What natural solutions can help with PCOS?
Author bio: Leslie Kenny is the co-founder of the Oxford Longevity Project, a series of free public health webinars about the latest scientific breakthroughs in aging. She also runs anti-aging supplement brand Oxford Healthspan.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that impacts how a woman’s ovaries function. In the UK, it’s estimated that as many as one in ten women has PCOS; but, over half of these do not have any symptoms. Women often find out they have PCOS when they are looking to start a family but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek help if you think you have symptoms.
The primary features of PCOS are irregular periods, meaning irregular ovulation; excess androgen, which can present with excess body hair; and enlarged ovaries that do not function as they should. Secondary features include weight gain and baldness.
What causes PCOS?
Though the cause of PCOS remains unknown, it is thought to be related to the following: insulin resistance, low-grade inflammation, heredity, and excess androgen.
While you cannot yet do anything about your heredity, insulin resistance (which can lead to excess production of androgen) and inflammation are symptoms that you can address (to a degree) with lifestyle changes.
What lifestyle changes can help PCOS?
Intermittent fasting or diets
Research has shown that intermittent fasting has many benefits, with weight loss being its primary appeal. This occurs by the enhancement of hormone function, as insulin levels during the fasting period decrease in the body, aiding the body in losing fat. Another important benefit of intermittent fasting is that it can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.
For their most recent webinar, the Oxford Longevity Project, originally an initiative of the Balliol College (Oxford University) Interdisciplinary Institute, examined fasting and, in particular, why women respond differently to fasting interventions.
The webinar featured a talk by Dr. Stephanie Estima, author of The Betty Body. Having advised thousands of women on a variety of fasting techniques to achieve their weight loss and fertility goals, Estima presented on many of the complexities of fasting and gave particular recommendations for women with PCOS.
She explained that women with PCOS have a higher ratio of luteinizing hormone to follicular stimulating hormone. A normal ratio is about one to one, but a woman with PCOS will have two to three times higher LH, which will affect ovulation.
“For a lot of women, and I think doctors make that mistake too, we all focus on the period (the bleed week), that’s the salient event…The actual point of a woman’s menstrual cycle is to ovulate and so that should be the primary goal for you using fasting as a tool with this population,” Estima elaborates.
Other tools in the toolbelt
While fasting is an incredible tool, it is not the only lifestyle change that is known to address insulin resistance or reduce inflammation.
More lifestyle changes to address PCOS symptoms:
- Deep sleep – Sleep deprivation leads to defective oxidative stress management, the accumulation of cellular waste and, eventually, disease. Make sure to catch some Zs!
- Regular exercise – The benefits of exercise abound! Among them is the prevention of inflammation. Break a sweat for thirty minutes or more several times a week (less if practicing resistance training).
- Calorie restriction mimetics – CRMs, or foods and supplements that mimic or induce similar effects to calorie restriction, prolong life- and healthspan, and ameliorate a diverse array of disease symptoms. There are a few confirmed CRMs, but we will focus on spermidine.
Spermidine is naturally produced by the body in the tissues and gut biome, but natural levels decrease as we age. Ingestion of spermidine contained in food or supplements can restore youthful levels and is well-tolerated and processed by the body. It can be found in many foods such as aged cheeses and wheatgerm, but spermidine levels can also be maintained through concentrated wheat germ and chlorella supplements like Primeadine. The known health benefits of spermidine are many including decreased inflammation and increased lifespan. Spermidine is thought to help with autophagy, our body’s natural cellular renewal process which declines dramatically as we age. In fact, autophagy is so crucial to staying youthful that some scientists say that we age because autophagy malfunctions, so restoring this cellular renewal process is key. Dysregulated autophagy is connected to PCOS. Studies have found this connection.
Lifestyle changes – PCOS cure?
The lifestyle changes we recommend will not cure PCOS, but can help alleviate some of its symptoms. Hopefully, as Dr. Estima suggests, by addressing insulin sensitivity, these changes can help promote regular ovulation. In addition, these changes can have other health benefits (there are few who would argue with sleep and exercise). We suggest trying all or some of them – a spermidine snack might be easiest – and reaping the health rewards!