Like most hormone-related conditions, PCOS has a variety of symptoms that are triggered by different factors. In addition, PCOS symptoms are not always the same from one woman to the next.
Given all these variables, you might be wondering “is it really possible to improve pcos symptoms naturally?”
Because there are so many variables that contribute to PCOS, the best way to beat PCOS symptoms naturally is to take a holistic approach that addresses insulin resistance, excess androgens and inflammation.
By the way, this isn’t my opinion. Throughout this post I’ll be sharing the research and feedback from scientists who confirm that a holistic approach is the best way to fight pcos naturally.
By the end of this post, you will know:
- The underlying causes of PCOS.
- What to include in your PCOS diet plan.
- Which supplements to use for PCOS.
- The type of exercises to do when you have PCOS.
Note: this post contains some affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you use them.
THE MAIN CAUSES OF PCOS
Rather, PCOS results from several factors, with the most important ones being:
- Insulin resistance.
- Excess androgen levels.
Let’s take a quick look at these two factors and how they are connected to each other.
1. Insulin Resistance
Most scientists state that insulin resistance is the most important underlying cause of PCOS.
- 70-95% of obese women with PCOS.
- 30-75% of lean women with PCOS.
Based on these numbers, it’s clear that insulin resistance is the most common hormonal imbalance in PCOS patients.
In addition, Dr. Jessica Hutchins from the Cleveland Clinic also states that “insulin resistance is one of the root physiological imbalances in most, if not all, PCOS” (source).
So what exactly is insulin resistance? Very simply, it occurs when your cells don’t respond correctly to the hormone insulin.
To counteract this, the pancreas pump out more insulin in the hopes of fixing the problem. Unfortunately, all that does is lead to high insulin levels in your blood.
This is where PCOS symptoms start to pop up (and get worse).
You see, high insulin can do the following in the body (source):
- trigger the ovaries to make more testosterone instead of estrogen.
- Inhibit ovulation.
- delay the maturation of eggs, lead to smaller eggs and decrease overall egg quality.
So, in order to beat pcos naturally, we need to make dietary and lifestyle changes that address insulin sensitivity.
2. Excess Androgens
One of the trickiest things about PCOS is that it usually comes with excess levels of androgens (male hormones).
Even though a woman’s body makes androgens naturally, why is it that women with PCOS have excess androgens?
Well there are 2 main culprits: insulin resistance and pesticides.
So, we’ve already established in the previous section that insulin resistance causes the ovaries to make more testosterone (which is an androgen).
Now, let’s look at pesticides and how they affect PCOS symptoms:
- Normally, the female body makes a certain amount of androgens.
- When everything is working well, most of those androgens are converted into estrogen. This is done by an enzyme called aromatase.
- However, when the body is exposed to pesticides, those pesticides can prevent aromatase from doing its job.
- End result? You end up with high levels of androgens.
And while we’re on the topic of pesticides, you should know that they are a common source of xenoestrogens.
If you’re not familiar with xenoestrogens, they are hormone disruptors that mimic estrogen and also interfere with the normal function of your estrogen.
What’s even more troubling is that xenoestrogens raise the total amount of estrogen in your body.
So, not only can pesticides mess with your androgen levels, but they can increase total estrogen and can contribute to estrogen dominance (along with PCOS symptoms)!
That is A LOT for the body to handle! No wonder scientists say PCOS is a complex, multi-factorial hormonal imbalance.
But have no worries because in a little while I am going to show you exactly how to address PCOS holistically so that you can start getting relief.
Inflammation is a natural process that the body uses to fight off stress.
And even though inflammation is often demonized, the truth is that inflammation is your friend and protector.
But the thing with inflammation is that it is designed to be a short-term process. When inflammation is short-term, it doesn’t leave any lasting, negative side effects.
However, when inflammation lasts for months or years, then your hormones suffer.
So, where does inflammation come from?
It comes from any type of stress that throws off your body’s natural balance. Here are a few common sources of inflammation:
- Emotional stress.
