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PCOS Signs, Symptoms, and Solutions

Everything you need to know about PCOS.

Dr. Kate Rhéaume
Paper diagram of a uterus

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a leading cause of menstrual irregularities and infertility, affecting up to 10% of women in their reproductive years. This all-too-common condition is characterized by several hormone imbalances, each affecting the other.  

PCOS symptoms typically stem from high insulin, testosterone, and estrogen, and low progesterone. This nefarious combination prevents eggs from being released from the ovaries. Instead, fluid-filled cysts may develop within the ovary, hence the condition’s name.   

While not everyone is concerned with fertility, PCOS can also affect day-to-day life. Acne, unwanted facial hair, and difficulty maintaining a healthy weight are just some of the struggles common to PCOS. The condition can affect mood as well. Many women with PCOS report ongoing low mood and anxiety.  

 Woman with thinning hair

Signs and symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Infrequent, irregular, or absent periods
  • Excess facial and body hair 
  • Thinning scalp hair
  • Acne
  • Skin hyperpigmentation
  • Weight gain, especially around the abdomen
  • Mood changes
  • Infertility 
  • Elevated blood sugar
  • Elevated testosterone
  • High cholesterol and triglycerides

Can Diet Affect PCOS?

You may have heard of the PCOS diet. Successful nutritional strategies for PCOS are targeted at keeping insulin levels in check. Avoiding refined sugar and insulin-spiking carbohydrates like white flour is key. Incorporating plenty of soluble fibre is crucial to keep blood sugar stable and minimize insulin output.  

As a bonus, soluble fibre helps tame appetite, which assists in maintaining a healthy weight. It also promotes the elimination of excess hormone metabolites.   

If you struggle to get in at least 25 g of soluble fibre daily, check your local health food store for a soluble fibre supplement to top up your intake. Soluble fibre also feeds healthy bacteria in the intestinal microbiome and promotes regularity, both of which have a further positive effect on hormone balance. 

Foods that Help PCOS:

  • Oatmeal, apples, legumes, berries, and green leafy vegetables are delicious sources of soluble fibre.
  • Green tea may help lower excess testosterone. Swap coffee, black tea, and colas for high-quality matcha or other green tea to reap the benefits.
  • Hormone- and antibiotic-free meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds supply high-quality protein that flattens blood sugar spikes.
  • Flax seeds contain beneficial soluble fibre with lignans. Lignans are plant-based compounds that stimulate the production of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). SHBG binds excess hormones in circulation to help restore hormone balance. Two tablespoons of ground flax seeds sprinkled on food daily will deliver a meaningful dose of lignans. (Tip: keep preground flaxseed in the fridge to maintain freshness). Drizzling high-lignan flaxseed oil on your food is another tasty way to benefit from flax lignans and healthy fats.

Supplements for PCOS 

Inositol   

Technically a sugar molecule, inositol (specifically myo-inositol) is made within the body and is also found in foods and supplements. Myo-inositol aids in the management of the hormonal and metabolic symptoms of PCOS. It supports a normal menstrual cycle and reduces serum testosterone in women with PCOS. [1] Research shows that myo-inositol supports ovarian function, egg quality, and fertility in women with PCOS. [2] Critically, it also promotes healthy glucose metabolism and reduces insulin resistance. [3]  

Vitamin B complex with B6  

All the B vitamins are required for healthy hormone metabolism. Vitamin B6 in particular plays a central role in supporting optimal levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Vitamin B6, along with B12 and folic acid, is needed to maintain healthy levels of homocysteine. This amino acid is often elevated in women with PCOS. Excess homocysteine adds to the heart health load of the condition. [4]    

Chromium picolinate  

Chromium is an essential element in glucose and insulin homeostasis. This trace mineral amplifies the action of insulin. Helping insulin to work more efficiently is a boon to healthy blood sugar. Supplementation with the picolinate form of chromium in PCOS patients helps maintain a healthy BMI, fasting insulin, and testosterone levels. [5]   

Berberine  

Berberine is a naturally occurring compound extracted from the roots of plants such as barberry, goldenseal, and Oregon grape. Berberine works to restore the insulin sensitivity needed to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. It also promotes cardiovascular health by helping to lower LDL cholesterol in people with poorly controlled blood sugar. A recent meta-analysis of berberine studies concluded that berberine is safe and promising for the management of PCOS, due to its effects on insulin resistance and improvement of the ovulation rate per cycle. [6]  

PCOS affects millions of women, many of whom are unaware of the condition. Help raise awareness of PCOS and self-care solutions by sharing with friends or family who could benefit from this information.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Kate Rhéaume
Dr. Rhéaume is a graduate of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.
References

 

  1. Gerli S, Papaleo E, Ferrari A, et al. Randomized, double blind placebo-controlled trial: Effects of myo-inositol on ovarian function and metabolic factors in women with PCOS. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2007; 11(5):347-54. 
  2. Colazingari S, Treglia M, Najjar R, et al. The combined therapy myo-inositol plus D-chiro-inositol, rather than D-chiro-inositol, is able to improve IVF outcomes: Results from a randomized controlled trial. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2013; 288(6):1405-11. 
  3. Benelli E, Del Ghianda S, Di Cosmo C, et al. A combined therapy with myo-inositol and D-chiro-inositol improves endocrine parameters and insulin resistance in PCOS young overweight women. Int J Endocrinol. 2016; 2016;3204083. 
  4. Kilicdag EB, Bagis T, Tarim E, et al. Administration of B-group vitamins reduces circulating homocysteine in polycystic ovarian syndrome patients treated with metformin: A randomized trial. Hum Reprod. 2005; 20(6):1521-8.  
  5. Fazelian S, Rouhani MH, Bank SS, et al. Chromium supplementation and polycystic ovary syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2017; 42:92-6.  
  6. Rondanelli M, Infantino V, Riva A, et al. Polycystic ovary syndrome management: A review of the possible amazing role of berberine. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2020; 301(1):53-60.