Things to consider

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine condition among U.S. women of reproductive age. Its symptoms include:

Researchers say the causes of PCOS are complicated, but insulin resistance and hormone regulation are key factors.

You may be able to manage these factors and ease your symptoms through lifestyle changes and dietary supplements, but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment.

You should always talk with your doctor before you try any alternative treatment. They can discuss possible dosage, side effects, and interactions.

Diet changes

diet changes

Eating the right foods and avoiding certain ingredients may help you manage your symptoms. A nourishing diet can help regulate your hormones and your menstrual cycle. Eating processed, heavily preserved foods can contribute to inflammation and insulin resistance.

It’s all about whole foods

Whole foods are free from artificial sugars, hormones, and preservatives. These foods are as close to their natural, unprocessed state as possible. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are whole foods that you can add to your diet.

Without hormones and preservatives, your endocrine system can better regulate your blood sugar.

Balance carb and protein intake

Carbohydrates and protein both impact your energy and hormone levels. Eating protein stimulates your body to produce insulin. Unprocessed, high-carb foods can improve insulin sensitivity. Instead of trying a low-carb diet, focus on getting enough healthy protein.

Plant-based protein sources, such as nuts, legumes, and whole grains, are best.

Aim for anti-inflammatory

PCOS is described by one study as low-level chronic inflammation. Adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet can help ease your symptoms.

Consider the Mediterranean diet as an option. Olive oil, tomatoes, leafy greens, fatty fish like mackerel and tuna, and tree nuts all fight inflammation.

Up your iron intake

Some women with PCOS experience heavy bleeding during their period. This can result in iron deficiency or anemia. If your doctor has diagnosed you with either condition, talk with them about how you can up your iron intake. They may recommend adding iron-rich foods such as spinach, eggs, and broccoli to your diet.

You shouldn’t up your iron intake without first consulting your doctor. Too much iron can increase your risk of complications.

Up your magnesium intake

Almonds, cashews, spinach, and bananas are PCOS-friendly foods rich in magnesium.

Add in some fiber to help with digestion

A diet high in fiber can help improve your digestion. Lentils, lima beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pears, and avocados are all rich in fiber.

Cut out coffee

Caffeine consumption may be linked to changes in estrogen levels and hormone behavior. Try boosting your energy with a decaf alternative, such as an herbal tea. Kombucha’s probiotic properties may also be beneficial.

And if you can’t go without a caffeine boost, reach for green tea instead. Green tea has been shown to improve insulin resistance. It can also help with weight management in women with PCOS.

Consider soy products

Before adding more soy to your diet, ask your doctor about the latest research. Soy acts like estrogen in your body. This might help balance hormones if you have PCOS. But there’s also evidence that adding soy to your diet could disrupt your endocrine system.

People with a family history of estrogen-related cancers, such as some breast cancers, should avoid soy products. If your doctor approves adding soy to your diet, consider soy milk, tofu, miso, and tempeh.

Supplements

supplements

Supplements claim to help with hormone regulation, insulin resistance, and inflammation associated with PCOS.

Supplements aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Speak to your doctor before taking any supplement. Some of them can actually interfere with other prescribed PCOS treatments and medications.

Inositol

Inositol is a B vitamin that can help improve insulin resistance. It’s also been found to help with fertility in some cases of PCOS.

Chromium

Chromium supplements may improve your body mass index, which can help with PCOS. They may also stabilize insulin resistance by helping your body metabolize sugar.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon comes from the bark of cinnamon trees. Cinnamon extract has been shown to have a positive effect on insulin resistance. Cinnamon also may regulate menstruation for women with PCOS.

Turmeric

The active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin. Turmeric may be promising for decreasing insulin resistance and as an anti-inflammatory agent.

Zinc

Zinc is a trace element that can boost fertility and your immune system. Excessive or unwanted hair growth and alopecia may be improved with zinc supplements.

You can also eat red meat, beans, tree nuts, and seafood to get more zinc in your diet.

Evening primrose oil

Evening primrose oil has been used to help with period pain and irregular menstruation. It may also improve cholesterol levels and oxidative stress, both of which are linked to PCOS.

Combined vitamin D and calcium

Vitamin D is a hormone that’s vital to your endocrine system. Vitamin D deficiency is common in women with PCOS. Vitamin D and calcium may improve irregular periods and help you ovulate.

Cod liver oil

Cod liver oil contains vitamins D and A, as well as high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. These acids can help improve menstrual regularity and help get rid of fat around your waist.

