Supplements Can Help Combat PCOS

Curious about clinical trials for Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)?

Researchers are studying thousands of new treatments and you could be a part of finding a cure while accessing the newest treatments for Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, affects as many as five million women in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It's a common cause of infertility in women of childbearing age, but it's also a life-long condition with several additional health implications. 

Being overweight seems to be a trigger for women to develop more serious health issues, which is a rather chicken-and-egg situation, as PCOS also can cause weight gain. 

Diagnosing PCOS

Although PCOS affects between 9 and 18%¹ of reproductive-aged women, diagnosing it is difficult. For years, it was a matter of ruling out other issues rather than focusing on the symptoms, especially when the patients were younger women. It does make sense to wait until a couple of years after the first period to consider PCOS as a viable diagnosis, given that one of the symptoms — irregular periods — is so common in young women. 

In light of this, the Endocrine Society recommends using the Rotterdam criteria when diagnosing PCOS. This requires the presence of three distinct signs — hyperandrogenism, irregular periods, and polycystic ovaries — before making a definitive diagnosis. 

In a nutritional assessment of women with PCOS, Polish biochemists found that not only do patients have a higher BMI but that dietary protein was an issue — 36.7% of respondents did not get enough protein in a roughly 2,000 calories per day diet. The average diet was high in fat and sugars — 50% fat, 70% saturated fatty acids, and 50% saccharose. Finally, 83% of these women averaged less than 25mg of fiber in their daily diets. 

The biggest mineral deficiencies were in calcium, potassium, and magnesium, but vitamin deficits were much broader. Of the women in the study, 70% had a folic acid — a B vitamin — deficiency, 36.7% weren't getting enough vitamin C or D, and 26.7% needed more B12. 

The research concluded that higher intakes of folic acid, vitamins C and D, dietary fiber, and calcium would help with PCOS symptoms. Some patients would benefit from additional potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Additionally, they recommended lower consumption of total fats and fatty acids, as high levels of fats contribute to diabetes and heart disease. 

Further health complications of PCOS

Although the etiology or causes of PCOS are elusive to the medical community, the results are all too well-known to women with the disorder — metabolic, endocrinal, reproductive, and psychological imbalances. An endocrine study² published in 2020 found some hereditary predisposition to PCOS.

Diabetes

More than half the women who are diagnosed with PCOS will develop type 2 diabetes by the time they are 40. Moreover, PCOS puts women at greater risk for gestational diabetes — a typically temporary condition that can cause type 2 diabetes later for both mother and baby. 

Heart disease

In general, women with PCOS are at a higher risk for heart disease, and that risk does increase with age. High blood pressure, which can affect the heart, kidneys, and brain, is another danger. Increased stroke risk is another PCOS hazard. 

PCOS also seems to promote high LDL, or "bad" cholesterol concentration, increasing the risk of heart disease. It can also cause sleep apnea. Women with sleep apnea stop breathing in their sleep, which also heightens the risk for both heart disease and diabetes. 

Anxiety and depression

Although research has yet to find a definitive cause, there is a link between PCOS and anxiety and depression in women living with the disorder. 

Symptoms of PCOS

The symptoms of PCOS are both internal and external. Internally, your body is often insulin-resistant — it can make insulin but is unable to use it optimally, causing type 2 diabetes. There are also higher levels of the primary male hormone androgen, which prohibits ovulation and results in irregular periods. 

The external signs of androgen overload are acne, thinning hair on the head, and increased hair everywhere else. Unexplained weight gain, a sign of hormonal imbalance, is another indication that you have PCOS. 

Can supplements help PCOS?

Because the causes of PCOS are so elusive to the medical community, healthcare professionals ask patients to try lifestyle modification to treat the symptoms. These changes involve exercise, diet, and nutrient supplementation therapies. Recent research has identified some of the vitamins and minerals that may positively impact women with PCOS. 

There is some thought that PCOS may be the result of a mineral or vitamin deficiency, so if that is true, then supplements can play an important role in treating the syndrome. 

Trying to create human life is hard on your body. Without enough of the right nutrients, ovarian follicle growth and ovulation are compromised. Nutritional supplements may help counteract the complications of PCOS, although tests will confirm your personal vitamin and mineral deficiencies. 

Suggested vitamin and mineral supplements

Before you begin taking any supplements to ease your PCOS symptoms, consult with your doctor to ensure that you're taking the recommended doses of the right vitamins or minerals. All the following supplements are available over the counter. 

