Written by Chelsey Costa | Tuesday, 16 June 2020
tips and advice
PCOS is one of the most common endocrine conditions in women of reproductive age which is thought to affect between 10-20% of the female population⁽¹⁾.
As a syndrome, it is not a black and white disease but rather a cluster of symptoms. The most common criteria for diagnosis is the Rotterdam Criteria which requires at least two of the following three symptoms ⁽¹⁾:
In my clinical experience, PCOS presents very much like a spectrum condition with some women on the severe side who are overweight, have very few cycles in a year and perhaps have excess hair growth, to some women on the milder side who might have slightly longer but regular ovulatory cycles (around 35 days) and mild androgen symptoms but can control their weight relatively well. There are also so many women in between. I find, with the correct dietary and lifestyle recommendations, as well as tailored herbal and nutritional prescriptions, women move from the severe end of the spectrum down towards the milder and far more manageable end.
Of course, no prescription should ever be the same, however, here are some of the many tools that can be used to improve PCOS symptoms naturally:
A modified diet is the first step and one of the most important steps to managing PCOS for the rest of your life⁽²⁾. Specific recommendations include:
Avoid processed/packet foods⁽³⁾: these foods are usually laden with sugar, salt and unhealthy fats that do not support healthy metabolic and reproductive outcomes
Exercise makes your muscles more sensitive to insulin resulting in greater insulin uptake and lower fasting insulin levels⁽⁵⁾. I always recommend varied exercise that the person actually enjoys so that it is sustainable. You want to aim for at least 30 minutes per day. Great options include walking, jogging, pilates, yoga, swimming, biking, and some resistance training.
Women with PCOS, and particularly adrenal driven PCOS are often very sensitive to the effects of stress. High cortisol can drive insulin production and can worsen PCOS symptoms. It is important to implement daily stress management techniques such as exercise, mediation, yoga, adequate sleep and possibly supplementation with herbs and nutrients that help to support stress levels⁽⁶⁾.
The following nutrients are some of the many highly beneficial in PCOS management:
Research suggests that as little as a 2-5% body weight reduction can improve metabolic and reproductive outcomes in PCOS⁽¹²⁾. This is not about appearances or vanity in any way, and when it comes to PCOS- excessive and quick weight loss is definitely not the answer.
I believe that weight loss comes as a result of addressing the underlying drivers of PCOS, which is usually insulin resistance. By implementing the previously mentioned strategies, women find their insulin levels begin to drop and as a result they are able to shift the weight that was more stubborn before. With healthy weight loss comes healthier ovarian function, resulting in more regular ovulation and menstrual cycles.
PCOS is certainly a condition that can be managed with the correct diet and lifestyle alone. However, with professionally advised herbal and nutritional prescriptions on top of these, it can significantly help to manage PCOS and its symptoms. As mentioned before, with PCOS women presenting quite differently, the suitable natural treatment might vary between them depending on the severity of their symptoms and their underlying drivers. By managing PCOS naturally, women tend to gain a much greater understanding and appreciation for their body which is certainly a wonderful bonus.
Chelsey is an Endeavour College Alumni and qualified naturopath practicing at Perth Health & Fertility in City Beach, Perth. She is passionate about all things women’s health and specialises in, among general naturopathic medicine, treating hormonal conditions such as PCOS, cycle irregularities, endometriosis, PMS and acne. In Chelsey’s graduating year, she graduated with the Naturopathy Academic Excellence Award and Dux Medal Award. Her goals are to continue her studies alongside clinical practice with hopes to one day complete a PhD and help contribute to the naturopathic research field. She is one half of @peppermintandsage_ on Instagram and has interests in health education and regularly conducts public based health education talks in the community.