five million women in the U.S. alone, can wreak havoc on your hormones and still doesn’t have a known cure. While many women successfully manage their symptoms solely with medication and hormone therapy, some prefer to supplement traditional treatments with more holistic remedies, while some opt for entirely natural alternatives.
“I always look at diet and lifestyle — how I can help patients modify their focus and remove obstacles that may be in their way on the path towards wellness,” says One Medical’s April Blake, ND. “As a naturopathic doctor, I prefer to utilize therapies that are gentle and less invasive, and focus on mind-body medicine and lifestyle. If you’re looking for alternatives to traditional treatments, there are several evidence-based therapeutics that have been shown to be effective.”
“In addition to supplements, I recommend getting to the root cause of the condition,” says FLOLiving.com founder and One Medical patient Alisa Vitti. After suffering with PCOS symptoms for years, the best-selling author of “WomanCode” developed an online program that targets hormonal imbalances through nutrition. “I help women eat in a way that supports the endocrine system as a whole,” Vitti says. “Supplements are an important way to expedite healing, but nutrition and the mind-body connection are the basis of my practice.”
Here are some natural methods to help manage your PCOS symptoms:
Before trying any treatment option, it’s important to discuss your diagnosis with your health care provider and collaborate on a plan that works for you.
1. Be strategic with calories.
One study indicates that caloric intake timing can have a big impact on glucose, insulin and testosterone levels. Lowering insulin could potentially help with infertility issues. Women with PCOS who ate the majority of their daily calories at breakfast for 12 weeks significantly improved their insulin and glucose levels as well as decreased their testosterone levels by 50 percent, compared to women who consumed their largest meals at dinnertime. The effective diet consisted of a 980-calorie breakfast, a 640-calorie lunch, and a 190-calorie dinner.
2. Decrease AGEs.
Women with PCOS have been shown to have higher levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in their blood. AGEs are compounds formed when glucose binds with proteins, and are believed to contribute to certain degenerative diseases and aging. One small study found that cutting down on dietary AGEs significantly reduced insulin levels in women with PCOS. Foods high in AGEs include animal-derived foods and processed foods. Applying high heat (grilling, searing, roasting) increases levels.
3. Bone up on vitamin D and calcium.
A case control study examining 100 infertile women with PCOS found that those who supplemented a daily 1500 mg dose of metformin, a medication commonly used to treat PCOS symptoms, with calcium and vitamin D saw improvements in BMI, menstrual abnormalities, and other symptoms. The women in the study added 1,000 mg of calcium a day and 100,000 IU of vitamin D a month to their daily metformin dose for six months.
4. Get enough magnesium.
Many women with PCOS exhibit symptoms of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, risk factors that raise the risk for heart disease and other problems like diabetes and stroke. Low magnesium levels are often associated with diabetes, and some research indicates that a dietary supplement of the mineral may improve insulin sensitivity, a factor in the development of type 2 diabetes and PCOS. One study found that overweight, insulin-resistant subjects who received 300 mg of magnesium at bedtime showed a significant improvement in fasting blood glucose and insulin levels, compared to subjects who received a placebo.
5. Increase your chromium.
Chromium is an essential mineral that helps the body regulate insulin and blood sugar levels. Some research suggests that chromium supplements can help people with diabetes lower their blood glucose levels. One study examined the role of the mineral in women with PCOS. The results indicated that 200 mcg daily of chromium picolinate significantly reduced fasting blood sugar and insulin levels in subjects — enough that the effects were comparable to the pharmaceutical, metformin. While metformin was also associated with lower levels of testosterone, taking a daily dose of 200 mcg of chromium picolinate could help regulate blood sugar levels.
6. Load up on omega-3s.
Fish oil has been associated with a long list of health benefits, and some research indicates that omega-3 supplements can decrease androgen levels in women with PCOS. One study found that women with PCOS who were given three grams of omega-3s a day for eight weeks had lower testosterone concentrations and were more likely to resume regular menses than subjects who received a placebo.
How to Boost your Energy Naturally
Last month a cyster reached out to me + signed up for 1:1 coaching with me to get her PCOS under control.
That cyster? Vanessa Thompson.
Wife. Mom of 4. Kindergarten Teacher. Fellow lover of HGTV + Fixer Upper.
Vanessa is a busy lady who juggles many different hats in life. She was diagnosed with PCOS 9 years ago when she tried to get pregnant with her first daughter.
Her biggest struggle?
This wasn’t just your typical “I am really tired today…give me my coffee!”
This was the kind that needed a nap by lunch, feeling sluggish mid-afternoon, and collapsing into bed by 7pm.
