Approximately 4-12% of women in their reproductive years have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the exact cause of which is still unknown. As there is much to learn about this women's health issue, most polycystic ovary syndrome treatments, including lifestyle adjustments and medications, are designed to reduce the symptoms rather than heal the root cause.
Amino Co scientists are currently conducting a clinical trial that investigates the effects of 4 weeks of essential amino acid supplementation on obese young women with PCOS and hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), an associated chronic skin condition that causes deep, acne-like nodules and scarring. They hypothesize that essential amino acids can help reduce insulin resistance and post-meal blood sugar levels. So far, the results show that amino acids have a profound influence on two of the main drivers of PCOS.
Let’s explore amino acids and other polycystic ovary syndrome treatments. But first, a brief overview of this endocrine disease and its causes and symptoms.
What We Know About PCOS
The ovaries of the female reproductive system control the menstrual cycle, producing, storing, and releasing eggs, as well as the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and small amounts of androgen, a male hormone.
Each month during ovulation, the ovaries release eggs. PCOS interrupts this process. Women with PCOS develop small follicles inside the ovary, but the eggs in these follicles are not mature enough to be released during ovulation. When ovulation doesn’t occur, hormones become imbalanced. Estrogen and progesterone levels drop and androgen levels rise.
High levels of androgen interfere with the menstrual cycle by stopping ovaries from releasing mature eggs and producing enough female reproductive hormones. Still, scientists have yet to determine the precise cause of PCOS and excessive androgen production, although there are risk factors that have been shown to play a role, namely low-grade chronic inflammation, a family history of PCOS, and insulin resistance.
Symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular periods (infrequent, prolonged, or heavy)
- Excess facial and body hair (hirsutism)
- Unexplained hair loss
- Unexplained weight gain
- Severe acne
- Diabetes symptoms (impaired vision, extreme thirst or hunger, unexplained weight loss)
Obesity (having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher) is also associated with PCOS and can lead to a higher risk of complications if the obesity is not managed and polycystic ovary syndrome is left untreated. Complications include:
- Gestational diabetes
- Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)
- Metabolic syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
- Sleep apnea
- Eating disorders
- Abnormal uterine bleeding
- Endometrial cancer
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Treatments
If PCOS is suspected, your primary care physician will refer you to a gynecologist, an endocrinologist, or a reproductive endocrinologist. Any medications you are given aim to treat your individual symptoms, such as infrequent menstrual cycles or acne.
PCOS Medications to Regulate Menstrual Periods
These medications are used to promote hormone balance and reduce the risk of developing endometrial cancer, excessive hair growth, acne, and abnormal bleeding.
- Combination birth control pills: A formulation of progesterone and estrogen are used to decrease androgen production and stabilize estrogen production.
- Progestin therapy: Taking progestin 10-14 days every 1 to 2 months can help regulate the menstrual cycle and protect against PCOS-related conditions such as endometrial cancer. It does not protect against pregnancy and cannot be used in place of contraception.
PCOS Medications for Ovulation
There are several different types of prescription medications that can help induce ovulation, which can, in turn, decrease the production of androgen hormones and promote pregnancy.
- Clomiphene (Clomid): This oral anti-estrogen medication is prescribed during the first phase of the menstrual cycle to help improve fertility in women.
- Letrozole (Femara): This is a breast cancer treatment that can also be used to help activate ovulation.
- Gonadotropins (FSH hormone): These injectable hormone medications help stimulate ovulation in women with PCOS.
- Metformin (Glucophage, Fortamet): These medications are traditionally used to treat type 2 diabetes and can help PCOS patients by improving insulin sensitivity. One study showed that metformin regulates the menstrual cycle when combined with lifestyle adjustments more effectively than lifestyle adjustments do on their own.
PCOS Medications for Hair Growth
Excessive hair growth on the face, chest, and other areas of the body can lead to psychological distress for women with PCOS. The following treatment options have proven helpful.
- Birth control pills: Gynecologists often prescribe oral contraceptives (pills, vaginal rings, or patches) formulated to reduce the androgen that sparks hair growth.
- Spironolactone (Aldactone): This is an anti-androgen diuretic that can reduce the hormones that cause excess hair growth.
- Eflornithine (Vaniqa): This topical cream can slow facial hair growth.
- Laser hair removal and electrolysis: These hair removal procedures can remove unwanted hair by destroying hair follicles.
PCOS Dietary and Lifestyle Changes
Polycystic ovary syndrome signals a hormonal imbalance, and bringing the body and its hormone levels back into balance requires dietary and lifestyle modifications. At the forefront of these adjustments is weight loss. Maintaining a healthy weight will help reduce insulin levels and androgen production so that ovulation can occur.
We know that weight loss and dieting can be overwhelming, but studies indicate that shedding just 5-10% of your body weight can normalize your menstrual cycle and alleviate PCOS symptoms. Weight loss also helps lower cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, and significantly slashes your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
A diet high in carbs promotes insulin resistance and can lead to prediabetes and diabetes. Doctors recommend that women with PCOS eat a low-carb and low-glycemic-index (GI) diet made up of complex carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Exercise is also at the top of the list as a treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome. Studies show that at least 30 minutes a day of exercise 3 days a week can help PCOS patients lose weight, lower blood sugar levels, and normalize ovulation.
Amino Acids: An Emerging PCOS Treatment
Supplementation with essential amino acids has been proven time and again to help promote weight loss, improve insulin resistance, and lower inflammation, three main factors that exacerbate PCOS symptoms. Essential amino acids are also a scientifically validated treatment for PCOS-related conditions, including type 2 diabetes, NAFLD, and metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions including hypertension and high blood sugar that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes).
The metabolic stress of PCOS has been proven to reduce blood levels of amino acids, including five essential amino acids and four conditionally essential amino acids:
Without sufficient amino acids the body cannot build and maintain muscle mass, insulin levels rise, and inflammation runs amok. An amino acid supplement can help maintain amino acid levels in the body in addition to imparting a therapeutic effect on PCOS and associated health problems.
- Essential amino acid supplements can help build and maintain muscle mass and function in anabolic-resistant and inflammatory conditions, such as obesity, which helps with weight loss and insulin sensitivity (1,2).
- An essential amino acid supplement helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome by lowering triglycerides, LDL, and total cholesterol as well as improving blood sugar levels (3).
- Essential amino acid supplementation can decrease the accumulation of triglycerides and other lipids in the liver, thereby reducing the risk of fatty liver disease (4).
As mentioned previously, Amino Co scientists are studying the long-term health effects of essential amino acids on young women with PCOS, and results are showing a positive influence on blood sugar levels. We’ll keep you posted on results, but in the meantime, you can start treating polycystic ovarian syndrome with Amino Co’s Life, formulated by the world’s leading amino acid researchers and designed to activate the body’s recovery mechanisms, lower lipid levels, and combat the low-grade inflammation that targets PCOS sufferers.