Herbal Remedies for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
What are the benefits of herbal treatments for PCOS?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is classified as a disorder which encompasses a group of symptoms that collectively indicate a distinct health issue. This means that the symptoms associated with PCOS will vary from woman to woman. Your PCOS experience is probably very different from another woman with this condition but that does not mean you are alone! PCOS is a condition which can affect between 5 – 10% of all women and is the most common cause of infertility.8 You may be wondering how you ended up in this group of women but unfortunately the precise reason polycystic ovarian syndrome develops isn’t completely clear. 8 Having said that, many experts believe insulin as well as hormone imbalances have a strong influence on PCOS and the severity of its symptoms.
The treatment of polycystic ovarian syndrome has evolved considerably since the influence of insulin has been discovered. In the past, treatment was often aimed exclusively at specific symptoms rather than trying to impact some of the underlying influences. Symptoms can definitely be improved individually but addressing influencing conditions like insulin resistance often produces broader results. If insulin resistance is a factor in your PCOS (some women with PCOS are not insulin resistant), then the most effective course of action is to improve your diet. Start a regular exercise program and take supplements or medication recommended by your health care provider.
Herbal remedies can be a very effective treatment option for PCOS because they are usually quite gentle on the body and have fewer side effects than medication.3 You can usually use PCOS herbs longer with fewer problems which is important because PCOS does not go away over time. The reasons you might want to consider using herbs for your polycystic ovarian syndrome is they can be very successful in treating the contributing factors of PCOS, providing relief for symptoms and healing the body by boosting your immune system.
How did you develop polycystic ovarian syndrome?
Many health experts believe that numerous variables, including genetics, might be a factor in the development of PCOS. For example, you might find your sister, mother, aunt or grandmother has PCOS. It is clear that hormone imbalance is a primary influencing factor in PCOS as well as a condition called insulin resistance. Insulin is a potent hormone which is released by the pancreas as a result of food intake, in particular carbs. Insulin conveys sugar out from the blood and moves it into other cells such as muscle, liver and even fat cells. The sugar is then changed into energy or in some cases stored as fat. Sometimes this process is defective which is called insulin resistance.
When you have insulin resistance, your pancreas has to produce excessive amounts of insulin to remove the sugar from the blood. These high levels of insulin are not good for the body and can produce a staggering array of symptoms. Insulin resistance is very common in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
What are the signs of PCOS ?
You might have noticed symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome following the start of your first period or maybe health issues started later on in your twenties or thirties.
These symptoms differ from woman to woman, but to be diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, you need to have at least two of the following issues:
- Male pattern baldness
- Excessive hair growth
- Irregular periods
- Absent periods
- Ovarian cysts
- Heavy or prolonged periods
- Weight gain
- Menstrual pain
- Fluid retention
- Darkening of the skin
- Mood swings
- Acne not associated with puberty
It is important to get an early diagnosis because PCOS can lead to type 2 diabetes, infertility, heart disease, endometrial cancer, high blood pressure and breast cancer.
Are natural treatments for PCOS the best option for you?
You should always combine herbal remedies with a PCOS friendly diet and exercise plan to boost the effectiveness of the chosen botanical treatment.
Herbal remedies are found as dried extracts (teas, capsules or powders),glycerites or tinctures (alcohol extracts). You should never start any type of natural treatment for PCOS like herbs without talking to your doctor. Many people are under the misconception that because herbs are natural they cannot cause any damage to the body. This is incorrect. Herbs are very powerful and obviously impact the body strongly or you would not be considering them to treat physical symptoms and disorders. Most of the synthetic drugs on the market have base sources from herbs like Digitalis from foxglove. Herbs are like any other medication you might be taking which means they can also influence drugs and other herbs either positively or negatively. For example, some herbs can reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills (ued as a PCOS treatment) which could create some interesting surprises in your life.
Common PCOS Herbal Remedies
Chaste berry (Vitex agnus-castus): This herb has been used for centuries for hormone imbalances and is considered an adaptogen. Chaste berry is one of the most common herbs used to treat PCOS because it helps to stimulate and stabilize the function of the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is responsible for the release of luteinising hormone which can reduce the level of estrogen and androgen levels while raising progesterone levels.
- Side effects: This herb is not associated with major side effects but it can cause dizziness, rash and stomach issues. Since it affects the hormones women who are pregnant or taking birth control pills should avoid this herb. People taking dopamine related drugs such as Parkinson’s medications or antipsychotics should also not take chaste berry.
Dandelion Root (Taraxacum officinale): This herb is an effective liver detoxifier and bile flow stimulant. It is used to cleanse the liver and get rid of any build-up of hormones. This clean up can stimulate the production of SHGB which also means free testosterone in the blood is decreased.7 Dandelion root is used for PCOS treatment because menstrual irregularities are often affected by the liver being backed up with excessive hormones.
- Side effects: This treatment is ordinarily considered to be safe but it can cause stomach issues such as diarrhea. You should avoid using dandelion root if you have gallbladder issues.