Chromium picolinate

As insulin resistance is one of the biggest issues for women with PCOS, chromium picolinate may help. A study³ of younger PCOS patients found that high doses of chromium picolinate (1000µ daily) for six months significantly reduced amenorrhea, mean ovarian volume, and free testosterone. However, acne and hair growth was not affected.

Another study found that lower doses of chromium picolinate increased insulin sensitivity. 

B complex vitamins

Within the broad group of B complex vitamins, research focuses on B6, B12, and folic acid. B vitamins have a variety of benefits for the body. For PCOS patients, they help manage the long-term cardiovascular problems that accompany PCOS. 

You can also get dietary B vitamins and folate from several food sources: 

  • Liver

  • Seafood

  • Eggs

  • Dark green, leafy vegetables

  • Legumes (including peanuts)

  • Whole grains

  • Fresh fruits

Omega-3

Omega-3s, or fish oil, are fatty acids that lower the risk for high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases, but lately, they have gained traction as a PCOS treatment. A variety of doses of omega-3 (24–100µ) resulted in increased insulin production. Fish oil, the typical source of omega-3, also protects against inflammation and autoimmune disease. 

Oily fish — mackerel, herring, sardines, and salmon — are the obvious sources of omega-3, but so are nuts (including chia seeds) and their oils. Canola oil is also high in omega-3. 

Vitamin D

Research has found a definitive link between vitamin D deficiencies and PCOS. Vitamin D isn't a cure-all for PCOS — for example, it doesn't impact the elevated androgen levels that cause hirsutism and acne. 

However, Kotsa et al.⁴ found that a three-month course of the vitamin D analogue alphacalcidol resulted in more regular menstrual periods, lower TG levels, higher HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and better insulin secretion. Vitamin D supplements also appear to improve fertility and pregnancy rates during reproduction therapy and improve mood and decrease depression in all women, regardless of PCOS status. 

Many foods are rich in vitamin D, too: 

  • Dairy — milk, cheese, and plant milk fortified with vitamin D

  • Cod liver oil

  • Salon, tuna, sardines, and swordfish

  • Beef liver

  • Egg yolks

  • Any food with added vitamin D — such as cereals and orange juice

Magnesium

Women with PCOS have an increased risk of insulin resistance, regardless of whether they're overweight. Research⁵ evaluating any links between magnesium supplements and insulin resistance is inconclusive. But one undeniable thing is that women do not, on average, consume enough magnesium in their diets.

The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is getting attention from researchers looking for improved outcomes among women with PCOS and other metabolic syndromes. This diet concentrates on nutrient-rich foods — foods high in magnesium, potassium, and calcium and low in sodium. 

Resveratrol

This micronutrient has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and cardioprotective benefits. Studies⁶ have shown that resveratrol reduces the androgen levels in women with PCOS, both in the ovaries and the adrenal glands.

Zinc

This trace element is a workhorse when it comes to insulin metabolism — so much so that zinc ions can create an insulin-like effect. If you aren't getting enough zinc, you're at increased risk for diabetes, obesity, hyperglycemia, and lipidemia.

Women with PCOS typically have lower zinc levels because of deficiencies in zinc absorption. Zinc supplements can help with insulin resistance and lipid metabolism for PSOC patients. 

What about multivitamins?

PCOS is a metabolic disorder that creates havoc in your body's ability to stay balanced. Since a wide variety of vitamins and minerals can help with the insulin resistance and androgenism characteristics of PCOS, it's natural to assume that a multivitamin will provide the same results as the supplements. 

While there's nothing wrong with a daily multivitamin, they are not designed to target PCOS deficiencies. Before you start taking any supplements to help control your PCOS, you should check with your doctor to ensure that they won't interfere with any other medications you're taking. 

The lowdown

In conclusion, vitamin or mineral supplements can benefit PCOS-related symptoms such as hyperandrogenism, increased BMI, cardiovascular disorders, and mental and psychological problems. If you have any symptoms of PCOS, you should see your doctor before you start any supplement regimen.

  1. Delayed diagnosis and a lack of information associated with dissatisfaction in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (2017)

  2. Fundamental concepts and novel aspects of polycystic ovarian syndrome: Expert consensus resolutions (2020)

  3. The effect of chromium supplementation on polycystic ovary syndrome in adolescents (2015)

  4. Role of vitamin D treatment in glucose metabolism in polycystic ovary syndrome (2009)

  5. DASH diet, insulin resistance, and serum hs-CRP in polycystic ovary syndrome: A randomized controlled clinical trial (2015)

  6. Effects of resveratrol on polycystic ovary syndrome: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (2016)

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Curious about clinical trials for Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)?

Researchers are studying thousands of new treatments and you could be a part of finding a cure while accessing the newest treatments for Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

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