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Should I be on birth control if I have PCOS?

Should I be on birth control if I have PCOS?

1 in 10 have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS. If you’ve ever googled polycystic ovary syndrome and looked into treatment options, you’ll probably be familiar with the following: there’s no ‘cure’ for PCOS, but you can manage your symptoms. 

Discovering that there isn’t a cure for any condition you have can be daunting, we hear you and we know it isn’t easy. But, the good news is that most symptoms of PCOS can be reduced and managed, with many responding well to lifestyle changes rather than medical treatments. 

If you have PCOS, it’s likely that you experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • irregular periods or no periods at all
  • difficulty getting pregnant (because of irregular ovulation or no ovulation)
  • excessive hair growth (hirsutism) – usually on the face, chest, back or buttocks
  • weight gain
  • thinning hair and hair loss from the head
  • oily skin or acne

Should I be on birth control if I have PCOS?

Everyone’s experience with PCOS is different, and the severity or impact that different symptoms have on each person’s quality of life can vary. As a result of this, it’s super important to explore which treatment options would work best with your particular symptoms. 

In some cases, GPs might recommend you go on hormonal contraception if you have PCOS.

The pill

If you’re struggling with an irregular cycle or experiencing no periods at all as a result of PCOS, doctors are likely to recommend hormonal contraception. 

This could either be in the form of the hormonal contraceptive pill which can be used to induce regularity of your cycle, or periods may be induced using an intermittent course of progestogen tablets (which are usually given every 3 to 4 months, but can be given monthly).

The intrauterine system (IUS)

Alternatively, doctors may suggest an intrauterine system (IUS). This is similar to a copper intrauterine device (IUD) but instead of releasing copper like the IUD, it releases the hormone progestogen into the womb. The IUS works to thin the lining of the womb, but may actually halt periods altogether. For more of a deep dive into different types of hormonal contraceptives, click here

For further reading on this, take a look at Best Contraception for PCOS - The Pill & More | The Lowdown.

Real experiences of PCOS and birth control 

The Lowdown is a review platform for women to share their experiences with contraception, PCOS and endometriosis. 

Here’s what some of The Lowdown community have said about PCOS and their birth control: 

Review on the Mirena coil 

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“I have PCOS (diagnosed 2019) and was suggested a Mirena by my GP for flooding (eurgh) during my extremely erratic periods. I had dealt with these for at least ten years and although I had tried the combined pill, I was a little forgetful and felt I gained weight on that as well as feeling very moody.

I feel quite emotional if I ever discuss the Mirena as it has genuinely changed my life and I wish I had it ten years earlier. 

I know the Mirena won’t suit everyone but for me it has been amazing and I wish I hadn’t put it off so long, largely due to only reading about bad experiences, so happy to share a positive one. I will be going back in about 12 months time to get it replaced at my GP practice and won’t have any fear after my previous experience. The freedom of not fearing going on holiday and experiencing one of my horrendous periods is wonderful!"

Read the full review here

Review on the Cerazette mini pill

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“I've been on and off this pill a few times since the age of 18 as the combined pill never suited me. There were definitely positives for me - almost no periods was a great one as my PCOS gives me pretty awful periods, and I didn't really have any noticeable physical side effects, apart from headaches (although i'm not sure if this is due to the pill or something else). 

However, after a year, I decided to come off this for the third and hopefully final time about 8 months ago, because I noticed that I was feeling continually quite anxious and on edge, as well as having low moods. 

 I don't think I'll be returning to hormonal contraception in the future as I found it really difficult to work out whether my low mood was to do with the pill or my life in general, which is why I spent so long on it before deciding to quit."

Read the rest of this review here

We know that everyone’s experience can be different, so if you have PCOS, check out The Lowdown's new PCOS experience sharing platform to compare and share your PCOS journey, and connect with others just like you.

How can I manage my PCOS symptoms without birth control and through lifestyle changes?

While hormonal birth control can help manage several PCOS symptoms, there are of course instances where hormonal contraception isn’t the best option for you and your needs. For starters, you may experience side effects from hormonal contraception which outweigh the benefits it offers for managing PCOS or you may be actively trying to conceive and don’t want to be on birth control because of this. 