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum): This herb is wonderful for promoting a healthy liver by healing damaged liver cells and protecting the liver against damage in the first place. Milk thistle has been found to reduce excess estrogen and reduce insulin resistance.
- Side effects: Some people who are allergic to ragweed and other plants in the same family are also allergic to milk thistle so taking this herb might cause an allergic reaction. Occasionally people taking milk thistle will complain of gastrointestinal issues but this is rare. I t may also lower blood sugar levels so if you have hypoglycemia or diabetes you might want to try another herbal .
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) Many people take this herbal remedy, especially those being treated with traditional Chinese medicine. Licorice is an adaptogen which can help your body deal with the stress associated with changes, both internal and external. It is particularly effective for lowering testosterone and increasing ovulation when combined with white peony. One of the benefits of licorice for women with PCOS is decreased acne and hair growth.
- Side effects: Since licorice is one of the most widely used herbs there is a great deal of research into the possible side effects as well. It is definitely not recommended for long-term use because extended exposure may cause fluid retention, high blood pressure and potassium depletion. Some minor side effects may include upset stomach, headache, missed periods and fatigue. You should not take licorice if you are pregnant, breast feeding or have high blood pressure.
Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens, Sabal serrulata) This herb has anti estrogenic effects and also has been found to decrease the testosterone levels in the blood. Both effects are very positive for women with PCOS .9 The herb has properties that can block the process of testosterone turning into DHT (dihydrotestosterone, a by-product of testosterone) which in turn lowers male hormones in the body.
- Side effects: Saw palmetto can cause very mild stomach issues. It should be avoided if you are taking blood thinners because it can increase the likelihood of bleeding.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica) The root of this plant increases the production of SHBG (sex hormone-binding globulin) which reduces the level of free testosterone in the blood helping to normalize hormone levels. SHBG is often low in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
- Side effects: Nettle root should not be taken long-term. It can lower blood pressure so do not take this herb if you are taking medication that lowers blood pressure as well or diuretics
Flaxseed (Linum Usitatissimum): This herb is a common PCOS treatment option and recommended for increasing SHBG levels in the blood and metabolizing estrogen. Both low SHBG and high estrogen are factors in PCOS symptoms.
- Side effects: You must take care to drink a lot of water if taking flaxseed because it is a bulk forming laxative and the fibers in the flax can actually impede the absorption of other medications or herbal remedies.
White Peony (Paeonia lactiflora) This herb is a common ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine used mostly in conjunction with licorice. It has been shown to positively influence low progesterone levels and can reduce high androgen levels. White peony can also help stabilize the menstrual cycle and suppress hyperactivity of the liver.
- Side effects: This herb is safe for short term use and can cause digestive issues or possible a rash when in contact with the skin. You should not take this herb if you have any type of bleeding disorder because it might slow the process of blood clotting. Peony is also not recommended for women who are pregnant because it might cause uterine contractions.
Spearmint (Mentha cordifolia) This herb is usually taken as a tea and studies have shown it can decrease androgen levels and reduce the levels of free testosterone in the blood.
Less Common Herbal Remedies Used for PCOS
Gymnema (Gymnema sylvestre) This is a common herb used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine and has been called the herbal form of Metformin.3 It is an anti-diabetic that is characterized by insulin modulating activity which means it regulates insulin levels while controlling sugar or carbohydrate cravings. Gymnema actually numbs the sweet taste areas of the taste buds which helps suppress appetite. Some research has indicated that this herb might stimulate production of cells in the pancreas which in turn increases the levels of insulin in the body.
- Side effects: There is no serious side effect associated with Gymnema as long as it is only used for less than about 2 years. This is not a long-term herbal solution to PCOS. It can affect blood sugar so people with diabetes should monitor their levels carefully when taking Gymnema. This herb is also not recommended for breastfeeding or pregnant women even though no complications have been documented.
Blue Cohosh (Caulophylum thalictroides) This herb has been used effectively to help prevent excessive menstrual bleeding, activate menstruation when you have absent periods and minimize menstrual cramping. It can regularize the menstrual cycle and stimulate uterine activity.
- Side effects: Do not use this herb if you have high blood pressure, heart disease or are pregnant or nursing.
Red Clover (Trifolium pretense) This herb has isoflavones which change to phytoestrogens when in the body. This means red clover acts like estrogen. Red clover is used to purify the blood and treat the acne associated with conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome.
- Side effects: Red clover has been associated with headaches, nausea, vaginal bleeding, muscle ache and rash. Do not take this herb if you have conditions that are worsened by estrogen exposure such as endometriosis, breast cancer, ovarian cancer or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Red clover might also increase the chance of bleeding so avoid this herb if you have any kind of bleeding disorder.
Hops (Asperge Sauvage) This herb is used to relieve the stress that many women with PCOS experience about their various symptoms.
