Last modified on December 24th, 2022
Below, we will discuss the five best supplements for PCOS weight loss. We’ll also go into some details about ways you can lose weight when you have PCOS and how you can manage other symptoms as well.
Understanding Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is a condition where your ovaries produce an abnormal amount of androgens.
Androgens are male sex hormones that women typically have very small amounts of.
The name PCOS comes from the small cysts that form in the ovaries, but not every woman has cysts when they have this condition.
Symptoms of PCOS include:
- Missing periods and other menstrual irregularities
- Very heavy or light periods
- Large ovaries
- Cysts on the ovaries
- Hirsutism is excess body hair and unwanted hair growth, facial hair growth, and excess hair growth on the back and chest.
- Weight gain, particularly around the abdomen—around 80% of women with PCOS are overweight or have obesity
- Oily or acne-prone skin
- Thinning hair or hair loss like male pattern baldness
- Skin tags on the neck or armpits
- Dark patches of skin on the neck, under the breasts, or in the armpits
PCOS is one of the most common underlying causes of female infertility and is a frequently seen endocrine disorder. You can be diagnosed with PCOS any time after puberty, with most women being diagnosed when they’re in their 20s or 30s and trying to get pregnant. Around 15% of women who are of reproductive age may have PCOS.
The causes of PCOS aren’t entirely known, but genetics likely play a role. Other risk factors include:
- Having higher levels of androgens. When you’re a woman with abnormally high androgen levels, it prevents your ovaries from releasing eggs, which is ovulation. That then leads to irregularity in menstrual cycles. Irregular ovulation can also cause cysts, acne, and excessive hair growth in the ovaries. Hormonal imbalance leads to high testosterone levels in women with PCOS.
- High insulin levels cause the ovaries to make and release androgens, contributing to other PCOS symptoms. Insulin controls how the body processes sugar and uses it for energy. When you have insulin resistance, your body isn’t processing insulin the way it should, leading to high blood glucose levels.
- Chronic low-level inflammation tends to be common in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Women with PCOS can be at higher risk of health conditions and complications, including:
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Endometrial cancer
- Sleep disorders like sleep apnea
PCOS and Weight Gain
Weight gain and difficulty losing weight are two of the most pervasive and challenging symptoms for many women living with polycystic ovary syndrome.
Insulin resistance is the primary cause of weight gain with this condition.
- Insulin resistance occurs when some cells don’t respond to the pancreas’ insulin.
- The pancreas will make more insulin to try and maintain normal blood sugar levels.
- Then, the effect is weight gain and more androgen production.
- These effects create a difficult cycle, where insulin resistance increases, as do the symptoms and weight gain.
- When blood glucose levels keep going up despite increased insulin levels, it then leads to the development of type 2 diabetes.
- While PCOS makes some women gain weight more easily, it can worsen PCOS symptoms.
- Insulin resistance in women with PCOS can include postprandial thermogenesis. This heat production occurs as the metabolic rate goes up temporarily after a meal.
- Slower metabolic rates mean weight increases.
- Weight gain in women with PCOS can also be linked to the mood and emotional issues the disorder creates, including mood swings and depression that might contribute to emotional eating or food cravings.
How to Deal with Weight Gain in PCOS
There are lifestyle changes that can significantly help women struggling with their weight because of PCOS.
Diet and nutritional changes are the best ways to lose weight and manage your weight. Losing as little as 5% of your total body weight can significantly affect insulin levels, fertility, and hormone balance.
General diet and nutrition tips that tend to be particularly helpful when you have PCOS include:
- Reduce your intake of carbohydrates. A low-carb, high-fat, and moderate-protein diet is shown to help with insulin resistance in women with PCOS. In one study, the insulin levels in women with PCOS decreased by as much as 30% when a high-fat lower-carb diet was followed.
- Eat low glycemic index foods. Glycemic index or GI is the speed your blood sugar levels rise after eating any given food. When you choose low GI foods, it helps with weight loss because sugar is released more slowly. Low GI carbs include sweet potatoes, oatmeal, and brown rice.
- Following an anti-inflammatory diet, such as a Mediterranean or keto diet, is often helpful for overweight women with PCOS.
- Increase your dietary intake of fiber. Fiber regulates the production of ghrelin, a hormone that lets you know when you’re hungry or full. Having plenty of fiber helps control your hunger, and it can also increase motility in your intestines, helping you feel fuller for longer.
- Cut your intake of processed foods. Processed foods tend to be high in sugar and carbs, even when they’re touted as being “healthy.” Very processed foods and refined carbs can increase insulin production.
