Fighting Fatigue: Tips for Women with PCOS
In our fast-moving, modern world, tiredness is just another thing we add to our long list of complaints. Often, we blame lethargy on erratic work patterns, sleep deprivation, or the stresses of family life. But if you have PCOS, fatigue doesn’t just derive from lifestyle, oh no – it’s intrinsically linked to a silent culprit: your hormones. In fact, sporadic spells of sleepiness probably don’t do it justice. It’s more fitting to describe it as complete and utter exhaustion that zaps every ounce of your energy. So-called ‘dog-tiredness’ can become one of the most problematic symptoms of PCOS, seeping into every corner of your life and wearing your physical, emotional and social wellbeing into the ground. It’s the worst. Thankfully though, there are simple, practical ways you can try to find that get-up-and-go feeling yourself and knock fatigue on the head.
Why does PCOS make me feel fatigued?
PCOS stems from hormonal imbalance, which can spark a cascade of sleep, stress, weight and mood issues. As a result, you may feel sluggish, unmotivated, lethargic, brain-foggy, and desperate to crawl back under your duvet. To combat these issues, you might self-medicate with caffeine, alcohol, sugary treats or other unhealthy vices. But these quick-fixes are short-lived; fatigue will soon overpower you and lead to a physical and emotional crash. Improving your nutrition, sleep hygiene and lifestyle isn’t anything novel, but if you nurture these aspects of your life, you can fight PCOS fatigue for good.
Balance blood sugar
If you have PCOS, fluctuations in your blood sugar levels can hit you with waves of fatigue. You may find that your tiredness ebbs and flows, especially after meal times and snacks, but this can be controlled by changing your eating habits and rituals.
Whenever you eat, ensure your plate consists of the correct ratio of veggies, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. You don’t need to fuss over getting the precise quantity of each macronutrient, but you may want to use these guidelines as a starting point. Cover half your plate with low-starch veggies (leafy greens, cauliflower, asparagus, carrots and cabbage); add a handful of complex carbohydrates (root vegetables, sweet potatoes, beans, oats or quinoa); ensure a quarter of your plate comprises of protein-dense foods (poultry, grass-fed beef, fish, eggs and plant-based protein like tofu and tempeh); and finally, don’t forget to use lashing of healthy fats when cooking (extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and grass-fed butter).
But it’s not just the content of your meals that’s vital for blood sugar regulation, the time at which you eat them is equally important. Constantly grazing throughout the day will not do your glucose levels any favours. Let’s get scientific briefly: every time you eat, your blood sugar will spike, so dining at regular intervals – say every four hours – should prevent such fluctuations, and keep your energy levels at a happy medium.
Breakfast like a king
Refraining from eating until lunch may feel like an effective way to cut calories, but it could be detrimental to the regulation of your blood sugar levels. A new study conducted at Tel Aviv University demonstrated that type-2 diabetics could suppress potentially fatal spikes in their glucose levels by eating a calorie-dense breakfastii. Much like type-2 diabetes, PCOS can make you vulnerable to insulin resistance, thus eating breakfast within 90 minutes of waking will kickstart your morning and stabilise your energy levels.
The spice of life
Herbalists have championed cinnamon for 4,000 years, especially for its role in optimal digestive health. It’s the various terpenoids found in the volatile oil that is believed to account for this herbal hero’s popularity. To stabilise your energy levels throughout the day, use this powerhouse liberally when cooking, or take our high-strength Cinnamon 2500mg supplement.
Supplement that can help
Our very existence relies on the biological marvels that happen in the body, and magnesium is required for more than 300 of these vital chemical reactions. It’s involved in everything from energy production to nerve function, to muscle relaxation. So, if your levels are lagging, then it’s likely your overall well being is too! Taking a magnesium supplement can support the reduction in tiredness and helps regulate energy levels throughout the day.
B vitamin boost
The B vitamins play an essential role in supporting the optimal function of the nervous system and fuelling the body with energy. If you struggle to get enough B vitamins through diet alone, then taking a high-strength B-vitamin complex can help plug any nutritional gaps you may encounter. Find out more about how vitamin B6 can support the symptoms of PCOS.
