While there is no cure for PCOS, there are ways to combat the symptoms. "Because we do not know the cause of PCOS, we treat its symptoms, such as giving patients birth control pills to regulate the cycle; recommending weight loss because losing weight can make the menstrual cycle more regular; diabetes pills for women with pre-diabetes and diabetes; and hirsutism pills for extra hair," says Zaher Merhi, MD, FACOG, HCLD.
Managing stress is another way to control symptoms—but we know that "trying to relax" is easier said than done. "Stress can increase levels of cortisol or the 'stress hormone.' Chronically elevated cortisol can wreak havoc on our hormones and increase inflammation. Practice yoga, meditate, spend time with friends and family—do whatever you need to do to lessen anxiety and stress in your life," says Sarah Rueven, RD, MS, CDN, founder of Rooted Wellness. Getting enough sleep is important to treating symptoms, too.
But healthy eating can play a big role when dealing with PCOS. "If overweight, even a modest reduction in weight can help improve symptoms. Eating a well-balanced diet made up primarily of real, whole foods is an effective strategy for weight loss. Getting regular exercise can also help not only with weight loss but with reducing inflammation and insulin resistance," adds Rueven.
So what exactly should you eat and avoid if you have PCOS? We asked the experts. But keep in mind that you'll want to consult your doctor to come up with a treatment that's right for you.