- Significantly limit added sugars. Added sugars include raw sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, and sweeteners like cane juice, honey, and agave nectar.
- Learn to embrace healthy fats while reducing your intake of unhealthy fats. We tend to have an association with fat as it being inherently bad. Some fats are good for you, like omega-3 fatty acids, while others aren’t. The bad fats are trans fats, which promote inflammation, impact insulin levels, and affect progesterone. Trans fats are often in processed foods. Healthy fats come from wild salmon, avocados, nuts, and seeds. Healthy fats can promote hormonal balance and lower the risk of heart disease.
- Incorporate plenty of protein into your diet. Protein helps you feel fuller for longer and promotes fat burning.
- Have fermented foods. Gut bacteria is key for weight maintenance and having a healthy metabolism. You can get probiotics through fermented foods like sauerkraut and kefir, or you can take a probiotic supplement.
What Are the Best Supplements for PCOS Weight Loss?
Below, we detail the best supplements for PCOS weight loss and what to know about each.
Best Supplements for PCOS Weight Loss #1— Berberine
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- Studies show it improves fat metabolism in PCOS
- Berberine can increase insulin sensitivity
- Considered a very safe supplement
- Widely studied
Berberine is one of the best nutritional supplements for PCOS weight loss and most of the other symptoms associated with metabolic and hormonal conditions. There are many beneficial effects of berberine for PCOS and other health conditions.
- The herbal supplement is used frequently in both alternative and conventional medicine. Berberine can manage high blood sugar, insulin resistance, cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity.
- Research shows that berberine can help increase compounds responsible for insulin sensitivity and carb metabolism.
- In studies, berberine is significantly more effective at reducing blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity than a placebo.
- The effects of berberine are comparable to metformin, which is a prescription antidiabetes medication, but the herbal supplement has fewer side effects.
Early research shows berberine may help redistribute fatty tissue and reduce the tendency of the body to store additional fat and extra weight. In a study of 89 women with PCOS, berberine was more effective at lowering waist-to-hip ratio and male hormone levels than metformin.
The dosage often used in research ranges from 500 to 1500 mg a day, taken in divided doses.
Best Supplements for PCOS Weight Loss #2—Inositol
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- Inositol makes molecules that play a role in the body’s response to insulin
- Taking an inositol supplement may help when your insulin signaling system fails
- Most people tolerate these supplements well
- There are nine inositols, and for women with PCOS, it appears myo- and d-chiro inositol are most effective
Inositols are a type of sugar your body makes. Inositols also help control blood sugar, fertility, metabolism, and mood swings.
There are nine inositols, and the two most helpful for women with PCOS are Myo-inositol and d-chiro-inositol. Both are important for your insulin response. Myo-inositol also helps control hormones needed for egg production, and D-chiro-inositol helps control male hormone levels in women.
Combining these two inositols seems to be optimal for improving insulin sensitivity and ovulation.
Other specific benefits of the vitamin-like substance, according to solid evidence, include:
- Normalizing periods and promoting regular cycles
- Improving insulin sensitivity, specifically in fat cells
- Improving rates of ovulation
- Improving egg quality before fertility treatments
- Reduction in the likelihood of being diagnosed with gestational diabetes in pregnancy
- Improvements in metabolic parameters, including hormone levels of testosterone and insulin
- Improving the balance between estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone
- Better measures of cardiovascular health
- Supports weight loss
Best Supplements for POCS Weight Loss #3—Vitamin D
- Affects many systems in the body
- Relates to disorders including diabetes and high blood pressure
- A lack of vitamin D is associated with metabolic syndrome, which relates to many of the symptoms of PCOS, including weight gain
- Vitamin D helps prevent insulin resistance
Researchers are starting to fully understand the importance of vitamin D and the high prevalence of deficiency. When you have PCOS, many of the health problems you’re at risk of developing relate to metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions raising your risk for type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
The metabolic syndrome conditions include high blood sugar, low HDL levels, high triglyceride levels, belly fat, and high blood pressure. Around 33% of women with PCOS have metabolic syndrome.
A lack of vitamin D has a direct relationship to metabolic syndrome.
For example, in studies, vitamin D helps prevent insulin resistance. Taking vitamin D can improve not only insulin but also cholesterol and triglycerides. Vitamin D and calcium supplements significantly reduce blood pressure in women with PCOS.
There are other symptoms of PCOS that adequate vitamin D levels can also help with. For example, many women with PCOS have anxiety or depression. Increasing your vitamin D levels can regulate your mood and reduce symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders.