Berberine

Berberine is an herb used in Chinese medicine to help with insulin resistance. If you have PCOS, berberine may ramp up your metabolism and balance your body’s endocrine responses.

Adaptogen herbs

When your body can’t regulate insulin, it can build up in your body and cause higher levels of male sex hormones called androgens. Adaptogen herbs claim to aid your body in balancing these hormones. Some adaptogen herbs also claim to ease other symptoms of PCOS, like irregular periods.

Use caution and talk with your doctor before taking any herbal supplement, as their claims haven’t been evaluated by the FDA.

Maca root

The root of the maca plant is a traditional herb used to boost fertility and libido. Maca root may help balance hormones and lower cortisol levels. It may also help treat depression, which can be a symptom of PCOS.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is also called “Indian ginseng.” It can help balance cortisol levels, which could improve stress and symptoms of PCOS.

Holy basil

Holy basil, also called tulsi, addresses chemical and metabolic stress. It’s referred to as “queen of herbs.” Holy basil can help reduce your blood sugar, prevent weight gain, and lower your cortisol levels.

Licorice root

The root of the licorice plant contains a compound called glycyrrhizin, which has several unique properties. Licorice root has been suggested as an anti-inflammatory agent. It works to help metabolize sugar and balance hormones.

Tribulus terrestris

Tribulus terrestris has been shown to help stimulate ovulation and support healthy menstruation. It may also decrease the number of ovarian cysts.

Chasteberry

Chasteberry has been used for centuries to help with reproductive conditions. It may improve some symptoms of PMS, though its effect on fertility requires more research.

Probiotics

Probiotics don’t just help with your digestion and gut health. They can play an important role in treating PCOS. They can also reduce inflammation and regulate sex hormones like androgen and estrogen.

Consider taking probiotic supplements and eating probiotic foods, like kimchi and kombucha.

Maintain a healthy weight

Maintaining a healthy weight can help decrease insulin resistance, regulate your period, and reduce your risk of conditions associated with PCOS.

If you’re overweight, some studies suggest gradual weight loss through a low-calorie diet as a promising first-line treatment for PCOS.

Balance your exercise

Exercise is important for maintaining a healthy weight. But too much exercise can disrupt your hormones, so talk with your doctor about a healthy balance.

Gentle, low-impact exercises like yoga or Pilates can be practiced for longer durations. Swimming and light aerobics are also recommended. High-intensity interval training and long-distance running may also help improve symptoms of PCOS.

Talk with your doctor about the type of workout that would benefit you most.

Practice good sleep hygiene

Sleep affects your stress levels and helps regulate cortisol to balance your hormones. But sleep disturbances are twice as common for women with PCOS. To up your sleep hygiene:

  • Aim for eight to ten hours of sleep per night.
  • Establish a regular bedtime routine.
  • Avoid stimulants and rich, fatty foods before bedtime.

Reduce stress

Reducing stress can regulate cortisol. Many of the strategies mentioned above, such as yoga, getting enough sleep, and cutting caffeine, can contribute to lower stress levels.

Taking walks outside and creating space in your life for relaxation and self-care can also reduce how stressed you feel.

Limit or avoid endocrine disruptors

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals or ingredients that interfere with or block your body’s natural hormonal reactions.

Some endocrine disruptors mimic female and male sex hormones, causing confusion in your reproductive system. This can increase your risk of PCOS symptoms.

They’re often found in canned foods, soaps, and makeup. Common endocrine disruptors include:

  • dioxins
  • phthalates
  • pesticides
  • BPA
  • glycol ethers

Consider acupuncture

There’s enough research to make a case for acupuncture as an alternative treatment for PCOS. Acupuncture may help PCOS by:

  • increasing blood flow to your ovaries
  • reducing cortisol levels
  • helping with weight loss
  • improving your sensitivity to insulin

Be cautious

Be wary of supplements and other therapies that make large claims. Although there’s a fair amount of research on natural treatments for PCOS, more concrete information is still needed to support many alternative remedies.

You should always check with your doctor before starting any alternative therapy. Some treatments that claim to be miracle products for PCOS can actually impact your fertility or lead to other complications.

Be especially wary of:

  • progestin, which can make it harder for you to get pregnant
  • systemic enzyme therapies
  • supplements and herbs that promise to “cure all” and provide “instant results”

Talk with your doctor

If you’re considering any of the above natural treatment options for PCOS, work with your doctor to make a treatment plan.

While herbal supplements and alternative therapies can help PCOS treatment, they aren’t a substitute for a customized, ongoing dialogue with your doctor about your symptoms.