If you’re struggling with irregular periods, infertility or metabolic problems and can’t seem to pinpoint a cause, you may have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This hormonal disorder affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age, yet many people — both patients and health care providers — are unfamiliar with it.
As a functional medicine practitioner, I frequently work with women who are experiencing PCOS symptoms but haven’t been able to get a diagnosis from a conventional doctor. I’d like to shine a spotlight on this common disorder, as well as share some natural treatment options.
PCOS occurs when an imbalance of reproductive hormones negatively affects the function of a woman’s ovaries. Women with PCOS often have irregular menstrual cycles, and may not ovulate regularly (or at all).
Missed or prolonged periods caused by PCOS may lead to ovarian cysts (fluid-filled sacs). PCOS is also associated with excess levels of a male hormone called androgen.
Because PCOS prevents regular ovulation, it is one of the main causes of infertility. Around 70% of women with PCOS have trouble conceiving.1
PCOS-induced infertility is treatable, though, and women with PCOS on average have about the same number of children as those without PCOS.2 It just takes longer to conceive when you’re not ovulating regularly.
PCOS is also strongly linked to metabolic issues —- over 50% of women with PCOS develop type 2 diabetes by age 40.3 People with PCOS may also experience heart and/or liver problems.
In addition to irregular periods, symptoms of PCOS include:
PCOS can be devastating, especially for women who are trying to conceive. The good news is that PCOS symptoms — including infertility — can often be managed naturally, with changes to diet and lifestyle. Here are five ways to naturally treat PCOS.
1. Move Your Body
An active lifestyle is key to wellbeing for people with PCOS. Regular physical activity can be a powerful tool for weight management, which can help with blood sugar issues and potentially increase a woman’s chance of getting pregnant. Losing a relatively small amount of weight — 5 to 10% of overall body weight — can improve fertility and reduce the risk of complications during pregnancy.1
What type of exercise is best for women with PCOS? Really, anything that you enjoy enough to do on a regular basis will make a difference in your health. A fitness tracker or workout app may help motivate you to get moving.
2. Eat Well
Eating a healthy diet goes hand in hand with physical activity when it comes to naturally treating PCOS. This is because it’s central to weight management, but also because it can help with the metabolic problems that can accompany PCOS.
Because people with PCOS so often struggle to keep blood sugar in check, I suggest eliminating sugar and refined carbohydrates from the diet. Instead, focus on nutritious whole foods. Eat plenty of lean protein (like chicken or fish), fresh vegetables (organic if possible), and snack on heart-healthy nuts and seeds instead of reaching for a bag of chips.
3. Have Your Vitamin D Levels Checked
Multiple studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is common in people with PCOS, and that low levels of vitamin D may be associated with hormonal and metabolic symptoms. Having your vitamin D levels checked by a health care provider can tell you if you’re deficient.
If your levels are low, consider supplementation. Taking a quality vitamin D supplement can reduce PCOS-related insulin resistance and improve fat metabolism.4 It may also decrease androgen levels, which may help with symptoms like acne and unwanted facial hair.4
4. Prioritize Rest and Relaxation
Not enough sleep and too much stress — these two factors are at the root of many health problems, and both can exacerbate PCOS symptoms. It’s important to give your body the rest it needs, and to find an outlet for your stress. This is especially true for women who may be suffering from anxiety and frustration related to infertility.
5. Seek Support
As common as PCOS is, it amazes me that so few mainstream practitioners know how to diagnose and/or treat it. At My Pure MD, we listen to your concerns and use our experience and expertise to develop a personalized treatment plan — naturally.