Vitamin D deficiency overall can worsen symptoms of PCOS. Taking a daily supplement with at least 600 IU of vitamin D may help with weight gain, anxiety and depression, and fertility.
Making sure you’re getting adequate vitamin D is important to improve your emotional well-being and energy levels too.
Best Supplements for PCOS Weight Loss #4: Probiotics
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- Probiotics can affect hormones and proteins related to appetite and fat storage
- Taking a probiotic can reduce inflammation, and inflammation drives obesity
- Using a probiotic can help reduce the number of calories you absorb from food
- Human and animal studies show taking a probiotic can help with weight loss in the midsection and reduce weight circumference, especially
If you have PCOS, and your doctor says it’s okay, you should strongly consider taking a probiotic. Probiotics are among the best supplements for PCOS weight loss.
- Our digestive systems contain hundreds of microorganisms, which are mostly friendly bacteria.
- The friendly gut bacteria help produce nutrients like B vitamins and vitamin K.
- Good gut bacteria also break down fiber and turn it into short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, which are beneficial.
- Having a good balance of beneficial gut bacteria seems to be related to body weight.
- Animal and human studies confirm that people who are moderate weight have different gut bacteria than people who are obese or overweight.
- Obese people tend to have a less diverse bacteria makeup in their gut than leaner people.
- People with obesity and less diverse gut bacteria also seem to gain more weight than people with obesity who have more diversity in their gut bacteria.
There are several ways probiotics are thought to influence body weight.
First, probiotics can influence your appetite and how your body uses energy because of the production of short-chain fatty acids. Certain probiotics might prevent the absorption of dietary fat, as well, so you eliminate more in your feces.
Probiotics may help release hormones that reduce appetite and hormones that regulate protein, reducing fat storage.
In particular, strains from the Lactobacillus family may help reduce body fat. In one study, these probiotics helped reduce body fat by 3-4% over six weeks.
Of all the probiotic strains, Lactobacillus gasseri seems the most promising supplement for PCOS weight loss.
Numerous studies show Lactobacillus gasseri can help with combating obesity, reductions in body weight, and lowering belly fat.
In one study, the strain of probiotics reduced belly fat by an average of 8.5%.
When participants stopped taking the probiotic, they gained the belly fat back in a month.
Our mental health is closely linked to our gut health, so probiotics might not only help with body fat percentage but also things like stress response and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Best Supplements for PCOS Weight Loss #5—NAC
- Similar benefits to metformin
- May help with ovulation and fertility
- NAC seems to improve insulin resistance and blood sugar control
- In some studies, NAC has helped restore hormone balance in women with PCOS.
N-acetylcysteine or NAC is a potent antioxidant that can help with symptoms of PCOS.
The supplement has been used for decades for everything from helping with mood and mental health disorders to chronic lung conditions.
Researchers think NAC may work by stimulating your body to synthesize glutathione. Glutathione is a compound that can help fight free radicals to reduce inflammation.
A 2017 clinical study review found NAC could benefit people with PCOS, particularly since it may help reduce high blood sugar. Several studies have found NAC to have similar effects on insulin resistance as metformin but without the side effects of the prescription diabetes drug.
Other benefits of NAC for PCOS weight loss include:
- In one clinical trial, researchers compared women taking metformin or 600 mg of NAC for PCOS weight loss three times a day for 24 weeks. Both treatments led to significant reductions in hirsutism, free testosterone, and improved menstrual regularity.
- NAC supplements can help lower oxidative stress and reduce inflammation, often higher in women with PCOS.
- Some women with PCOS develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease resulting from high insulin and triglyceride levels. NAC can improve liver health and function in women with PCOS. For example, in one study, women with PCOS taking 1200 mg of NAC a day for three months had a significant improvement in their liver function tests.
- A systematic review looking at the scientific evidence and a number of randomized controlled trials found NAC improved ovulation, pregnancy, and live birth rates compared to a placebo.
Best Supplements for PCOS Weight Loss—Final Thoughts
It can be incredibly frustrating to try and lose weight with PCOS. There are very real factors that can feel like they’re working against. Even so, there are things you can do that can improve your weight loss results. When you lose weight with PCOS, it can improve many of your other symptoms.
The best supplements for PCOS weight loss include berberine, inositol, vitamin D, probiotics, and NAC.
Each of these is considered to have a very good safety profile, but you should talk to your healthcare provider about taking any new supplement, especially if you’re currently on any medications. This is not a replacement for medical advice, of course.
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