Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects a woman's hormone balance, insulin sensitivity, menstrual cycle and fertility. Higher levels of male hormones make women with PCOS more likely to grow facial hair, gain weight and develop acne, but some PCOS supplements can help.
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PCOS statistics show one out of 10 women is affected by the condition, according to the Office on Women's Health. Though it is a common condition, there is no cure. Some lifestyle changes may help alleviate the symptoms.
Certain supplements and a PCOS multivitamin have been shown to manage some of the symptoms. Prescription drugs and birth control pills are often used as treatments for PCOS, but there are over-the-counter supplements that may improve symptoms in combination with diet, exercise and other therapies.
Inositol and Folic Acid
One of the most commonly used PCOS supplements is inositol. It consists of nine naturally occurring compounds that play a vital role in cellular functions. Inositol is unable to perform its functions correctly in women with PCOS, however.
Studies have shown that inositol supplementation can balance out this fault. A January 2017 study published in Gynecological Endocrinology found that many PCOS patients taking myo-inositol experienced a significant decrease in BMI, improved insulin sensitivity and menstrual cycle normalization.
PCOS treatment has also begun to combine inositol with folic acid supplementation. A November 2016 study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology confirmed the effectiveness of the combination. When combined with folic acid, inositol lowers the male hormones androgen and testosterone.
Other studies suggest that the combination of inositol and folic acid can improve ovulation and increase pregnancy rates among women with PCOS.
Read more: Does Folic Acid Help Women That Have PCOS?
Berberine Alleviates Insulin Resistance
Berberine is well-known in traditional Chinese medicine. It is making its way into some Western medical practices, especially in relation to diabetes and PCOS.
Many women with PCOS struggle with insulin resistance or diabetes. Berberine is a natural alternative to prescription blood sugar stabilizers as it has anti-diabetic properties. The effectiveness of berberine to alleviate insulin resistance has been compared to metformin, a prescription drug used to treat Type 2 diabetes.
Berberine may also be a promising fertility booster in PCOS patients. Many women combine in-vitro fertilization (IVF) with other treatments to improve the chances of conception. In a March 2014 study published in Clinical Endocrinology, berberine supplementation yielded better results than metformin with fewer risks. Participants in the study took berberine for 12 weeks prior to IVF treatments.
Carnitine for Weight Management
It's not uncommon for women with PCOS to develop overweight or obesity. The hormonal imbalance makes them more susceptible to gain weight and develop features of metabolic syndrome.
Carnitine supplements are considered a PCOS treatment for weight management. In a small June 2016 study of just 60 women published in Clinical Endocrinology, researchers found that women with PCOS and overweight experienced reductions in weight and BMI after 12 weeks of carnitine administration. However, their male hormone levels were not affected.
Vitamin D and Calcium
Like inositol and folic acid, vitamin D and calcium make up a PCOS treatment that works best in conjunction with each other. Vitamin D plays an important role in PCOS management, yet many women affected by this syndrome are deficient in this vitamin.
A May 2012 study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice found that 83 percent of PCOS patients are vitamin D deficient and 35 percent are severely deficient. When combined with calcium, vitamin D contributed to weight loss, menstrual regulation and reduced male hormone levels in women with PCOS. Though Metformin was part of the treatment, patients experienced slightly better improvements with additional supplementation.
Read more: Vitamins for Hormonal Balance
Magnesium Deficiency in PCOS Patients
In a January 2012 study published in Gynecological Endocrinology, researchers found that women with PCOS are 19 times more likely to have a magnesium deficiency. However, magnesium is important in regulating some of the bodily functions that PCOS affects: metabolism, blood sugar regulation, energy levels and fertility. Many PCOS multivitamins contain this mineral to prevent deficiency.
Magnesium supplementation will not cure your PCOS, but it can make the symptoms more manageable. It can also support the body's functions that rely on this mineral. More research is needed to determine if magnesium should be considered a PCOS treatment, but the studies on its effect on insulin resistance in non-diabetic subjects are promising.
