Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a prevalent, complex endocrine disorder characterized by poly-cystic ovaries, chronic anovulation and hyperandrogenism leading to symptoms of irregular menstrual cycles, hirsutism, acne and infertility. Evidence based medical management emphasizes a multidisciplinary approach for PCOS, as conventional pharmaceutical treatment addresses single symptoms, may be contra-indicated, is often associated with side effects and not effective in some cases.
PCOS is a condition which can affect between 5 – 10% of all women and is the most common cause of infertility. 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.
1. 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. 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.
2. Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa): The effect of black cohosh on LH and the LH/FSH ratio indicates that black cohosh induces the hypothalamus to reduce the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). A reduction in LH in women with PCOS is associated with better ovulation and implantation rates. Use of black cohosh and its apparent effect on inducing ovulation is a very useful in the complex and challenging clinical management of women with PCOS. Adding black cohosh to natural medicine strategies that increase insulin sensitivity, reduce androgen excess, reduce conversion to the more active form of testosterone in the skin, while all the time being mindful of reducing the risk of future diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and endometrial cancer is an advancement in treatment options.
3. Tribulus (Tribulus terrestris) : It is extracted from an annual plant in the caltrop family (Zygophyllaceae) widely distributed around the world. This herb promotes regular ovulation. It supports hormonal balance overall. This herb has been found to be wonderful in aiding women with menstrual irregularities; improving timing of the entire menstrual cycle. Tribulus has also been found to be a nourishing tonic for the female reproductive system as a whole, especially concerning the ovaries. Studies have shown that it may reduce ovarian cysts and stimulate ovulation in women who are not ovulating. In Ayurvedic pharmacology, tribulus terrestris is used as a powder form of the aerial parts, particularly the fruits.
4. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): This herb is an adaptagen 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. 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.
5. White Peony (Paeonia lactiflora): 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. It can also help stabilize the menstrual cycle and suppress hyperactivity of the liver. A word of caution: 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.
6. Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia): This herb is one of the best natural remedies for managing blood sugar levels to help prevent insulin resistance. Various studies around the world have shown how effective cinnamon is for reducing blood sugar levels so if you’re dealing with insulin resistance, you need this spice in your life. It can help to regulate your menstrual cycles particularly if you’re dealing with heavy bleeding. Herbalist believe that cinnamon works on the uterine muscle fibers by helping to calm the uterus and the astringent (blood controlling) properties of this spice help to close the blood vessels and prevent heavy bleeding.
7. Evening primrose oil: 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. Note that this herbal remedy might produce stomach upset or headaches.
8. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Also known as Indian ginseng, is indicated to reduce Kapha and Vata (Vata-kapha-hara). It thereby normalizes imbalanced Vata and Kapha which are responsible for PCOS. It has a therapeutic effect in problems pertaining to the reproductive system and inflammatory swelling (Granthi). Ashwagandha is indicated as one of the most important herbs in Ayurvedic formulations recommended for pregnancy in infertile women. Abnormal Vata plays a major role in all the utero-vaginal disorders (Yonivyapad) including PCOS. Since most women suffering from PCOS experience thyroid issues, and as a result experience fatigue, fluid retention and weight gain, it is definitely not something to overlook. Ashwagandha root also contains tryptophan which is the building block of serotonin, the mood-lifting hormone. It also corrects irregular menstrual cycles and reduces menstrual pain.
9. 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. Dandelion root is used for PCOS treatment because menstrual irregularities are often affected by the liver being backed up with excessive hormones. You should avoid using dandelion root if you have gallbladder issues.
10. 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.
Consult your doctor before consuming any of the above indicated herbs.