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Insulin resistance and high androgen levels are among the main problems facing PCOS patients, and many supplements can help you out in this domain. What should you know about them?

Polycystic ovary syndrome, an endocrine (hormonal) disorder that causes the ovaries to produce excessive amounts of androgens, impacts as many as 10 percent of women. Often thought of as a reproductive disorder, PCOS actually affects nearly the whole body — your metabolism, appearance, menstrual cycle and fertility, and mood, can all suffer.

While your doctor is likely to suggest a combination of medications and lifestyle changes if you are diagnosed with PCOS, many patients also turn to alternative medicine. If this appeals to you, you may wonder what supplements can help alleviate your symptoms — so let's take a closer look! Before we do, though, we'd like to remind you that alternative remedies aren't regulated as well as pharmacological treatments, and some can have side effects. While you're pretty safe using, say, fish oil supplements, you will want to have a word with your doctor before adding herbs to your treatment plan, and it's good to check in with your doc to find out about the right doses of nutritional supplements, too.

1. Inositol (vitamin B8)

Inositol (vitamin B8) is naturally present in the human body, but many women with PCOS take supplements in order to promote healthy blood sugar levels and lower testosterone levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Because inositol helps create a better hormonal balance, taking a supplement may also help you get pregnant.

2. Berberine

Berberine, used in traditional Asian medicine, is a kind of salt that is present in some plants. Some research suggests that taking berberine helps regulate your blood sugar levels by promoting insulin sensitivity, and that it is good for your heart. This alternative remedy may also increase your fertility, reduce your "bad" cholesterol levels while boosting good cholesterol, and lower your triglyceride levels. Berberine can be found in tree turmeric, goldenseal, Oregon grape, and European barberry among other sources.

3. Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids help lower inflammation, which is present in PCOS patients, as well as stimulating a more regular menstrual cycle, decreasing androgen levels, and aiding weight loss. Most people are aware that omega-3 is mostly found in fatty fish like tuna, herring, and salmon, as well as that you can buy capsules containing it at your local pharmacy. If you're vegan, however, this doesn't mean you have to lose out. Omega-3 is also present in many nuts and seeds, like flax, chia, walnuts, and even some oils (soy, canola) have it. 

4. Chromium

Another potential way to decrease your blood glucose levels and regulate your insulin is to take chromium supplements — studies have demonstrated that chromium has a positive effect. You don't necessarily need supplements, however, as this trace mineral is also found in some foods, including seafood (especially oysters), lean meats, some cereals, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, and peas. 

5. Vitex ​

Vitex, or chasteberry, is one of the most popular supplements among women with PCOS, and with good reason. Vitex was already known to the ancient Greeks, and now, research has confirmed that it increases progesterone levels and helps stimulate ovulation. Not only does that mean it is likely to increase your fertility, it will also help fight many of the nasty symptoms that are so common in PCOS, like acne, excess hair growth, and PMS.

6. Vitamin D

You probably know that vitamin D is important for strong bones, but this "sunshine vitamin" also contributes to fighting insulin resistance, irregular menstrual cycles, obesity, and excess hair growth. Making sure you get enough vitamin D may help you ovulate and thereby increase your fertility, as well. 

While it's true that your body makes vitamin D in response to sun exposure, talk to your doctor about whether you need a supplement, too. If you do take vitamin D supplements, make sure to have some fat at the same time to help your body absorb in better. The omega-3 you'll also want to look into taking is a good example.

7. Folate (folic acid)

You'll already be familiar with the fact that women who are trying to conceive are advised to take folic acid supplements to lower the risk of birth defects, but studies have also revealed that taking folic acid (the synthetic version of folate) together with inositol can increase insulin sensitivity. Because of this, it will indirectly increase your fertility.

While you can easily take a supplement, you can also get folate in through your diet — leafy greens, broccoli, okra, soy, and artichoke are all rich in this vitamin.

8. N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC)

N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) is an antioxidant you can buy over teh counter, and which research has shown helps women who live with polycystic ovary syndrome lower their weight, decrease excess hair growth (hirsutism), reduce oily skin and acne, and promote more regular periods. Perhaps most importantly, it also contributes to better blood glucose control and increased fertility. 

In fact, research shows that NAC has almost the same effect as metformin, the diabetes medications often prescribed to PCOS patients. Unlike NAC, however, metformin is linked to low B12 levels, necessitating users to take supplements.

9. Magnesium

Insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome are both widespread problems in women who have PCOS, and that of course means they're more likely to battle other adverse health outcomes such as diabetes and stroke in the future. If you are low in magnesium, quite common in PCOS patients, you will want to take a supplement to improve insulin sensitivity. Those who aren't yet deficient can simply make sure they get magnesium through dietary sources like roasted nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts), boiled spinach, shredded wheat, soy products, and beans. 

10. Flaxseed

Flaxseed should be part of your diet because it's high in lignan, something that research has shown can help reduce the androgen levels which are too high in women suffering from PCOS. By reducing your levels of these "male" hormones, you may see a reduction in symptoms like lacking periods, excess hair growth, and overweight. 

11. Zinc and saw palmetto

These two are listed together because you need to take them together — zinc and saw palmetto can, as a combo, fight high testosterone levels. Zinc has specifically been shown to reduce hirsutism, acne, weight gain, and mood swings. Saw palmetto, meanwhile, helps regulate not only your androgen but also your estrogen levels.

You'll find zinc in foods like:

  • Seafood (oysters are great)
  • Lean meat
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Nuts

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