- Hectic lifestyle.
- Additives and preservatives in food.
- Processed foods and ingredients (such as refined sugar and hydrogenated fats).
- Growth hormones in animal foods.
- Toxins in makeup, skin care and other beauty products.
So, what does all this have to do with PCOS?
Well, PCOS has also been referred to as “a low-level chronic inflammation” (source).
So, part of reversing PCOS naturally is about following an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle. That is the quickest way to get your health back!
Ok, so that of info to take in! If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, please don’t be.
My goal in sharing these details with you is to help you understand that even though PCOS is complex, it’s not a random voodoo attack.
Once you understand all the factors that play into PCOS, you can confidently take the right steps to improve it.
COMMON SIGNS OF PCOS
With a name like polycystic ovary syndrome (i.e. multiple cysts on the ovaries) you’d think that every woman with PCOS would have ovarian cysts.
Yet, that is absolutely not the case. In fact, many women with PCOS never get ovarian cysts.
So, other than ovarian cysts, some other common signs of PCOS include (source):
- High androgen levels.
- Irregular periods.
- Insulin resistance.
- Weight gain and difficulty losing weight.
- Facial hair and body hair growth.
- Fertility issues.
- Pelvic pain.
- Low libido.
Aside from the above symptoms, women who have PCOS also have a high risk of getting (source):
- Type 2 diabetes.
- Heart disease.
- High blood pressure.
7 WAYS TO GET PCOS RELIEF NATURALLY
Now, that we’ve covered the underlying causes of PCOS, let’s dive into how to overcome PCOS symptoms naturally.
Everything we’re going to cover in this section focuses on a holistic lifestyle (which includes food).
So, why is lifestyle so important?
Well, when it comes to PCOS, experts like the Cleveland Clinic point out that “lifestyle habits greatly contribute to the development of the disease.” In addition, medical journal articles like this one refer to PCOS as “the mother of all lifestyle disorders for women.” As a matter of fact, that particular article emphasizes that since there’s no medical therapy (yet) that fully reverses PCOS hormonal imbalances, lifestyle therapy is a must. In their own words:
“Generally, medical therapy is targeted to symptoms and should not be used as an alternative to lifestyle therapy in PCOS.”
So, with all of that in mind, here are the 7 holistic lifestyle steps to use for PCOS:
- Support Gut Health
- Improve Insulin Sensitivity and Blood Sugar Levels
- Use Herbs, Bitter Foods and Healthy Fats to Support The Liver
- Support The Adrenals and Reduce Cortisol by Lowering Stress
- Choose The Right Proteins
- Take Nutrient-Rich Supplements for PCOS
- Do a Gentle Detox and Cleanse
Let’s look at how to apply each of the above.
1. Support Your Gut Health
The gut has 2 main functions that impact your ability to overcome PCOS.
- First, the gut is the seat of your immune system (which is activated when hormone disruptors are present). When inflammation is high in the body, gut bacteria and gut function is thrown off.
- Second, the gut detoxes excess hormones and other toxins from the body. Once again, if inflammation is high, your gut cannot do this work optimally.
So, your PCOS diet plan needs to incorporate foods and habits that support gut health.
- Fermented foods and drinks (sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi).
- High fiber foods (unrefined grains, vegetables, fruits).
- Stress management techniques.
- Whole fruits and veggies.
- Legumes (chickpeas, lentils and beans).
- Raw nuts and seeds.
- Wild-caught, fatty fish (such as salmon, sardines and mackerel).
- Minimal consumption of foods that contain antibiotics, growth hormones and pesticides.
2. Improve Insulin Sensitivity and Blood Sugar Levels
As we saw earlier in this post, insulin resistance creates a ripple effect that leads to high androgens and high blood sugar.
So, our goal here is to lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin resistance.
From a dietary perspective, here are some important guidelines to keep in mind:
- Ditch all refined sugar and stick to raw, unpasteurized honey or pure, green stevia (NOT stevia drops or white stevia, which is all refined).
