Natural Approaches for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
By Anne Salazar, Lead Clinical Herbalist
PCOS is fast becoming a leading endocrine disorder among women. As a clinician, I have seen a rapid increase in this issue in the past 10 years. If not treated properly, a woman can be at an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, infertility, cardiovascular disease, and estrogen-related cancers.
PCOS is typically characterized by insulin resistance (associated often with weight gain), hyperandrogenism (hirsutism), and irregularity or lack of ovulation. There is often abnormal uterine bleeding and overall reproductive challenges. In addition, there can be a correlation between adrenal dysfunction and PCOS. 1 It seems that chronic stress can be a factor contributing to dysfunction. All of these symptoms and their severity will vary from patient to patient.
Natural medicine lends itself well in this situation, as it will not add to or exacerbate the symptoms that can occur from the side effects of conventional treatments. As always with a natural approach, we look at the whole person and not just the diagnosis. Every situation has differentiations, which are very important in treating the individual.
Healthy digestion is vital for the support of any protocol for PCOS. Probiotics have been found invaluable in treatment for the inflammation and hormonal imbalances in PCOS 2.
In addition, dietary fiber plays an important role. Among its many benefits, fiber reduces insulin secretion by slowing the rate of glucose and nutrient absorption and increases insulin sensitivity 3. Flaxseed is an excellent choice as it is a significant source of plant lignans called phytoestrogens which have both estrogenic and antiestrogenic properties. Flaxseed also is shown to assist in metabolic enhancement 4.
Essential Fatty Acids
Consuming healthy fats is an important component of treatment for PCOS. Fish oils have been shown to reduce inflammation and assist in insulin sensitivity5. Steering clear of processed fats, and focusing more on plant-derived fats and other healthy fats is good practice.
Recent studies have suggested that women with PCOS may have insulin resistance due to an Inositol (D-chiro-Inositol) deficiency6. It has been shown to mediate the action of insulin, as well as support ovulation in a large percentage of PCOS cases.
Saw Palmetto (Serenoa Repens) is NOT for men only. Although it is often used for prostate support (with well-documented studies), more studies for women are warranted. It can also be useful for many purposes which involve the balancing of androgens (including testosterone). This is very applicable to PCOS and is used frequently in protocols for this condition. A product like Vitanica’s OvaBlend is a perfect combination of supportive nutrients including Saw Palmetto.
Since menstrual issues and fertility are often an issue with PCOS, the wonderful hormone modulator, Vitex (Chaste Tree), is often used in a protocol for PCOS. It is specifically used to establish a normal menstrual cycle and improve fertility. It does not contain hormones but is thought to exert hormonal activity by its action on the pituitary gland. A well-balanced formula for this purpose would be Vitanica’s Women’s Phase 1 which includes Vitex, along with other hormone balancing herbs and nutrients.
It is vitally important to mention the increase of endocrine-disrupting substances and their influence on challenges like PCOS7. Environmental toxins can disrupt reproductive development and function by both mimicking and inhibiting endogenous steroids contributing to infertility, polycystic ovarian syndrome, hormonal cancers, thyroid disease, and other ailments. This may be one of the main reasons issues like this are on the rise. BPA (Bisphenol-A) is a huge issue, for example. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that BPA can imitate the body's hormones and interfere with the production of, response to, or action of natural hormones. BPA is a solvent used to make certain plastics and resins (since the 1950’s)8. Dioxin is another hormone disruptor that comes from chlorine bleach and pesticides/herbicides, etc. There are at least a dozen of these types of chemical hormone disruptors in our modern air, water, food supply, etc. When looking at anyone with hormone imbalances, this must be taken into consideration. The heavier the toxic load or exposure, the harder to treat. Therefore involving the support of the detoxifying actions of the liver must be addressed. Utilizing botanicals that support this function are vital. Herbs such as Nettle, Dandelion, Milk Thistle, Turmeric, can all be helpful. And, as always, make sure your gut biome is strong enough to filter out these toxins!
Please come in and speak with us about your particular situation. As with all diagnoses, none are exactly the same. We are here to help you sort it out. Making an appointment with one of our experienced staff can go a long way in finding the help you need!!
- Gourgari, E., et al. “Bilateral adrenal hyperplasia as a mechanism for hyperandrogenism in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. ” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Published online: Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metababolism. jc20154019.
- Shamasbi SG, Ghanbari-Homayi S, Mirghafourvand M. The effect of probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics on hormonal and inflammatory indices in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Nutr. 2020 Mar;59(2):433-450. doi: 10.1007/s00394-019-02033-1. Epub 2019 Jun 29. PMID: 31256251.
- Cutler DA, Pride SM, Cheung AP. Low intakes of dietary fiber and magnesium are associated with insulin resistance and hyperandrogenism in polycystic ovary syndrome: A cohort study. Food Sci Nutr. 2019;7(4):1426-1437. Published 2019 Feb 27. doi:10.1002/fsn3.977
- Haidari, F., Banaei-Jahromi, N., Zakerkish, M. et al. The effects of flaxseed supplementation on metabolic status in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized open-labeled controlled clinical trial. Nutr J 19, 8 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-020-0524-5
- Khani B, Mardanian F, Fesharaki SJ. Omega-3 supplementation effects on polycystic ovary syndrome symptoms and metabolic syndrome. J Res Med Sci. 2017;22:64. Published 2017 May 30. doi:10.4103/jrms.JRMS_644_16
6.Kalra B, Kalra S, Sharma JB. The inositols and polycystic ovary syndrome. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2016;20(5):720-724. doi:10.4103/2230-8210.189231
- Palioura E, Diamanti-Kandarakis E. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2015 Dec;16(4):365-71. doi: 10.1007/s11154-016-9326-7. PMID: 26825073.
8.Rubin BS. Bisphenol A: an endocrine disruptor with widespread exposure and multiple effects. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2011 Oct;127(1-2):27-34. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2011.05.002. Epub 2011 May 13. PMID: 21605673.