- Side effects: Hops can cause drowsiness and sleepiness so should be avoided if you are drinking alcohol or taking sedatives such as Ambien.
Tribulus (Tribulus terristris) This herb has been shown to be an ovarian stimulant which means it can assist in the normalization of the menstrual and ovulation cycles.
- Side effects: This herb may cause gastrointestinal issues and should not be taken if you have ulcers, liver problems or any kind of stomach inflammation.
Black Cohosh Root (Cimicifuga racemosa)This herb has a very strong effect on the endocrine system because it contains phytochemicals that can suppress luteinising hormone secretion. Black cohosh is very effective for PMS, excessive menstrual cramps and hormone related symptoms.
- Side effects: This herb can cause several side effects including muscle pain, gastrointestinal issues, weight gain, headache, dizziness and vaginal spotting. Black Cohosh has also been associated with liver disease so be watchful for symptoms like dark urine, loss of appetite, yellowing of the skin or eyes and nausea which can be signs of liver complications.
St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) This herb is very commonly used to help treat the symptoms of depression linked to hormonal imbalances such as Polycystic ovarian syndrome.
- Side effects: St. John’s Wort can increase the risk of sunburn because it may increase sensitivity to sunlight
Goats Rue (Galega officinalis) There are more clinical studies required to definitively show the benefits of Goats Rue for women with PCOS; however, it is the natural source of guanidine which is in an anti-diabetic drug class known as biguanides. A common drug for PCOS known as Metformin belongs to the biguanide drug class. This association alone should garner this herb a second look for treating polycystic ovarian syndrome.
- Side effects: You should always be cautious about using any herbs when pregnant or nursing but goats rue has been found to actually increase milk production so is deemed safe.
Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis) Dong Quai is used in traditional Chinese medicine to help return women to normal hormone levels and strengthen the immune system. This herb normalizes the menstrual cycle, and act as a uterine tonic to reduce the pain associated with excessive menstrual cramping.
- Side effects: Do not use if you are on blood thinners or if you are pregnant or lactating.
Red Raspberry Leaf (Rubus idaeus) If you like black tea but do not want caffeine, red raspberry leaf tea is a perfect pleasant tasting alternative. It is one of the most beloved herbs for women in traditional herbal medicine because it strengthens the female reproductive system on many levels. This herb can help stop heavy menstrual bleeding, is high in iron and can strengthen the lining of the uterus which can aid in conception for women with PCOS.
Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) This herb has been used to balance hormones in the body such as progesterone and estrogen. This is helpful because women with PCOS often have high estrogen levels.
- Side effects: This herbal remedy might produce stomach upset or headaches.
Other Natural Remedies for PCOS
Diet is crucial component in treating PCOS and really should be considered along with herbal remedies a key consideration when managing this disorder. A well-balanced junk free diet filled with PCOS foods will also help control putting on weight too which could lessen your PCOS symptoms. PCOS food options do not have to exclude all your favorite dishes, you can still enjoy a delectable range of lean proteins, fruit, veggies and whole grain products despite polycystic ovarian syndrome problems. Many women with PCOS think carbohydrates are the enemy; however, high fiber and whole grain carbohydrates have numerous vitamins and nutrition vital so consuming these types of foods also help control glucose and reduce the influence of blood insulin sensitivity. A small decrease in carb intake may be recommended if your polycystic ovarian syndrome is severe but don’t make any major changes before you talk to your physician. Keep in mind you should spread your carb consumption equally across the entire day from breakfast to an evening snack. This helps keep the glucose level even all the way through the night. It’s also wise to combine your carbohydrates with a lean protein source every meal (including snacks) because this will stabilize your blood sugar levels. Desserts, chocolate, sodas as well as an excessive amount of juice are not considered to be PCOS foods and should be avoided because they can negatively impact polycystic ovarian syndrome symptoms and sabotage your efforts to stay healthy.
This can be a key element for dynamic health for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome and must be considered a regular a part of your routine. Exercise can definitely boost the body’s sensitivity to sugar and address insulin resistance. It is also a great way to feel good and maybe learn a new skill. There are so many types of exercise you should be able to find something that appeals to you and is appropriate for your fitness level. Some fun exercise choices could include walking, housework, gardening, biking, running, swimming, yoga, and weight lifting as well as sports like soccer, squash, softball, tennis, skiing or even salsa dancing.
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PCOS and Herbal Medicine. Natural Therapy Pages. [Online] 04 30, 2010. [Cited: 07 23, 2012.] http://www.naturaltherapypages.com.au/article/PCOS_and_Herbal_Medicine
Natural Solutions for PCOS and Infertility. Steel Smith Health. [Online] 06 03, 2011. [Cited: 07 19, 2012.] -http://steelsmithhealth.com/natural-solutions-for-PCOS -and-infertility/
Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD. Hirsutism. University Of Maryland Medical Center. [Online] 09 02, 2010. [Cited: 07 23, 2012.] http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/hirsutism-000081.htm#ixzz21UcLRMdB.
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