- Avoid extreme diets that require you to drastically cut calories or cut out entire food groups. It’s all about balance.
- Replace processed carbs with natural carbs. This means getting your carbs from gluten-free grains (such as buckwheat, quinoa, brown rice or amaranth), beans, raw nuts/seeds, whole fruits and veggies.
In addition to the above, getting enough inositol in your diet can be quite helpful. Not only does this nutrient help with insulin resistance, but it is also essential for ovarian function.
As far as how to get more inositol into your diet, there are two options:
- Eat more inositol-rich foods: beans, oats, cantaloupe, citrus fruits (except lemons), brown rice are known for being rich in inositol.
- Supplement: studies show that a 40:1 ratio of myo-inositol to d-chiro-inositol is ideal for women with PCOS (source). To get started, I suggest the Ovasitol supplement, which you can find here. You get a 90-day supply and by using the link provided you also benefit from a discounted price.
3. Eat Liver-Friendly Foods and Herbs
Ah, the liver. The workhorse of the body.
Not only does the liver detox all toxins, but it also makes hormones.
Needless to say that a healthy liver will help you beat PCOS with significantly greater ease.
Here’s what you need to keep your liver in tip top condition:
- Eat bitter foods because the liver loves them. Artichokes, dandelion greens, green tea, endives, radishes, arugula, grapefruits, cranberries and kale are a few bitters you can add to your PCOS diet.
- Eat healthy doses of natural fats every day to boost liver health. Coconut oil, olive oil, avocados and raw nuts/seeds are great choices.
- Use herbs like milk thistle, dandelion or oregon graperoot. Milk thistle and dandelion are the gold standards of liver-friendly herbs. As for oregon grape, it may not be as famous as the other two herbs, but herbalists rely on it to stimulate liver function and improve digestive function.
This HerbPharm Liver tincture is a great option that includes all of the herbs listed above. Plus, it’s in a liquid form, which means it’s easier to absorb.
4. Support The Adrenals and Keep Cortisol In Check
There are 2 aspects to supporting your adrenals:
- First, eat anti-inflammatory foods for hormone support. This reduces stress and inflammation, which means the adrenals don’t have to pump out a lot of cortisol.
- Make time for relaxation and self-care. The more you pamper yourself, the happier your adrenals will be. So, carve out time every day to just chill. Find activities that help you unwind and do them often 🙂 If you’re not sure where to start, check out this post on self care ideas.
While we’re on the topic of stress, exercise is also an effective stress reducer. In addition, exercise also helps regulate blood sugar and improve circulation.
However, when you have PCOS you have to be mindful about the type of exercise you do.
It’s best to avoid high intensity activities because they can actually increase stress. Since PCOS already puts your body in a stressful state, you may have difficulty recovering from a very intense workout. Ultimately, you can end up feeling worse!
So, for PCOS focus on lower intensity activities like:
- light hikes
- bike riding
- light aerobics
- light weight lifting.
Oh, and as a side note, exercise can help to lower blood sugar levels. In fact, the Mayo Clinic points out that for women with PCOS, regular physical activity “may treat or even prevent insulin resistance” (source).
5. Choose The Right Proteins
Proteins are important for stabilizing blood sugar, supporting hormone production, reducing cravings and maintaining a healthy metabolism.
However, the type of protein matters.
For PCOS, plant-based proteins are a better option because they:
- are anti-inflammatory (compared to things like beef which is generally considered pro-inflammatory).
- contain fiber which supports gut health and keeps you regular (we want to ensure that any excess hormones or toxins are being eliminated!).
- are a natural source of inositol (this is specifically about beans). Inositol is a compound that is essential for ovarian function and for stabilizing blood sugar.
Now, in terms of how much protein vs carbs vs fats that you need, a 2012 study found that 40% or more of protein was helpful for PCOS patients (source).
Do keep in mind that too much protein also creates its own issues. And you want to allow room for proteins and healthy carbs. So a 40-30-30 ratio of proteins, carbs and fats might be a good place to start.
