Understanding Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Understanding Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Understanding Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Symptoms and Management Strategies

If you've ever spoken with one of the millions of women worldwide living with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), you'll understand that it’s more than just a medical condition—it's a daily challenge.

PCOS is characterized by a variety of symptoms, from irregular periods and unwanted hair growth to hormonal imbalances and ovarian cysts. There is hope despite its complexities and the lack of a known cure (for now). For those diagnosed or suspect they might be affected by PCOS, adopting certain lifestyle changes can significantly ease the journey. Read on for a deeper understanding of PCOS, common symptoms, and ways you can incorporate lifestyle changes to manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a prevalent hormonal disorder impacting women, marked by a range of symptoms. While it is fairly common, the precise causes of PCOS remain kind of a mystery. Genetic and environmental factors contribute to its development, often worsened by body weight, insulin resistance, and lifestyle choices. However, with the right lifestyle modifications, managing PCOS is achievable. This guide delves into what PCOS is, its symptoms, and effective lifestyle changes that can help control the condition.

Key Symptoms of PCOS

PCOS manifests through various symptoms, significantly affecting women's health:

Common Symptoms of PCOS Include:

  • Irregular Menstrual Cycles: Frequent irregularities, including prolonged or infrequent cycles and unpredictable bleeding.
  • High Androgen Levels: Elevated levels of androgens (male hormones) such as testosterone may lead to symptoms like acne, oily skin, and hirsutism (excessive hair growth on the face, chest, back, or abdomen).
  • Ovarian Cysts: Small cysts1 (a sac filled with fluid) on the ovaries can lead to hormonal imbalance and fertility issues.
  • Insulin Resistance: A common PCOS issue, where cells don't respond effectively to insulin, leading to elevated blood sugar levels and increasing diabetes risk.
  • Weight Gain: Often centered around the abdomen, making weight loss challenging despite efforts to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen.
  • Hair Thinning: Similar to male-pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia).
  • Skin Issues: Including acne, skin tags, darkening of the skin (acanthosis nigricans), and patches of thickened, velvety skin (acanthosis nigricans).
  • Fertility Issues: PCOS is a leading cause of infertility due to inconsistent ovulation.

Not all symptoms appear in every case, and their severity can vary–some women may only experience a few symptoms, while others may experience several. 

Managing PCOS Through Lifestyle

While PCOS is a chronic condition that requires ongoing management, various treatments, and lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. Effectively managing PCOS involves integrating medical advice with lifestyle adjustments. As with all modifications, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and management:

  1. Maintain a Balanced Diet: Opt for a PCOS-friendly diet that stabilizes blood sugar levels and improves insulin sensitivity. Include whole foods (food free from artificial sugars, hormones, and preservatives), whole grains, lean proteins, and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. Inositol, found in foods like citrus fruits, beans, and grains—or through supplements—can help balance hormones.
  2. Inositol Supplementation: A promising remedy in managing symptoms of PCOS, particularly for those suffering from insulin resistance.2 Benefits include improved insulin sensitivity, reduced blood sugar levels, and better hormonal balance.3,4 Results can vary based on underlying insulin resistance, body weight, and other metabolic conditions. Always consult a healthcare provider who understands your health history and the latest research, to tailor the treatment to your individual needs.
  3. Regular Exercise: Physical activity improves insulin sensitivity and aids in weight management. Incorporate activities such as daily walks outside, cycling, or yoga.
  4. Apple Cider Vinegar: Though research is limited, some studies5 suggest ACV, a common home remedy made from crushed and fermented apples, might help regulate or lower blood sugar6 and improve insulin sensitivity.7 Integrate it into your diet by mixing a tablespoon in a glass of water and drinking before exercise, or after meals.8 If you're new to using apple cider vinegar, start with a teaspoon and gradually increase to a tablespoon. However, be mindful of its acidic nature and potential impact on tooth enamel erosion or gastrointestinal discomfort. 
  5. Monitor Blood Sugar Levels: Steer clear of high glycemic index foods like white bread, sodas, candy, and sweets, which can worsen insulin resistance.
  6. Limit Alcohol and Caffeine: These can disrupt blood sugar and estrogen levels.9 Opt for herbal alternatives like spearmint tea, camomile tea, and ginger tea or water infused with lemon instead.
  7. Manage Stress: Techniques like mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can reduce stress and its effects on hormone levels.
  8. Get Adequate Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours per night to help regulate hormones and support overall health. 
  9. Limit Toxins: Choose organic foods, use natural cleaning products, and avoid plastics to minimize exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals. Incorporate non-comedogenic products to help keep your skin feeling hydrated and prevent PCOS-related acne.
  10. Mindful Eating: Pay attention to hunger cues, eat slowly, and savor your food to improve digestion and prevent overeating.

By adopting these strategies, you can better manage PCOS and improve your overall well-being. Remember, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional to tailor these suggestions to your specific needs.




Penn Medicine, Ovarian Cyst Definition: https://www.pennmedicine.org/for-patients-and-visitors/patient-information/conditions-treated-a-to-z/ovarian-cyst

The inositols and polycystic ovary syndrome: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5040057/ 

The inositols and polycystic ovary syndrome: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5040057/ 

4 Inositols in Insulin Signaling and Glucose Metabolism: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ije/2018/1968450/ 

Intake of vinegar beverage is associated with restoration of ovulatory function in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23666047/ 

The effect of apple cider vinegar on lipid profiles and glycemic parameters: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8243436/ 

Vinegar Consumption Increases Insulin-Stimulated Glucose Uptake by the Forearm Muscle in Humans with Type 2 Diabetes: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26064976/ 

Intake of vinegar beverage is associated with restoration of ovulatory function in women with polycystic ovary syndrome:  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23666047/ 

NIH Study shows caffeine consumption linked to estrogen changes: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-study-shows-caffeine-consumption-linked-estrogen-changes