It’s 2017. I walk into my OB’s office, anxiously awaiting my results. Edie, based on your ultrasound images, physical symptoms, A1C, and testosterone levels, you have PCOS. I was stunned. PCO—what? After living most of my adult life with an irregular cycle, I finally had an explanation. During our appointment, she explain potential next steps: birth control, a drug to take for my blood sugar, and eventually, fertility medication. I walked out of the office feeling slightly relieved, but mostly, very confused and equally discouraged. Armed as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, I knew there was another way. And thus, I began my healing journey.
To this day, I’m living proof you can put your PCOS into remission—with holistic treatments. Learning how to heal PCOS naturally could change your life. Let’s dive in.
What is PCOS?
If you’re newly diagnosed—or suspect you have PCOS—you’re not alone. In fact, it’s estimated that 5 million U.S. women have PCOS. Although the specific cause is not fully understood, PCOS is multifaceted. This syndrome has various genetic, endocrine, and environmental catalysts. It’s part hormonal, part metabolic. Like other reproductive disorders, PCOS affects menstrual health, fertility, and more. Currently, it’s the most common cause of ovarian dysfunction. Women with PCOS typically present with higher levels of male hormones, called androgens.
In turn, PCOS causes a slew of unwanted conditions, including:
- irregular (or a complete absence of) periods
- persistent acne
- abnormal hair growth patterns in women
Common Symptoms of PCOS
While the name polycystic ovary syndrome describes the numerous small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) that form in the ovaries, it’s a bit misleading. Some women with this disorder do not have cysts, while some women without the disorder do develop cysts.
These are general symptoms of PCOS:
- Irregular periods or rarely having a period
- Abnormal hair growth for a female such as lip hair, stomach hair, neck or facial hair (conversely, some women experience male balding patterns)
- Infertility, due to anovulation
- Tendency to being overweight, particularly with weight in the abdomen
- Insulin resistance with signs of diabetes
- Blood sugar regulation issues
- High blood levels of testosterone
- Via ultrasound, one or both ovaries are enlarged with many immature eggs present
How to Test for PCOS
Unfortunately, there is no single test for PCOS. Typically, a physical exam, ultrasound, and blood tests can help diagnose PCOS. You need to meet two of these three official criteria to be diagnosed:
- Irregular, heavy, or missed periods due to missed ovulation.
- Higher levels of androgens are present in the blood (hyperandrogenism), shown by a blood test OR symptoms (excess facial or body hair growth, scalp hair loss, or acne).
- Polycystic ovaries are visible on an ultrasound.
Different Types of PCOS
Before unveiling how to heal PCOS naturally, it’s important to understand the three types of PCOS. In mainstream medicine, each type of PCOS is typically (and unfortunately) managed with the same. But here’s the gist: each type has different symptoms. For example, not all women with PCOS are overweight, nor do they have excess hair growth. It’s possible to have a combination of these three types of PCOS, or for the root cause of your PCOS to evolve over time.
This is the most common PCOS type and it is the type that I was diagnosed with personally. High insulin levels interfere with ovulation, causing irregular cycles and a slew of other symptoms. Women with this kind of PCOS usually have blood sugar and insulin levels that suggest diabetes or pre-diabetes. Getting my blood sugar under control was an absolute game-changer.
This type of PCOS is most often present in women who are not overweight—nor do they present classic symptoms of PCOS. Inflammation can be caused by a variety of factors, including food intolerances, exposure to environmental toxins, chronic viruses and/or chronic low-level injuries, and a poor diet.
Synthetic Hormone-Induced PCOS
This kind of PCOS is common for women who have been on the pill or other hormonal birth control (for a long time). This was also me. Birth control’s synthetic hormones shut down communication in the body in order to prevent pregnancy. However, it can take time to re-ignite this communication channel.
How is PCOS Typically Treated?
When it comes to PCOS treatment, you’ll want to consider a few factors: age, severity of symptoms, overall health, and if you want to get pregnant. Also, do you want to take a Western approach? An Eastern approach? Both? In my case, I took a more Eastern (holistic) approach. Through trial and error, I learned how to treat PCOS naturally. But typically, a more standard approach includes the following:
If you’re not trying to become pregnant, birth control pills are often administered to regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle, reduce excess androgens, and improve acne. Keep in mind that birth control does not resolve PCOS. In fact, it can actually mask a PCOS diagnosis. If you are trying to conceive, medications like clomiphene (Clomid, Serophene) can help stimulate ovulation.