If you’d like to learn more about that study, plus get a list of the plant proteins (grains, fruits, veggies and more) to add to your diet, read this guide.
6. Take Nutrient-Rich Supplements for PCOS
Fact: many of the foods we eat today are not as nutrient-rich as they were several decades ago (source).
In fact, some nutrients are missing from our soil these days.
And if it’s not in the soil, then it’s not in your food. And if it’s not in your food, then it can’t work it’s magic in your body…unless you fill the gap by taking supplements 🙂
For PCOS, the 2 main supplements that seriously consider are:
- A nutrient-dense, green powder
- A daily multivitamin.
To see exactly which brands to use, be sure to check out my list of supplements for female hormonal imbalance.
7. Do a Gentle Detox and Cleanse
If you’re serious about reversing your PCOS symptoms, then you can’t go wrong with doing a detox.
A detox is a great way to:
- Eliminate toxins that cause PCOS symptoms.
- Give the body a chance to rest, recharge and recover.
- Develop new habits that will keep you healthy for years and decades to come.
If you’re not sure how to go about detoxing, have no worries because we’ll get into that in the next section!
DIET PLAN TO BEAT PCOS SYMPTOMS NATURALLY
So, now you have all the guidelines and tips to support your body naturally!
The next – and most important step – is to actually implement all of this information into your daily life.
To accomplish, start with this guide to hormone balancing foods for PCOS. You will learn what to keep in mind as you choose food, including the roles of glycemic index and glycemic load.
Is coffee bad for PCOS?
Coffee is bad for PCOS because it stimulates the adrenals and in response to this stress, the adrenals produce more cortisol. High cortisol increases insulin production and that can be detrimental for PCOS symptoms.
Can losing weight cure polycystic ovarian syndrome?
Weight loss can help PCOS because the less fat cells you have, the less estrogen you make. When you are overweight, your fat cells make more estrogen and this estrogen increase can contribute to PCOS symptoms.
Does PCOS go away if you remove your ovaries?
If you have cysts, surgery will get rid of them. But removing the ovaries doesn’t fix the underlying hormonal imbalances and inflammation that cause PCOS.
Is green tea good for PCOS?
Yes, green tea can be very helpful for PCOS because it’s anti-inflammatory, supports the liver and is also rich in antioxidants.
For more on green tea and how to use it, read this post on the benefits of matcha green tea for hormone balance.
How does apple cider vinegar help with PCOS?
Research shows that for women with PCOS, apple cider vinegar can regulate the menstrual cycle and improve insulin (along with other hormones).
In summary, the best way to fight PCOS symptoms naturally is to eat an anti-inflammatory diet, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce stress and take nourishing supplements that support detoxification (and overall health).
I hope this post inspires you to start building new habits so that you can reclaim your health and happiness.
Hey there! Curious about supplements for women’s hormones? Here are my top picks (in-depth reviews for each is available here):
- Hormone Harmony: Formulated for all around-hormone support, this supplement combines cortisol/stress lowering herbs (aka adaptogens), with herbs for nervous system support, insulin sensitivity and more. it’s no wonder it has 12,000+ (mostly glowing) reviews! Get $10 OFF with code HAPPYYOU076057.
- Live It Up (formerly Enso) Supergreens: after getting a free sample from the company, I was seriously impressed by this greens powder. I love it because it has lots of mineral-rich and nutrient-dense greens and nothing else. The minty flavor is 100% from mint, no synthetic flavors (or other additives). I also love that it has no adaptogens (which my body is not a fan of lately). Think of this as your green, multivitamin/multimineral.
- Moon Balance: this powder combines some of the best herbs for menstrual support, such as hibiscus, maca and shatavari. If your cycle is off balance and you struggle with things like PMS, period pain and other menstrual imbalances, this is one to check out.
- Maca Root Powder: in the single herb category, maca is worth paying attention to. It has traditionally been used in Peru for hormone support (in men and women). Research and anecdotal reports indicate that this root vegetable helps with libido, anxiety, hot flashes, menstrual health and more.