Chromium May Treat Insulin Resistance
Many PCOS supplements are geared towards treating insulin resistance because this is a common symptom in women with this condition. Chromium is another option.
The side effects of metformin, a drug often prescribed to PCOS patients and Type 2 diabetics, make it an unattractive treatment. Researchers continue to look for alternatives, such as chromium. It has been shown to decrease BMI, insulin resistance and testosterone levels.
Read more: Does Folic Acid Help Women That Have PCOS?
Omega-3s Regulate Hormones
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for women's health. They aid in hormone regulation, fertility, pregnancy, preventing disease and more. In women with PCOS, omega-3s are especially vital.
There are several food sources of omega-3s, but supplementation can be just as effective. A small August 2013 study with just 78 participants published in the Iranian Journal of Reproductive Medicine demonstrated the positive effects of omega-3 PCOS supplements on lowered testosterone levels and menstruation regularity.
N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)
This amino acid goes by cysteine or NAC for short. It is commonly found in high-protein foods, and it is one of the PCOS supplements that is often compared to the diabetic drug metformin.
A 2015 study published in the Obstetrics and Gynecology International journal found that NAC supplementation effectively improved pregnancy and ovulation rates in women with PCOS. However, Metformin is just as effective with the additional benefits of insulin resistance and weight management.
NAC may also stand out as a treatment for PCOS patients struggling with fertility and pregnancy. According to an April 2016 study published in Reproduction, Fertility and Development, NAC supplementation improves embryo quality in PCOS patients undergoing sperm injections.
These findings suggest that NAC can be administered in combination with or as an alternative to Metformin, which has many known risks and side effects. It can be used for its anti-diabetic and fertility properties.
Read more: How to Lose Weight With PCOS
Manage PCOS Symptoms With Supplements
A vast population of women suffer from PCOS and all the symptoms that come with it. Though there is no cure, some supplements and PCOS multivitamins can alleviate your discomfort.
Some common treatments for PCOS include birth control pills and prescription drugs. While these options relieve some symptoms, the irony is that they come with a new set of side effects. Natural vitamins and minerals like inositol, berberine and NAC are alternatives to these medications. Some supplements can also be used alongside your existing protocol.
PCOS is a serious condition that can affect the overall quality of your life, but you can manage your symptoms through diet, exercise and treatment.
- Office on Women's Health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome”
- Gynecological Endocrinology: “Comparison of Two Insulin Sensitizers, Metformin and Myo-Inositol, in Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)”
- International Journal of Endocrinology: “Different Effects of Myo-Inositol Plus Folic Acid Versus Combined Oral Treatment on Androgen Levels in PCOS Women”
- International Journal of Endocrinology: “Myo-Inositol as a Safe and Alternative Approach in the Treatment of Infertile PCOS Women: A German Observational Study”
- Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: “The Effect of Berberine on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Patients With Insulin Resistance (PCOS-IR): A Meta-Analysis and Systematic Review”
- Clinical Endocrinology: “Oral Carnitine Supplementation Reduces Body Weight and Insulin Resistance in Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-COntrolled Trial”
- Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice: “Therapeutic Effects of Calcium & Vitamin D Supplementation in Women With PCOS”
- Gynecological Endocrinology: “Serum Magnesium Concentrations in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Its Association With Insulin Resistance”
- Diabetes, Obesity & Metabolism: “Oral Magnesium Supplementation Reduces Insulin Resistance in Non-Diabetic Subjects — A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Randomized Trial”
- Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology: “Chromium Supplementation and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”
- Iranian Journal of Reproductive Medicine: “The Effect of Omega-3 Supplementation on Androgen Profile and Menstrual Status in Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Randomized Clinical Trial”
- Reproduction, Fertility and Development: “N-Acetylcysteine Improves Oocyte and Embryo Quality in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Patients Undergoing Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection: An Alternative to Metformin”
- Clinical Endocrinology: “The Use of Berberine for Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Undergoing IVF Treatment”
- Obstetrics and Gynecology International: "N-Acetylcysteine for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Clinical Trials"