Have you ever wondered which supplements might help your hormones and health with PCOS? If you answered yes then you’re not alone!
Supplements are a hot topic in the PCOS space. Since there are no FDA approved treatments for PCOS right now and many people have stomach issues with Metformin, it makes sense that you may be looking for alternatives. I don’t blame you!
Approaching Supplements Safely with PCOS
I want to make sure you’re approaching supplements in a safe way. Sometimes I see my clients “throwing sh!t at the wall to see what sticks” when it comes to taking supplements, which I don’t recommend. Diet culture is also starting to infiltrate the PCOS space. Lots of influencers and “wellness” brands are starting to see that you may feel desperate for support with your PCOS, and they’re certainly taking advantage of it. Just because your fav. influencer is promoting a special “tea” (I like to call them diarrhea teas) or a “women’s health supplement” does NOT mean that this supplement is for you. It just means that they got paid to promote the product.
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.
I highly recommend finding a registered dietitian who specializes in PCOS to help you choose which supplements are right for you. Most doctors receive very little training when it comes to nutrition and supplements, which is why you may have had a bad experience when you asked your doctor for supplement advice.
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 for Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance, which starts with elevated insulin levels, occurs in about 80% of people with PCOS. Addressing insulin resistance with either a medication or a supplement may improve symptoms and your overall well-being. 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.
There is a misconception that insulin resistance is all about weight. It’s important to know that you can be at a lower weight and have insulin resistance with PCOS. You can also improve insulin resistance without seeing changes in weight, which is why I take a weight-inclusive approach to health with my clients.
Supplement for 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.
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?
There’s so much pressure to lose weight from society, the healthcare system, and maybe even from your own family. I understand where this desire comes from. However, I typically see more harm than good caused by taking a weight-centric approach to managing PCOS… supplements are a good example of that!
Here are a few thins to keep in mind:
Supplements in general are not weight loss tools. 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.
Weight loss is a poor indicator of health (see my blog post about Body Mass Index here) and weight is usually outside of someone’s control.
If you’re taking a supplement because you’re trying to lose weight, you get distracted from the actual benefit of the supplement. For example, some of my clients take inositol for insulin resistance, but stop taking it when they get frustrated that they are not losing weight. A supplement could help with insulin resistance even if your weight doesn’t change – so weight changes should not be a factor when you choose to start or stop a supplement.
While supplements can be helpful at addressing some root issues with PCOS, it’s important to remember that a supplement is just that – a supplement.
Nutrition, movement, sleep, mental health, and stress management are all the foundation of managing PCOS (and sometimes medications, too). You cannot “out supplement” PCOS, so I recommend a “less is more” approach. PCOS is a life-long condition so def think about whether taking a supplement long-term is realistic or maintainable for you. Try to do what you can with nutrition and lifestyle first, and then use supplements to fill in the gaps.
In my coaching program, my clients receive PCOS supplement education including brand recommendations, dosing info, as well as when supplements can be harmful or interact with medications. See my homepage for coaching information if you are interested in managing PCOS without a side of diet culture.