Iron it out
Since iron plays a vital role in transporting oxygen around the body, you may feel exhausted if your reserves are running short. Menstruation, vegetarianism/veganism, and intense exercise can all contribute to low iron levels. In fact, 89% of young women have a daily intake less than the RNI at 14.8g. Shocking, right? To bolster your nutrient stores and energy levels, we would always recommend taking a high-strength iron supplement and including high iron foods in to your diet such as spinach or broccoli - you’ve got to eat your greens!
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: it’s advice we hear time and again, but drinking enough water is the key to staving of sleepiness. Studies indicate that even mild dehydration can cause notable dips in your energy levels, so make sure you drink at least eight glasses of water each dayiii. If H20 isn’t your thing, spruce it up with citrus fruits, cucumber slices, or berries – you could even throw in a sprig of mint or basil if you fancy something a little more exotic.
It may sound counterintuitive if you’re feeling bone-tired, but physical exercise will fill your body with bags of energy, thanks to the secretion of ‘feel-good’ hormones called endorphins. Try 30 minutes of jogging, walking, cycling or dancing 3-5 times per week to reap the full benefits. If you struggle to maintain an exercise programme, set small goals for daily consistency rather than striving for a ‘textbook’ workout. For instance, it’s better to walk every day for 15-20 minutes, then schedule in an intense 3-hour training session at the weekend. Exercising little and often is excellent fuel for your energy levels!
Get enough sleep
Sleep is vital for cognitive function, biological repair and providing your body with bags of energy – that's a no-brainer. Eight hours of rest is usually recommended for most people to perform at their optimum, but clocking that amount of sleep may more challenging if your hormones are cock-eyed. With that in mind, here’s how you can drift into a deeper, more restful slumber every night.
Reaching for a strong brew may lift you out of the mid-afternoon slump, but it could negatively impact your sleep if you drink it past 2 pm. One study found that subjects who consumed caffeine six hours before sleeping had a less restorative night than those who didn’tiv. Although the caffeinated participants maintained they had slept well, the electronic monitor used in the analysis begged to differ; it revealed their sleep efficiency had noticeably decreased due to the consumption of caffeinated beverages six hours beforehand. If you fancy something warming before bed, try a nourishing herbal tea like chamomile instead.
Make sure your sleep environment is an inviting, comfortable, and hospitable haven. Above all, ensure it’s a tech-free zone for a minimum of 30 minutes before clocking off: avoiding watching TV, using the computer or scrolling on your phone before sleeping. Indeed, research now indicates that the blue light emitted from electronic media can suppress the production of melatonin – your sleep hormone, thereby disrupting nighttime patternsv. Want to destress and unwind before bed? Try reading a book, listening to soft music, or meditating instead. Keeping your bedroom as dark as possible will also help you sleep soundly and undisturbed.
Drift off with valerian
If your insomnia is making you pull your hair out, then try taking our Valerian root extract – a traditional herb used for the temporary relief of night-time disturbances and mild anxiousness. To drift into a natural, restorative sleep, simply take a couple of tablets half an hour before bed.
So, there you go, a practical and effective approach for fighting PCOS fatigue. Here’s to getting more shut-eye, living with more energy and saying ‘YES’ to every opportunity that comes your way. To find out more information about PCOS and tips on how to manage your condition take a look around our hub.
Rosenfield, R.L and Ehrmann. D.A. (2016). The Pathogenesis of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): The Hypothesis of PCOS as Functional Ovarian Hyperandrogenism Revisited. Endocr Rev. (5) 37: 467–520.
American Friends of Tel Aviv University. (2015). A breakfast of champions for diabetics. Science Daily. Available online: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150316122723.htm
Sanjana, S. (2008). Drink to Your Health…With Water! Mother Nature’s Healthy “Cocktail”. NutriHealth. Available online: http://nutrihealth.in/health/drink-to-your-health-with-water-mother-natures-healthy-cocktail/
Breus, M.J., et al. (2013). New Details on Caffeine’s Sleep-Disrupting Effects. Psychology Today. Available online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sleep-newzzz/201312/new-details-caffeine-s-sleep-disrupting-effects
Potter, G.D.M., et al. (2016). Circadian Rhythm and Sleep Disruption: Causes, Metabolic Consequences, and Countermeasures. Endocr Rev. (6) 37: 584–608
Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.