In this instance, there are quite a few alternate options for managing your condition, such as:

  • Healthy eating
  • Laser hair removal to help manage hirsutism (excess hair growth)
  • Avoid crash diets, instead focus on more balanced eating
  • Regular exercise
  • Supplements such as Vitamin D, Myo Inositol and Zinc.

Georgie Ricks is a degree qualified nutritionist who has PCOS and really struggled with managing her weight because of PCOS. After 15 years of battling, she finally managed to take control of her life through lifestyle changes.

Chatting to Unfabled, she recommended, “Low GI carbs, high protein, gentle movement, anti-inflammatory diet and removing things like gluten which causes chronic inflammation. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. There are no magic pills or quick fixes and I wish I had gone to a coach or nutritionist who had actually been through it to help me!”

You can read the full interview here.

The best supplements for managing PCOS symptoms

Supplements offer great support for PCOS symptoms, from helping with balancing your diet to supporting ovulation and promoting your chances of conception, but what supplements should you be looking for? 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a great supplement for people with PCOS. There is evidence to suggest that Vitamin D deficiency could be a major cause of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome in women suffering from PCOS. 

In fact, approximately 67%–85% women with PCOS have Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D can be useful for:

  • Boosting your immune system
  • Aiding weight loss
  • And lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, to name just a few benefits. 

Myoinositol

Our go to for PCOS: Myoinositol. The central ingredient in Yoppie’s Poly Complete Support. In a review of nine studies on Myoinositol, researchers found:

  • It can reduce the amount of insulin in your blood when you're fasting (known as fasting insulin).
  • It may slightly decrease male hormone levels.
  • When taken for 6 months or more, it boosts a protein named SHBG, which helps keep sex hormones in balance.

More recently, it was discovered that myoinositol may normalise the functioning of the ovaries and for those trying to conceive, enhance the quality and health of eggs.

Zinc

Research indicates that individuals with PCOS may have reduced zinc levels in their bloodstream. This deficiency could influence hormone and sugar imbalances. By adding zinc supplements, potential benefits could include:

  • Enhanced regulation of insulin and sugar levels.
  • Decreased levels of specific male hormones.
  • An increase in antioxidant markers.

Facing unwanted hair sprouting in unexpected places? You might be dealing with hirsutism, a condition often fueled by hormone imbalances, notably seen in cases of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). 

The good news? Recent studies hint that certain dietary supplements might be your allies. 

One such study highlighted the potential benefits of zinc supplements in reducing the severity of hirsutism, by keeping those male hormones in check that usually cause the unwanted hair growth. Though tested on a small group of 49 people, the encouraging results spark hope.

Similarly, the combined power of Magnesium and Vitamin E has shown promise. A separate study involving 60 women with PCOS witnessed a significant reduction in hirsutism symptoms with daily intake of these supplements.

While these insights are indeed promising, remember to consult with a healthcare expert to find the best strategy for you.

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References
  1. Kiani AK, Donato K, Dhuli K, Stuppia L, Bertelli M. Dietary supplements for polycystic ovary syndrome. J Prev Med Hyg. 2022 Oct 17;63(2 Suppl 3):E206-E213. doi: 10.15167/2421-4248/jpmh2022.63.2S3.2762. PMID: 36479481; PMCID: PMC9710389.
  2. Jamilian, Mehri et al. “Effects of Zinc Supplementation on Endocrine Outcomes in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial.” Biological trace element research vol. 170,2 (2016): 271-8. doi:10.1007/s12011-015-0480-7
  3. E Wehr and others, Association of hypovitaminosis D with metabolic disturbances in polycystic ovary syndrome, European Journal of Endocrinology, Volume 161, Issue 4, Oct 2009, Pages 575–582, https://doi.org/10.1530/EJE-09-0432
  4. Unfer, Vittorio et al. “Myo-inositol effects in women with PCOS: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Endocrine connections vol. 6,8 (2017): 647-658. doi:10.1530/EC-17-0243
  5. Abedini, Maryam et al. “Zinc status and polycystic ovarian syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Journal of trace elements in medicine and biology : organ of the Society for Minerals and Trace Elements (GMS) vol. 52 (2019): 216-221. doi:10.1016/j.jtemb.2019.01.002
  6. Nasiadek, Marzenna et al. “The Role of Zinc in Selected Female Reproductive System Disorders.” Nutrients vol. 12,8 2464. 16 Aug. 2020, doi:10.3390/nu12082464


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