What Is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome is an endocrine (hormonal) disorder. It’s most common among women who are of reproductive age.
PCOS is characterized by three primary symptoms that affect the ovaries and the ovulation process:
- Many small fluid-containing cysts in the ovaries shown in an abdominal ultrasound
- Higher-than-average levels of testosterone which can cause excess hair growth, dark patches of skin, and acne
- Irregular or skipped menstrual periods
Women with PCOS do not ovulate regularly. The delicate balance between estrogen, progesterone, and androgen hormones are disrupted, which interrupts the menstrual cycle to cause such period irregularities.
It’s common for women to have trouble getting pregnant with PCOS. In fact, many women don’t find out that they have it until they see a doctor to try and find out why their efforts to get pregnant aren’t working out.
Even if you’re not struggling with fertility issues, you might still notice the following PCOS symptoms:
- Missed, irregular periods
- Ovaries that are enlarged
- Excess body hair on the chest, stomach, and/or back
- Weight gain (especially around the abdomen)
- Oily skin
- Thinning hair
- Skin tags
- Dark or thick patches of skin
In addition to having trouble conceiving due to absent ovulation, women with PCOS are also at higher risk for developing diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and heart disease. Polycystic ovaries and irregular periods may also indicate a risk of developing uterine lining overgrowth and even endometrial cancer.
Top strategies to managing PCOS How to Treat PCOS: Top Strategies
There are lots of ways that you can manage PCOS symptoms, from holistic strategies like diet changes and supplements to prescription drugs. Here’s a breakdown of the 7 most well-known treatment options:
1. PCOS Diet
If you’re interested in trying PCOS natural treatment, making changes to your diet may be a good place to start. This can be especially helpful if you’re dealing with insulin-resistant PCOS.
There’s not one specific diet that works for everyone with PCOS. However, the following are some changes that might be helpful:
- Eat more whole foods
- Limit the amount of processed or packaged foods you consume
- Eat more protein and more unprocessed, complex carbohydrates
- Eat more fiber
2. PCOS Supplements
Certain supplements can help you to balance your hormones and manage your PCOS symptoms, too. The following are some of the most popular ones:
- Inositol (A molecule similar to glucose that can improve insulin resistance)
- Chromium (A mineral that may stabilize insulin resistance and help your body metabolize sugar)
- Cinnamon extract (May have a positive effect on insulin resistance)
- Turmeric (Contains an anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin, which may help with insulin resistance)
- Zinc (A trace element that may improve fertility and support the immune system)
- VitaminD (A hormone that supports the endocrine system)
Inositol is among the most well-studied supplement for PCOS, though check with your doctor to evaluate how well these supplements can fit into your treatment plan.
3. Weight Management
If you’re overweight, losing weight, even 5% of weight, may help to improve your insulin sensitivity and result in menstrual cycle regulation. Losing weight may also help to regulate your period and minimize your PMS symptoms (cramps, bloating, etc.).
Keep in mind, if you choose to pursue weight loss, you need to do it gradually. Crash dieting and losing a lot of weight quickly can trigger other health problems. It’s also hard to sustain this type of weight loss, and if you gain the weight right back, you won’t see any long-term improvements.
4. Regular Exercise
Regardless of your weight and BMI, it's still a good idea to start exercising when you are trying to get pregnant with PCOS. Living an active lifestyle is good for your hormone health and can help with your mental health as well.
5. Stress Management
High levels of stress can lead to high levels of inflammation. It may also contribute to insulin resistance and hormone imbalances.
One of the easiest ways to reduce your stress is to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Sleep disturbances are twice as common in women who have PCOS as those who don’t.
To improve your sleep quality, try to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each day. Cut off caffeine early in the day, too, so you’re not still wired when it’s time to hit the hay.
6. Seek care with a mental health specialist
Depression is common in people with PCOS and should be openly acknowledged and addressed. Studies don't reflect why exactly depression and PCOS occur together, but several researchers hypothesize that it could in part be related to hormonal differences — seek a specialist if you’re struggling with your mental health.
Some research suggests that acupuncture can help with PCOS symptoms. It may increase blood flow to the ovaries, reduce stress hormone levels, and improve insulin sensitivity. All of this, in turn, can help with weight loss as well.
8. Hormonal Birth Control
If your PCOS symptoms include things like irregular periods, excess hair growth, and acne, hormonal birth control (pills, IUDs, shots, etc.) may be beneficial. In addition, since people with PCOS are at increased risk of developing endometrial cancer, hormonal contraceptives containing progesterone are often protective.
- Metformin Some people take the prescription drug Metformin for help with PCOS symptom management, too. Metformin is a drug that lowers insulin levels. Because of this, it may be helpful to those who are struggling with insulin-resistant PCOS. Metformin may help with weight loss, too, and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Clomid (Clomiphene Citrate and Letrozole) are medications sometimes used in PCOS that can increase the chances of ovulation and improve pregnancy rates.
- Gonadotropin therapy for ovulation induction in women with PCOS when doing IUI (intrauterine insemination) or IVF (in-vitro fertilization) have shown to be successful with an increase in pregnancy rates.
Summing it up
PCOS is a common condition, but that doesn’t mean you have to just sit back and accept it. Talk to your doctor today about giving one (or more) of these symptom management strategies listed above. That way, you can start feeling better as soon as possible.