4 Ways to Support your Hormone Levels with PCOS
If you have PCOS, you’ve no doubt been told you need to ‘balance your hormones’. While hormonal dysregulation is both a symptom and a cause of the condition, the phrase isn’t exactly a scientific way to communicate complex systems.
That’s because our hormones are meant to fluctuate, and also because it’s not always possible that people with PCOS can completely change their hormonal profile.
However, people with the condition do tend to have excess androgen hormones, like testosterone, and also high levels of LH that can be reduced for improved symptom control. While aiming for balance isn’t quite accurate, here are some simple ways to look after your hormones if you have PCOS.
Make dietary changes
Nutrition does have an impact on our hormones. In particular, the foods we eat impact our insulin levels. People with PCOS are more likely to have reduced insulin resistance, meaning your blood sugar is more likely to spike and crash and can eventually lead to diabetes.
The most important way to manage your insulin levels is with balanced meals. That doesn’t mean cutting out carbohydrates (these are actually incredibly important for your hormones, particularly oestrogen and cortisol). Instead, you can lower the blood sugar spike caused by simple carbohydrates by eating them alongside a protein and fat source and opting for high fibre options like whole grains.
A low-GI diet like this is also associated with reduced testosterone, according to a review published in 2021.
For hormone-friendly meal ideas, read our roundup of the best recipes for PCOS here.
Stress – whether physical, mental or emotional – causes spikes in certain hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. It’s known that people with PCOS are already prone to higher cortisol levels, with studies showing that parasympathetic activity (when your nervous system is in a restful and relaxed mode) is lower in women with PCOS.
Excess cortisol can impact other hormones, including reducing oestrogen excretion, so reducing additional stress is really important in people with PCOS. Relaxation techniques are an important way to support the nervous system and stress hormone levels.
The things that help you relax will be different for everybody, but typically include activities like walking, meditation or simple breathing practices.
Exercise can help maintain healthy hormone levels. In a 2021 study, vigorous activity was shown to support insulin levels in those with PCOS, but it’s also known that intense workouts increase cortisol levels. That’s why a good balance of movement is essential for those with PCOS.
Adding in yoga to your workout routine would be a great way to reduce cortisol levels, as the practice is associated with reduced stress. Building strength is also a brilliant way to support your body – in a small study of 43 people with the condition, strength training was shown to significantly reduce testosterone levels. The training style is also associated with improved metabolic rate, stress levels and cardiovascular fitness.
Consider vitamins or supplements
With some exceptions, like taking vitamin D in winter, eating a nutritious diet should always be the first port of call before adding in supplements. But if you have nailed the basics, supporting your diet with vitamins, minerals and herbal treatments could support your hormone levels.
Inositol is a compound found in fruits, beans, corn and nuts, and there’s been a lot of research about the role they play in PCOS. It’s thought that one type of inositol, called myo-inositol, can help control insulin and FSH levels in the body when taken at higher doses than that found in foods. A 2021 paper recommended 4g per day for improving ovarian function in people with PCOS, but you should talk to your doctor before trying new medication to support your hormone levels.