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Natural Medicine for PCOS

Polycystic ovarian syndrome or, PCOS, is a common hormonal condition that I see in practice. Symptoms can include irregular periods, difficulty losing weight, infertility, excess hair growth and acne (the last two are a result of excess androgens or “male hormones”). These symptoms are usually what alert women that there may be a problem, but PCOS is also associated with increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease which highlights the importance of diagnosis and management from a longer term perspective.

PCOS can look different in different women and the exact criteria for diagnosis is something that is not completely agreed upon by experts. In general, a diagnosis can be made based on symptoms, blood work and ultrasound imaging of the ovaries.

What causes PCOS is a big question. We know that there are imbalanced hormones. Insulin, (a hormone that is key to our blood sugar balance) and our “male hormones,” such as testosterone, are big players here. Emerging evidence is looking at genetic factors, and as well at prenatal exposures to certain hormones (from the mother) and environmental hormone disrupting chemicals while in the uterus.

If you suspect that you have PCOS it is important that you see your doctor as there are some other important conditions that should be ruled out before a diagnosis of PCOS can be made.

Naturopathic Treatment

Blood sugar problems (insulin resistance) and inflammation are shown to contribute to PCOS and are major targets for treatment.

Diet is always key to our treatments and for most women we will focus on diets and other strategies that help to control blood sugar and decrease insulin resistance. Lower carbohydrate diets and intermittent fasting are two examples of diets that might help. In terms of identifying causes of inflammation, from a dietary perspective we may also be looking to identify foods that may be contributing to inflammation and we will always look at gut health as a potential source of inflammation for any condition.

There are many natural medicines that might be useful for PCOS. Here are a few examples:

is a type of sugar that our bodies make naturally. For PCOS, research suggests that it can help regulate menstrual cycles, and improve fertility by supporting egg quality and follicle maturation. It may also lower androgens and improve blood sugar control.

Herbal medicines  and white peony are used to help decrease androgens and may help combat symptoms such as excess hair growth. In women who are using the pharmaceutical spironolactone (for excess hair growth), licorice alone might help to increase tolerance of the drug.  helps to balance hormones and improve ovulation. It may also benefit women undergoing fertility treatment by supporting ovulation induction treatment. Spearmint tea is a surprisingly simple treatment for PCOS; research suggests that it may help to decrease testosterone and unwanted hair growth.

is a compound found in many of my favourite herbal medicines. It has been compared to a pharmaceutical medication (metformin) commonly used to treat blood sugar imbalance in type two diabetes and PCOS. Both medications are helpful for regulating blood sugar and seem to have similar effects in improving menstrual regularity.

NAC

is an antioxidant and naturally occurring detoxification chemical in our bodies. I love using this nutrient for many women's health concerns. For PCOS it may help to improve insulin sensitivity and excess hair growth. In research looking at women undergoing fertility treatment (IUI), it showed promise in helping to improve pregnancy rates and the quality of endometrial lining.

Given that there can be much variation in women who suffer from PCOS, a naturopathic approach is ideal. We have a wealth of options that can be targeted to the individual. As illustrated, natural remedies may be used on their own or they may help to support pharmaceutical options. This article is meant to give you some insight into the condition and an idea of some of the many available treatment options – it is not meant to be a treatment plan. If you have been diagnosed with PCOS I suggest you find a practitioner skilled in this area to help guide you towards a plan that is right for you.

Dr. Alexis Blanks is a naturopathic doctor. She is co-owner of Flourish Naturopathic at Moss Healthcare. She would be happy to see you in her office to help you better understand your health and take it to the next level. Learn more at