Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a female reproductive disorder. As its name implies, it is characterised by multiple cystic growths on the ovaries (hence the name polycystic ovaries).
PCOS develops when the ovaries are stimulated to produce excessive amounts of male hormones (androgens), particularly testosterone. This may happen either through the release of excessive luteinising hormone (LH) by the pituitary gland or through high levels of insulin in the blood (called hyperinsulinaemia) in women whose ovaries are sensitive to this stimulus.
PCOS comprises of a complex set of symptoms with research to date suggesting that insulin resistance is a leading cause.
A majority of patients with PCOS (some studies say all) have what is called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a common finding and is not related to overweight issues alone – is can exist among both normal weight and overweight women.
Specifically, high insulin level causes a number of endocrinological changes associated with PCOS, including the following:
- LH (luteinising hormone) over FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) dominance.
- Increased ovarian androgen production.
- Decreased follicular maturation.
PCOS is the most common cause of short or absent periods It affects about 4-7% of normally menstruating women. These women may have reduced fertility and an increased risk of miscarriage.
What is the reason and risk factors?
These factors below can either be causes of PCOS or can increase your risk of getting PCOS.
- insulin resistance
- obesity (although as mentioned it is not exclusive to obese women
- family history of PCOS
- nutritional deficiencies
- high glycemic load diet
- sedentary lifestyle
Common signs and symptoms of PCOS include
- Enlarged ovaries, generally 2-3 times larger than normal, resulting from multiple cysts
- Irregular menstrual cycles, short cycles, lack of menstruation.
- Excessive hair growth (especially facial hair)
- “Apple-shaped” obesity centred around the lower half of the body
- Infertility, generally resulting from chronic lack of ovulation
- Elevated serum androgens (male hormones), – specifically testosterone, androstenedione, and dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS), causing excessive hair growth as mentioned above.
- Male-pattern baldness
- Blood clots at menstruation
- Jaw-line acne, oily skin, seborrhoea
- Sleep apnoea (especially if with obesity)
- Chronic pelvic pain
Natural Treatment of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
It is unfortunate that many women who suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome are not aware that there are natural ways to help. This is a condition where the ovaries produce cysts. The symptoms that accompany this condition can be very unpleasant.
The first self help action would be to make sure that you have a diet low on carbohydrates
Every time you eat something sweet or starchy, namely a carbohydrate, it is broken down into glucose which causes your blood sugar to rise. Your blood sugar level is normally well controlled by a system of hormones. If it gets too high, your pancreas produces insulin, which brings your blood sugar level down again. But continually eating high carbohydrate meals and snacks can make your body’s cells become less sensitive to insulin, so that more and more is required to do the job.
Having a high level of insulin in your bloodstream eventually makes your ovaries and adrenal glands over-produce male sex hormones. These high levels of male hormones can cause the symptoms of extra body hair, acne and moodiness and increase your risk of heart disease. They also interfere with the normal release of hormones from the pituitary gland in your brain, which regulate the process of ovulation and the production of female sex hormones in your ovaries. This can cause absent or irregular periods and infertility.
If you are diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, you may be prescribed a high-oestrogen contraceptive pill to replace the oestrogen that your ovaries should be producing. You may also be given an anti-diabetic drug such as metformin to make your cells more sensitive to insulin. If your symptoms also include acne, a steroid cream may be prescribed.
All of these medications can have unpleasant and even dangerous side effects. The contraceptive pill may cause weight gain and depression and has been linked to an increased risk of blood clots, heart disease and high blood pressure – conditions you may already have as a result of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
We also know that prolonged use of steroid creams causes thinning of the skin and suppression of the immune system (BMA New Guide to Drugs and Medicines, 2001).
The first step you should take to relieve symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) should involve cutting down on carbohydrates (starches). Doing so will mean that your insulin levels will naturally fall and other hormones in your body will gradually begin to balance out again.
Reduce all refined sugar products from your diet, such as cakes, confectionery, sweet drinks, honey and starchy foods such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. Make sure that you drink about 2 litres of water a day, to flush away harmful toxins that will be released as your body breaks down fat.
What about supplements or herbs?
I prefer to leave this to an experienced practitioner as every case is different – however here are some ideas.
The amino acid glutamine is reputed to improve blood sugar control. Chromium is also a very popular mineral utilised for balancing sugar levels – therefore assisting with polycystic ovaries.
The B vitamins are also important in helping to correct the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). B3 is a component of glucose tolerance factor, B5 helps to control fat metabolism and B6 helps balance hormone levels.
Taking the above measures may assist symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) resulting from high insulin levels and unbalanced sex hormones. However there is no substitute for being under the care of an experienced Naturopath who will take your full history and prescribe the most effective herbs and vitamins in your individual case.
Some of the strategies your Naturopath would use would be to:
- Prescribe medicines that:
- Reduce the formation of cysts.
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Reduce stress levels
- Contribute to weight loss in required
- Reduce inflammation
- Balance hormones
The information provided on this website is for educational purposes. It is not intended to replace advice from your health practitioner. Do not embark on any treatment without proper supervision.