If you’ve recently been diagnosed with PCOS, questions relating to how to treat it, whether there is a cure for PCOS, and how to manage symptoms may all cross your mind. We have resources on all the above topics, but for this article we’ll be focusing on what you should look for in a PCOS treatment plan to mitigate common symptoms and protect your long-term health.
We believe that the most optimal PCOS treatment will be one that takes a holistic approach to polycystic ovarian syndrome. That means exploring and addressing the importance of nutrition, exercise, medication, emotional support, and other influential factors.
Why Choose A Holistic PCOS Treatment Plan
Common symptoms of PCOS include (but are not limited to): acne, weight gain, hair loss, excess hair growth, ovarian cysts, missed periods (or irregular periods), infertility, and more. So what can we take from all that? Well, PCOS is not limited to one part of your body: thanks to its nature as a hormonal disorder and its impact on insulin resistance, it has the ability to affect everything from the way your body breaks down and processes foods, to ovulation, and beyond. Whatsmore, PCOS is unique in that its effects don’t just have the ability to trigger physiological symptoms like PCOS pain or difficulties with fertility: it also has an effect on mental health. For instance, in a review of 57 studies (which included the results of over 100,000 women suffering from PCOS), researchers found that PCOS is “associated with an increased risk of diagnosis of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder.”
As such, since PCOS symptoms have ripple effects that span women’s physical, emotional, and psychological well being, it makes most sense to take all this into consideration, and treat PCOS from a 360 degree perspective. That means helping women with PCOS relieve physical symptoms, while also offering emotional and psychological support.
So at Allara, when creating a treatment plan for patients, what do we take into account?
Components of an Effective PCOS Treatment Plan
Nutrition is essential when looking to develop a holistic PCOS treatment plan for several reasons:
- Certain vitamins and nutrients (found in food, supplements, or in some cases both) have the power to ease common PCOS symptoms
- For instance, zinc and magnesium are both associated with reducing insulin resistance, and foods rich in Omega 3 can help treat high levels of total cholesterol in the blood.
- Women with PCOS are at risk for insulin resistance, which can be exacerbated or helped depending on the PCOS diet you follow
- By making small tweaks to your diet, it is possible to help reduce the number of blood sugar ‘spikes’ and ‘crashes’ that can leave you feeling not your best
- For instance: to prevent cravings and manage insulin resistance, incorporating all macronutrients and a good source of fiber is an excellent option in meals and snacks
- A healthy diet can prevent long-term health implications, such as preventing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases
- Since women with PCOS are at increased risk for developing these chronic health conditions, nutrition is considered a first-line approach of the puzzle in taking a preventative approach
Now, we want to point out that following a healthy diet looks different for everyone. No PCOS treatment should prescribe you a nutrition plan without your input, because nutrition is not one size fits all.
We favor a behavior-first approach to nutrition, which means instead of focusing on uncontrollable factors (like a certain number on the scale), focus on what you can control: an example would be increasing fruit and vegetable intake, or adding nutritional herbs and spices to your favorite meals. We emphasize this (among other principles guiding our philosophy) because incorporating nutrition as part of a holistic PCOS treatment also means being cognizant of the impact diet can have on mental health. That’s why putting ultimate focus on tuning into your body and what it’s telling you, treating yourself with compassion, removing stigma from eating habits or foods, and strengthening the relationship with your body should be paramount to any PCOS treatment.
We’ll keep this short, since we did a deep dive into why exercise is important recently, but the main takeaways are the following:
- Exercise is excellent for physical health
- Regular exercise can protect you from stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, different types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes
- Exercise has mental health benefits, too
- Exercise has been proven to help anxiety and depression
- Exercise prompts the release of endorphins (aka ‘happy chemicals’
The best PCOS treatment plans will take into account the type of exercise that you like to do, and one that slots into your lifestyle. You need not get an expensive gym membership or buy an online class (unless you want to!): it can be as simple as taking a walk on your lunch break, going running with a friend, or joining a local sports team. Just remember, the key to benefitting from exercise is consistency.
A quality PCOS treatment plan will consider any medications you currently take, since certain medications can interact with each other. Also, certain medications can be useful in reducing or relieving PCOS symptoms.
For instance, some doctors may ask if you are open to taking hormonal birth control to help balance androgen levels (with potential benefits including cleared up acne and a regular cycle, though there can also be side effects to birth control).
Here is a brief overview of common prescription medications that physicians might prescribe to help relieve PCOS symptoms:
- Metformin: has the ability to improve insulin resistance and lower insulin levels
- Spironolactone: often used for reducing acne
- Clomiphene: described as an “anti-androgen” medication, it is designed for use during the first part of your menstrual cycle
(Note here: Medication can be part one of someone's personalized PCOS care plan at Allara, but it certainly isn’t the whole picture; that’s why we have a registered dietitian and a doctor work together as part of a team to help you get the results you want).
Finally, community support is a much needed part of any holistic PCOS treatment. Connecting with others who truly understand what you’re going through - because they’re going through it themselves - can reduce feelings of isolation, loneliness, and frustration. It also allows you to seek advice from others who have similar struggles to yourself, and share recommendations relating to products, services, and routines that may be beneficial to your PCOS journey.
Features that may be particularly good to look out for in a PCOS community include:
- A platform to post questions (to experts and other community members)
- Chat rooms or discussion centers around specific topics
- A judgement-free zone where you can learn from and lean on others
Allara Health provides personalized treatment for hormonal, metabolic & gynecological conditions that utilizes a holistic plan that merges nutrition, lifestyle, medication and supplementation, and ongoing, expert support to heal your body.