She lasted until 7pm only because that was what time she was done with feeding her family, bathing the kids, and reading Good Night, Moon 5 times.
All of this was putting a damper on her marriage.
Vanessa finished with, “But, wait, Amber! Don’t all moms feel this way? I mean, you have 2 little boys now. Aren’t you tired? What is so abnormal about being so tired?”
Why is it that women with PCOS struggle with fatigue so often?
The theory behind this has to do with polycystic ovarian syndrome and its relationship with abnormal hormonal levels.
Basically insulin resistance impairs glucose (sugar in your blood) from supplying the energy needed to your cells. This leads to you feeling tired ALL. DAY. LONG.
So, if you are feeling overly exhausted + have PCOS, there are basically 2 different steps to get you all squared away.
First, make simple lifestyle changes to boost your energy levels NATURALLY (no caffeine necessary!).
- Sleep. YES! Getting at 7-9hrs of sleep every night is important for balancing your hormonal levels. When you are not getting enough at night, your cortisol levels (think stress hormone) can shoot through the rood leading to more hormonal imbalance.
- Decrease stress. Easier said than done, right? This is related to the cortisol levels (which are commonly raised in cysters) that I mentioned above. Think over your life right now. What is causing you stress? Is there some way you can change things up to help lower the burden that is playing on your life? Can you delegate any tasks to other members of your family to free up your load?
- Diet. It is VERY important that you are cutting out processed sugars/refined sugars that come in anything packaged. This also includes grain prodcuts. Be sure to look out for hidden sources of sugar such as ketchup, salad dressing, yogurt, cereal, fruit drinks, sports drinks, granola, etc. When you diet is high in processed sugars, your blood sugar will spike, causing your insulin levels to raise + then causing your blood sugar to crash. This will make you tired! You can’t cut carbohydrates, though. Carbs are what fuel your body. You need to grab complex carbs such as what is found in veggies, fruits, beans, etc.
- Water. Recent research studies indicate that when you are dehydrated you are more likely to suffer from fatigue. Be sure to drink your 8 cups of water a day!
- Exercise. It might seem counterintuitive, but if you are more active throughout the day, your body will want to keep being active. Kinda like that law of motion or whatever it was we learned in physics class: an object at motion will stay at motion until a force is applied to it. So, moral of the story, moderate exercise will boost your energy during the day.
Talk to your doctor about what else could possibly be going on. There are some medical conditions that us cysters could have that is also causing us to be so tired.
- Hypothyroidism. This is where your thyroid is working as well as it should. If someone who is living a healthy lifestyle like I mentioned in the 5 points above mentions they are feeling sluggish over a longer period of time, the first thing that comes to mind as a nurse is the thyroid. Low thyroid levels are actually pretty common in women with PCOS. All it takes is a simple blood test your doctor can order that will show if this is an issue.
- Low Vitamin B12 levels. Metformin has been shown to cause low vitamin B12 levels.
- Low Vitamin D levels.
- Adrenal Fatigue. It leads to a lower level of a number of different hormones. Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms.
Anemia. This is where there is low iron in your blood or not enough blood to adequately carry oxygen to all parts of your body. Some things like heavy menstrual cycles, a vegan diet, or intense exercising can lead to anemia.
- Depression. Having some mood issues can go hand in hand with fatigue. They like to play together. When you are depressed, you don’t want to do anything which can lead to more fatigue. It can end up being a vicious cycle.
- Celiac Disease. This is where someone actually HAS TO give up gluten because their bodies can’t handle it. A lot of times they are experiencing fatigue and “brain fog”. There is a lab test that will actually show if you have celiac or not.
- Sleep apnea. This is where you stop breathing for short periods of time when you are sleeping. Your body isn’t getting enough oxygen during its sleep leading to fatigue the next day. It is common with women who have PCOS. If you are getting enough sleep at night, but waking up not feeling refreshed, you might be experiencing sleep apnea.
Moral of the PCOS + fatigue story?
Make simple lifestyle changes first. Do it for real…not just I think I am eating pretty decently. Really sit down and evaluate your life in those 5 areas I mentioned. Are you really meeting each standard?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I getting 7-9 hours of sleep consistently at night?
- Have I adequately dealt with areas of stress in my life?
- Am I NOT eating any refined sugars/grains in my diet + getting adequate complex carbohydrates to fuel my body throughout the day?
- Am I drinking 8 glasses of water a day?
- Am I living an active lifestyle with moderate exercise on most days of the week?
If you are doing PICTURE PERFECT :), consult your doctor. Some of the things they might look for are:
- Low Vitamin B12 + Vitamin D levels
- Adrenal Fatigue
- Celiac Disease
- Sleep Apnea