Read This If You Take Supplements For PCOS

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Sally, a 32-year-old woman with PCOS came into my office last week for her first nutrition coaching session. With her, she brought a Bloomingdales Large Brown Bag filled with protein powders and supplements. Sally was at a loss. She spent hundreds of dollars on the contents of the bag and was taking 15 pills each day, and she wasn’t sure if they were doing her any good or if she was just wasting her money.​

The supplement industry is big money and women with PCOS are a part of it. U.S. consumers spent $30 billion on dietary supplements in 2011. Turn to any Facebook PCOS group and you will be sure to encounter a variety of different types of supplements other women with the condition recommend because it helped them. Formulas customized and marketed to meet the needs of women with PCOS have hit shelves (along with a hefty price tag).

Some of the supplements are backed by scientific research for helping ease PCOS symptoms and associated medical conditions, but many aren’t and could be harmful. Here’s what women with PCOS should know if they are thinking about or currently taking dietary supplements for their PCOS.

Supplements Shouldn't Replace Food

The newly proposed Dietary Guidelines for Americans Report  ​ includes the following statement about the importance of eating a healthy diet: “combinations and quantities in which foods and nutrients are consumed may have synergistic and cumulative effects on health and disease.” A pill can't substitute for the fiber content or the long list of nutrients that whole foods provide.

But the reality is most people don't eat a diet that includes at least half whole grain foods or the 9 to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables needed each day. And for the one out of six Americans facing food insecurity at some point in their lives, meeting these nutrient requirements through food is next to impossible.

While I do think that the majority of individuals who eat a healthy diet can meet their nutrient requirements through food, women with PCOS have been shown to be at a higher risk of nutrient deficiencies and therefore, may benefit from taking certain dietary supplements to improve their health and fertility.

Dietary Supplements Aren’t Closely Monitored

The scary reality is that dietary supplements aren’t monitored very closely by the Food and Drug Administration. Anyone can create a diet supplement, put a label on it, and sell it. They don’t need permission first. This puts the consumer at risk. Often times products can be contaminated with other products (one patient found a paper clip in hers), or don’t contain the amount of the supplement as indicated on its label.

To be sure you are buying a good quality product, look to see if it has been tested by a non-profit third party. The supplement should carry a USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia, a mark that indicates that the manufacturer followed recognized standards when making the product) or NSF (NSF.org; NSF International tests consumer products, like dietary supplements) to assure potency and purity.

Supplements Can Be Harmful

The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), scientific standards for daily nutrient intakes have a Tolerable Upper Limit (UL) assigned to them. These values represent the total, daily nutrient intake from food and supplements that should not be exceeded. Vitamins A, D, E and K, for example, are fat-soluble and can become toxic if stored in the body in high amounts. Taking higher amounts of these or herbal supplements should be used with caution and only under the care of a health professional.

Many supplements and herbs can cause interactions with other supplements or medications, leading to adverse effects, most commonly, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. They may also impair the effectiveness of medications.

Supplements Are Not A Cure

Dietary supplements may help improve certain aspects of PCOS, but they won't cure it or any other disease. If you are interested in learning about which supplements can help you based on your unique needs and at what dose, consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist with experience in PCOS.

Source

NBJ's Supplement Business Report. Nutrition Business Journal;2012.

Scientific Report of the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee accessed on February 19, 2015.

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