A common pharmaceutical treatment for PCOS is metformin (Glucophage), which is typically used to treat type 2 diabetes. Though it’s not FDA-approved for treating PCOS, it’s often used to help control insulin and blood sugar and lower testosterone production.
How I Treated My PCOS
Rather than pursue the aforementioned traditional treatments, I explored other options. I decided not to use birth control or pharmaceutical drugs. Instead, I spent time researching and sought help from a functional medicine doctor. Under her guidance and additional testing, I was also diagnosed with an under-active thyroid—likely due to years spent over-exercising, not managing my stress, and not eating enough calories. Supporting my thyroid became essential in my healing journey.
Under the care of my functional medicine doctor, I tried a few different things. First, I changed my diet. Mainly, I focused on balancing my blood sugar. I also incorporated more healthy fats and gut-friendly foods. When consuming gluten and dairy, I made sure to choose high-quality. These habits still ring true today. I began seed cycling and taking supplements as well. Furthermore, I opted for more gentle exercise, started routine acupuncture, and incorporated a daily mindfulness practice.
Everything—from food, supplements, and lifestyle choices—proved beneficial. It’s hard to know exactly what did the trick. But after three months, I regained my cycle. Ovulation was still hit or miss, but from 2018 to 2019, I focused on tuning in to my body’s intuitive needs, and it changed me for the better. I learned that healing from a hormone imbalance is not linear. Trial, error, and a lot of patience were my guiding lights. We still needed to use Clomid to get pregnant, but ever since I weaned my son, my PCOS has remained in remission.
Keep in mind, this is simply what worked for me! Every PCOS diagnosis is different. I work with countless women who have PCOS, and every healing protocol is unique. More on my health coaching, here.
What Are the Best Natural Treatments for PCOS?
In terms of how to treat PCOS naturally, taking a well-rounded approach is key.
Keep Blood Sugar In Check
Maintaining a healthy weight—via food—is crucial. A diet rich in protein, healthy fats, whole grains, fiber, and seasonal fruits and vegetables supports both hormone and metabolic health, as well as weight management. Furthermore, focus on fiber-packed and anti-inflammatory ingredients. These keep inflammation at bay, aid in digestion, and improve issues related to blood sugar.
Fix Nutrient Deficiencies
When was the last time you had your vitamin and mineral levels checked? Micronutrient support is critical for women with PCOS. Our bodies need everything from adequate levels of B vitamins and vitamin D, to magnesium and more. Consider a full blood panel to make sure you’re not deficient in any essential micronutrients. Then, work with a healthcare practitioner to take the right supplements.
Caffeine and hormones aren’t exactly best friends. Numerous studies link caffeine with impaired fertility (which is a hallmark of PCOS) and general hormonal issues. Coffee also depletes B vitamins, which are necessary for healthy ovulation and hormone balance. Need an alternative to your second cup of coffee? See here.
Remove Environmental Toxins
How to heal PCOS naturally goes beyond what you’re eating. Consider environment toxins—also known as endocrine disruptors—that could be wreaking havoc. We’re exposed to so many chemicals through cleaning products, conventional health and body care products, lawn care products, and household pesticides. They’re all endocrine disruptors. These have negative reproductive, neurological, and immune system effects.
Move Your Body
Along with maintaining a healthy weight via diet, exercise is also imperative. Plus, regular exercise decreases stress, improves sleep, and can help lower insulin levels—thus keeping blood sugar in check. Is there one form of exercise that’s best for PCOS? That’s up for debate. At the end of the day, the most effective workout is an enjoyable one (and the one you’re actually going to do)! Engaging in some form of movement consistently will yield the most benefits.
Can You Fully Recover from PCOS?
In short, yes. It’s possible to put your PCOS in remission. I’m living proof! While there isn’t a cure-all, many women see results by managing their weight and balancing their blood sugar. In fact, one study reported 36.9% complete recovery from all features of PCOS with weight reduction, and only 15.4% had persistent PCOS features. How to heal PCOS naturally is a long game, but with the right resources and commitment, there are brighter days ahead.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We recommend that you always consult your healthcare provider.