Common Nutritional Deficiencies in PCOS
June 13, 2022

Common Nutritional Deficiencies in PCOS

There are many nutritional deficiencies seen in women with PCOS. If you want to understand the common types and how they might impact your PCOS symptoms, keep reading.

PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal condition characterised by high levels of androgens (male hormones) in the body. Women with PCOS may experience symptoms such as irregular periods, weight gain — particularly around the abdomen, acne, excess body hair, hair loss and mood swings.

One of the underlying root causes of PCOS is insulin resistance. One of the goals of PCOS treatment is to increase insulin sensitivity inside the muscles, liver and cells to help make your metabolism more active and increase cell health.

One way to increase insulin sensitivity is to make sure that your cells are nutritionally replete, or in other words, your body is getting everything it needs!

Remember, nutritional status is not always obvious to the eye. In the Western world, it’s common to be overweight and undernourished. If your diet is filled with highly processed foods and very little vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, berries and fresh meats, it’s likely you may be suffering from one or more nutritional deficiencies.

PCOS and other related conditions like type 2 diabetes, are associated with an increased risk of nutritional deficiencies. If your diet is high in sugar, processed foods, salt and trans fats, this increases demand on the body to process these substances. Therefore, not only does the body not get enough nutrients in the first place, but it then requires more due to the increased demand placed on the body. This leads to a vicious cycle.

Common nutritional deficiencies seen in PCOS include:

  • Zinc
  • Vitamin D
  • Magnesium

Zinc deficiency in PCOS

Zinc is a common nutritional deficiency. 75% of women of childbearing age are deficient in zinc. Zinc is an important nutrient found in red meat, chicken, sunflower seeds and oysters to name a few. Zinc is important for regulating glucose and helps the pancreas make insulin.

Vitamin D deficiency in PCOS

Vitamin D comes from the sun, however, it is commonly deficient (even in Australia) due to long working hours and lack of sun exposure. But, because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is a fat-soluble antioxidant. So, the higher the antioxidant requirements of the body, the more vitamin D will be used up.

Vitamin D is a prohormone, and is a key player in insulin sensitivity. In fact, one study showed that vitamin D supplementation increased insulin sensitivity by 54%.

Magnesium deficiency in PCOS

Magnesium is found in green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits. It’s a vital macronutrient that’s responsible for over 300 enzyme reactions in the body, as well as regulating glucose utilisation and insulin signalling.

Magnesium is abundant in the natural food supply, however if you are not eating enough fresh foods or eating too much sugar, caffeine and alcohol, the body will easily become depleted in magnesium.

The importance of gut health in PCOS

Good gut bacteria play a role in managing systemic inflammation, insulin signalling and glucose regulation. They can also play a role in appetite, food choices and a whole range of important health and wellbeing markers.

Recent research shows that probiotic supplementation and an improvement in gut biome diversity is associated with improved insulin sensitivity.

There are many more single nutrients, phytochemicals, herbs, vitamins and minerals that can help to support glucose balance, insulin resistance, gut health, and lower inflammation and support metabolism.

If you're keen on reversing the symptoms of PCOS and want to ensure you don’t have any nutritional deficiencies, see a healthcare provider who specialises in lifestyle medicine.

Dr Michelle Woolhouse

Integrative GP and Vively Medical Director

Dr Michelle Woolhouse is an integrative GP, with over 20 years experience treating chronic conditions through lifestyle medicine