Guest Post by Sophia Boothby RD
Sophia Boothby is a Registered Dietitian. She currently works as a Specialist Community Dietitian within a London NHS Teaching Hospital specialising in gut health such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and the low FODMAP diet, type 2 diabetes, PCOS, cardiac rehabilitation, and individuals experiencing unintentional weight loss and/or reduced appetite related to a clinical condition or unknown cause.
Sophia aims to support individuals in managing their health without requiring restrictions on their way of eating unless clinically indicated. Sophia has recently developed her practice incorporating a non-diet and weight-inclusive approach to nutrition with individuals presenting with disordered eating and restrictive eating behaviours, particularly alongside IBS. She is passionate about empowering individuals to improve their relationship with food and stepping away from the diet mentality.
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Can supplements help PCOS?
Lifestyle factors including nutrition play an important role in the management of PCOS and the severity of the symptoms. Therefore, it may not be surprising that there is emerging research into the field of supplementation to aid PCOS management.
But which ones do we choose? If your Google search is confusing you even more, let’s dissect the key supplements for PCOS here.
What is PCOS?
PCOS or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a complex endocrine or hormone condition impacting 1 in 10 people assigned female at birth (AFAB). Despite its name, it does not solely involve the ovaries.
Common symptoms individuals with PCOS experience include but are not limited to irregular periods, infertility, acne, excess facial and/or body hair, loss of hair and hidradenitis suppurativa skin tags.
How can PCOS be managed?
Although there is no cure for PCOS, there are many lifestyle and dietary changes that can be made to support the management of the symptoms associated with PCOS.
One of these changes can involve taking supplements for PCOS.
Which supplements can help PCOS?
Although supplements are not required for PCOS management, they can often be effective in correcting deficiencies and promoting symptom management. Here are the top supplements that may help people with PCOS.
Inositol is a type of sugar alcohol needed by almost every tissue in the body which acts as a vitamin-like substance involved in many cellular pathways. One of the key pathways is as a messenger involved in insulin signalling.
There has been growing evidence supporting the supplementation of inositol in improving insulin resistance and sex hormone ratios for people with PCOS, that in turn provide a positive effect on fertility and ovulation.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin created within our bodies from direct sunlight on the skin. Whilst some foods contain a small amount, throughout autumn and winter in the UK. The recommended daily intake in the UK is 10mcg supplement of vitamin D daily. Research has found vitamin D deficiency is more common in people with PCOS, compared to the general population.
Low levels of vitamin D can negatively impact symptoms associated with PCOS, including menstrual irregularities and infertility. This can be tested through a blood test.
Vitamin D appears to improve reproductive and metabolic impairment in PCOS through its impact on insulin resistance according to a 2022 study. Therefore it could be beneficial to consistently take a low dose vitamin D supplement all year round.
If you are found to have low levels of vitamin D on a blood test you should discuss a higher dosage with your doctor.
Omega-3s are a family of essential fatty acids. Omega-3 has many benefits for PCOS including being anti-inflammatory, improving mood, lowering cholesterol and triglycerides, improving egg quality and ovulation and improving NAFLD.
A 2018 study provides evidence that omega-3 fatty acid may be a novel drug for individuals with PCOS and may be recommended for the treatment of PCOS with insulin resistance as well as high cholesterol levels.
Vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal products including dairy products and eggs. If you are following a vegan diet you would then have to focus on yeast extracts and other fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, dairy free milks and soya products. You can check the labels to make sure they are fortified with vitamin B12.
Recent guidelines have been updated reporting that people taking Metformin (the insulin sensitiser medication) long-term may suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 should be supplemented with if you are taking metformin, or if you’re following a vegan diet.
Magnesium is a mineral found in a wide variety of foods, including spinach, nuts and wholemeal bread. As with all minerals it helps the body to function optimally. This includes helping to turn the food we eat into energy and ensuring our parathyroid glands (which produce hormones and support bone health) function normally.
There are mainly small studies on magnesium supplementation so further larger and long-term studies are required. From the current evidence it suggests magnesium may benefit with reducing insulin resistance, reduce inflammation and impact our mood.
Key takeaways: can supplements help PCOS?
Supplements may improve symptoms of PCOS such as insulin resistance, carbohydrate cravings, inflammation, low mood and even poor fertility outcomes. Discussing your concerns with a PCOS informed nutritionist or dietitian can help you to navigate the best supplements to support your unique PCOS symptoms.