Supplements are a hot topic in the wellness space. They often leave consumers confused about what supplements to take, what brands, and how much. If you have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), you probably have these same questions, but also you might look for the best supplements for PCOS to improve Insulin Resistance and inflammation, or want to find the best weight loss supplement for PCOS.
Since there is no standard PCOS supplement that everyone should take, supplements should be approached on an individualized basis depending on your symptoms and overall goals. Perhaps your doctor hasn’t advised you on supplements, which is understandable because most doctors receive very little training when it comes to nutrition. Let’s talk through some common supplements that are used for PCOS, then you can work with a trusted dietitian to find out what’s best for you!
When Supplements can be Beneficial
Supplements can be beneficial for different symptoms of PCOS. The primary purposes of supplements for PCOS are to improve Insulin Resistance, decrease inflammation, or help with a nutrient deficiency.
For all supplements listed below, please see a provider before you start taking any of them. Taking supplements without knowing if you need them, the proper dosage (which isn’t necessarily the same as what’s listed on the label), and safety of the product can be harmful.
- Supplements that can help with Insulin Resistance: Insulin resistance occurs in about 80% of people with PCOS, so addressing insulin resistance with either a medication or supplement may improve symptoms and overall well-being with PCOS. Uncontrolled insulin resistance can leave you with constant hunger, low energy, sleep issues and cause a missing period, hair loss, acne, and hirsutism.. My favorite PCOS supplements for Insulin Resistance are Inositol, NAC, or Berberine.
- Supplements that can help decrease inflammation: PCOS is an inflammatory condition, and adding nutrition and supplements can help. My favorite supplement for decreasing inflammation is fish oil. Fish Oil can also help regulate cholesterol levels.
- Supplements for common nutrient deficiencies: Common nutrient deficiencies I see with PCOS are Vitamin D and Vitamin B12. Vitamin D deficiency is already common in those who live in northern, colder climates, and those who do not get enough sunlight exposure. Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in those who take Metformin (mentioned above), as Metformin may deplete Vitamin B12 in the body. I also tend to see a need for Iron supplementation in those who are vegan or vegetarian, but that should be confirmed with labs before supplementing. I offer a detailed lab guide here for more information!
When I Don’t Recommend Supplements
There are situations when I do not recommend supplements.
The first is when you aren’t working with a registered dietitian or healthcare provider who is advising you about which supplements to take. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA so finding a high-quality supplement in the correct dosage for PCOS is really important for addressing symptoms. Certain supplements also have negative side effects, interact with medications, or have limitations on when and how long they can be taken.
The second is when the primary reason you’re taking a supplement is for weight loss. Supplements are not a weight loss tool. You should know why you’re taking the supplement and be monitoring that symptom / lab to see if the supplement is helping. I see so many people stop a supplement that could actually be helping them just because weight loss isn’t occurring.
And lastly, I do not recommend taking a supplement advertised as a “hormone balancing supplement” without having it screened by your registered dietitian first. Many of these supplements are usually a combo of supplements in one, many of which aren’t actually needed or may have adverse health effects. For example, a very popular supplement like this contains DIM, which shouldn’t be taken unless you’re monitoring estrogen levels.
What are the Best Weight Loss Supplements for PCOS?
You may turn to supplements because some are marketed to help with weight loss. This is understandable because maybe you’ve felt pressure to lose weight from your family, society, or a healthcare provider.
However, supplements should not be taken with the intention of losing weight. Here’s why:
- Weight loss is not your purpose of PCOS management because it is a poor indicator of health (see my blog post about Body Mass Index here).
- The purposes of supplements for PCOS are to correct a nutrient deficiency, improve your labs, lower inflammation, and manage insulin resistance. All of these can happen even if you don’t lose weight.
- If you’re taking a supplement because you’re trying to lose weight, you may not realize the full benefit of the supplement. For example, some of my clients take Inositol for Insulin Resistance, but stop taking it when they notice that they are not losing weight. Inositol can help with Insulin Resistance regardless of changes in your weight – so weight changes should not be a factor when you choose to start or stop a supplement with your provider.
While PCOS supplements can be helpful in improving insulin resistance, inflammation, and nutrient deficiencies, it’s important to remember that a supplement is just that – a supplement to your other health promoting behaviors.
Nutrition, movement, sleep, and stress management are also important in addition to sometimes even medications.. Since PCOS is a life-long condition, I recommend a “less is more” approach to supplements. Try to do what you can with nutrition and lifestyle first, and then use supplements to fill in the gaps.
I help my clients find ways to manage their PCOS symptoms without dieting, and I include supplement information in all of my services!