What is polycystic ovary syndrome?
In each menstrual cycle, follicles grow on the ovaries. Within those follicles eggs develop, one of which will reach maturity faster than the others and be released into the fallopian tubes. This is known as ovulation. The remaining follicles (sometimes hundreds) will degenerate. In the case of polycystic ovaries, however, the ovaries are much larger than normal, and there are a series of undeveloped follicles that appear in clumps, rather like a bunch of grapes. Polycystic ovaries are not particularly troublesome and in many cases they will not even affect your fertility. Where the problem starts, however, is when the cysts cause a hormonal imbalance, leading to a series of other symptoms. These symptoms are the difference between suffering from PCOS and from polycystic ovaries.
So a woman can have polycystic ovaries without having PCOS but all women with PCOS will have polycystic ovaries.
What symptoms could you experience?
With the most extreme form of PCOS, you would tend to be overweight, have no or very few periods, be prone to acne, grow unusually heavy body hair, often on the face, breasts and inside of the legs, and be susceptible to mood swings. And with this can come problems with fertility and often recurrent miscarriages. Women with PCOS may be seven times more likely to develop diabetes because of problems with blood sugar balance.
The supplements recommended may be helpful for PCOS. For best results you should take them over a period of three months, at the end of which you should be reassessed in order to monitor improvements and changes and then adjust the supplement programme according to your new condition.
If you’ve been using the Pill to regulate your periods, you may have an even greater imbalance between a number of key vitamins and minerals. Correcting this imbalance will go a long way towards treating the root cause of the problem.
Multivitamin and Mineral
A good quality multivitamin and mineral would form the foundation of your supplement programme to make sure that you are getting a ‘little bit of everything’. You then add in those nutrients in slightly higher amounts, which are known to be helpful for PCOS.
Chromium is an extremely important mineral if you have PCOS. It helps to encourage the formation of glucose tolerance factor (GTF) which is a substance released by the liver and required to make insulin more efficient. A deficiency of chromium can lead to insulin resistance, which is a key problem in the case of PCOS; too much insulin can be circulating but it is unable to control your blood sugar (glucose) levels.
Chromium is the most widely researched mineral used in the treatment of overweight. It helps to control cravings and reduces hunger. Chromium also helps to control fat and cholesterol in the blood. One study showed that people who took chromium over a ten-week period lost an average of 1.9kg (4.2lb) of fat while those on a placebo (sugar tablet) lost only 0.2kg (0.4lb)
If you are diabetic and on medication, you should speak to your doctor before taking chromium
The B vitamins are very important in helping to correct the symptoms of PCOS. Vitamins B2, B3, B5 and B6 are particularly useful for controlling weight, and here’s why: Vitamin B2 helps to turn fat, sugar and protein into energy. B3 is a component of the glucose tolerance factor (GTF), which is released every time blood sugar rises, and vitamin B3 helps to keep the levels in balance. Vitamin B5 has been shown to help with weight loss because it helps to control fat metabolism. B6 is also important for maintaining hormone balance and, together with B2 and B3, is necessary for normal thyroid hormone production. Any deficiencies in these vitamins can affect thyroid function and consequently affect the metabolism.
The B vitamins are also essential for the liver to convert your ‘old’ hormones into harmless substances, which can then be excreted from the body.
Zinc is one of the key minerals that we need in our daily diets and it has a wide range of functions. Unfortunately, because our soil has been depleted by over farming, there is very little natural zinc found in our food. Furthermore, processing and refining strip out what little might be remaining. So no matter how good your diet, you may not be getting anywhere near the levels of zinc that you need. There are two approaches to this: you can eat whole organic food, which has much more rigorous controls on farming methods, or you can add a zinc supplement to your diet. But why is it so important?
Zinc is an important mineral for appetite control and a deficiency can cause a loss of taste and smell, creating a need for stronger-tasting foods, including those that are saltier, sugarier and/or spicier (in other words, often more fattening!). Zinc is also necessary for the correct action of many hormones, including insulin, so it is extremely important in balancing blood sugar. It also functions together with vitamins A and E in the manufacture of thyroid hormone.
Magnesium levels have been found to be low in people with diabetes and there is a strong link between magnesium deficiency and insulin resistance. It is, therefore, an important mineral to include if you are suffering from PCOS.
Co-Q10 is a substance that your body produces in nearly every cell. It is important for breaking down carbohydrates and turning them into energy instead of being stored as fat. It also helps to balance your blood sugar.
Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is now recognised as being so important in controlling blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity. We also know that having low levels of vitamin D is associated with insulin resistance and obesity in women with PCOS.
Omega 3 fatty acids
These essential fatty acids help your body become more sensitive to insulin and taken in supplement form have been found to reduce testosterone levels in women with PCOS and the greatest reduction is seen in those women who had high levels of Omega 6 fatty acids compared to Omega 3. That is why it is so important to get the correct balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6.
Beneficial bacteria, also known as probiotics, are important as they play a part In PCOS as they can help to control your weight. We know that there is a difference between the composition of the gut flora in normal weight and obese people.
Poor levels of beneficial bacteria can make your body store more calories and can actually make you become overweight by increasing your appetite and make you more insulin resistant.
We also know that probiotics can help reduce weight around the middle of the body (more common in PCOS weight gain.
Amino acids are the building blocks of the protein that you eat. Certain amino acids can be very helpful for PCOS as they can improve your insulin sensitivity and also can have an effect on weight loss e.g. n-acetyl cysteine, carnitine, tyrosine, arginine, glutamine, isoleucine, leucine and valine.
Herbs can also be very beneficial in encouraging the function of your liver, in order to make sure that it is metabolising the hormones efficiently and then eliminating them.
Agnus castus (Vitex/chastetree berry)
This is one of the most important herbs for PCOS because it helps to stimulate and normalise the function of the pituitary gland, which controls the release of LH (luteinising hormone).
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)
This herb is so important for PCOS as it helps to reduce the hormone LH which is often too high. It is also beneficial for reducing anxiety and tension.
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)
This is one of the key herbs for the liver, which acts as your waste disposal unit, and it is therefore essential for the treatment of PCOS. It helps to protect your liver cells against damage and to promote the healing of damaged cells, so improving the general functioning of the liver and all its detoxifying properties.
Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)
Saw palmetto is a herb that is traditionally considered in light of its success in treating prostate problems caused by an imbalance of hormones (including excess testosterone). It is a small palm tree found in North America and the berries of the tree are used in tinctures or capsule form.
Research has shown that saw palmetto works as an anti-androgen, which can be very helpful given the high levels of testosterone in PCOS.
I would suggest that you add saw palmetto to your treatment plan if you have excess hair growth, or have been told you have high levels of androgens. Otherwise, just take the agnus castus, black cohosh and milk thistle or progesterone cream (Serenity)