Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or “multiple ovarian cysts” is the most common endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age. PCOS can be a frustrating, and sometimes painful condition, and can lead to fertility problems. I have successfully treated PCOS in my practice using naturopathic treatment protocols that address the root cause of the problem.
What is PCOS and what causes it?
PCOS is a set of conditions related to increased androgen (male hormone) levels in women:
- PCOS is caused by hormonal imbalances in the pituitary, ovaries, pancreatic and adrenal hormones.
- Insulin resistance (a lack of responsiveness to insulin in the cells of your body) is an important factor in the development of PCOS.
- PCOS also has a genetic component – if a family member has it (your mother, aunt or grandmother) then you are more likely to develop it.
How do I know if I have PCOS?
The presence of ovarian cysts alone is not enough for a diagnosis of polycystic ovaries and you can have PCOS in the absence of a positive ultrasound. A diagnosis of PCOS must be accompanied by the presence of certain symptoms such as:
- No menstrual cycle, irregular or infrequent menstrual cycles
- No ovulation
- Hair growth on the upper lip or chin
- Hair loss from the head
- Body fat around the waistline
- Dark skin under the armpits, neck, groin or breasts
Testing for PCOS
Typical tests include:
- Saliva analysis-to identify your personal hormone levels and imbalances.
- Bloodwork to look at glucose tolerance, lipid levels, and other biomarkers.
- Ultrasound to evaluate for the presence of multiple “poly” cysts on the ovaries.
Six Naturopathic Treatment Options for PCOS
The goals for PCOS treatment are to balance hormone levels naturally, decrease insulin resistance and maintain a healthy body weight.
1-Start Taking an Herbal Tincture Blend
There are many herbs such as Licorice, Black Cohosh and Saw Palmetto that have been clinically proven to modulate hormones and boost metabolism.
Some important botanicals used in PCOS treatment include:
Saw palmetto (Serenoarepens) is a very effective hormone balancer for PCOS. Saw palmetto decreases the conversion of testosterone to its more biologically active form (dihydroxytestosterone or DHT). This results in lower levels of circulating testosterone. Saw palmetto is effective in addressing symptoms of acne, hair loss, and facial hair growth.
Chasteberry (Vitexagnus-castus) is another herb used for PCOS. Chasteberry inhibits prolactin synthesis and raises progesterone levels restoring balance to two important hormones involved in the menstrual cycle. Low progesterone levels are very common during puberty and are known to contribute to the formation of ovarian cysts.
Drawing from a wide range of Western and Chinese herbal medicines, I custom blend herbal tinctures typically combining 4-6 herbs meant to address your specific needs. Each custom blend comes from wild crafted and organic sources, and has been tested for purity and active ingredients. The challenge is that quality herbs are hard to come by and these herbs are all not appropriate for long term use, and may interact with prescription medication. Over the counter herbal medicines can be very powerful, and it is best to consult a licensed healthcare professional for advice prior to starting new herbs, especially if you are currently taking prescription medications.
2-Improve your Supplementation
If you are like most Americans, you take vitamins but are not sure of their effectiveness or if you are taking them in the right doses and proportions. Naturopathic doctors have access to high quality supplements whose effectiveness and purity has been proven through research.
With PCOS, it is important to have the right ratios and quality of B vitamins and other nutrients:
- Vitamin B6 can help balance prolactin levels, which are often elevated in PCOS.
- B vitamins are also necessary for dopamine synthesis and adrenal hormone production.
- Chromium is necessary for proper blood sugar regulation. Taking chromium increases the uptake of glucose into cells, decreasing insulin resistance.
- Inositol has many benefits for PCOS – it decreases insulin and insulin resistance, decreases testosterone levels and can help promote regular ovulation.
- Omega 3-6-9 Essential Fatty Acids (EFA) ratios are critical to maintaining proper hormone ratio’s and weight control. We can help interpret existing labs to look at your current vitamin, nutrient and EFA levels or order new functional lab tests.
If you suffer from PCOS, you should have a good handle on your vitamin, nutrient and EFA levels, understanding these key metrics can help you to take charge of your health and set goals for any areas requiring improvement.
3-Maintain a Proper Body Weight
Because of the association between being overweight and having PCOS it is important to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Losing as little as 5% of body weight can correct insulin resistance and decrease elevated hormone levels (specifically testosterone).
Healthy weight loss is best achieved through a combination of smart food choices and increased physical activity.
There are many good weight loss programs out there, see below for specific dietary recommendations for PCOS treatment. I provide functional weight loss guidance and genetic testing to help get a better understanding of dietary needs and impediments to weight loss and metabolism. Many people feel that more help is needed to lose weight when reducing calories and increasing activity fails to lead to weight loss and ability to keep weight off, hormones and genetics can be evaluated to give better insight and create a more fertile environment for weight loss.
4-Balance Protein and Carbohydrate Intake
For most people, a low glycemic diet is optimal. Seek to eat an equal amount of protein and carbohydrates. For example, by choosing whole grain sprouted bread you will have 15 grams of carbohydrates to 5 grams of protein which is much better than a slice of white bread with 20 grams of carbohydrates and no protein. The proper amount of carbohydrates and protein that one should consume will be determined by your doctor.
5-Embrace Whole Foods
Select foods that are low on the glycemic index and high in fiber to decrease insulin resistance. Some examples are: beans, lentils, apples, grapefruit, kale, broccoli, asparagus, walnuts and almonds. Your naturopathic doctor can help motivate you to make better food choices through the use of a food diary.
6. Get Tested to Know Your Body
As your naturopathic doctor, I will set measurable goals and milestones for key areas of health and work with you to evaluate progress. A simple saliva test can help you to monitor your hormone levels and help motivate you to see proper changes in the hormone ratios that are responsible for the effects of PCOS. Regular insulin resistance tests can help you to monitor how your diet and exercise programs are working.
There is no cure for PCOS but that has not stopped modern medical practices from employing highly invasive drugs, tests and procedures to treat the symptoms of PCOS. By applying naturopathic principles, we insure that we first ‘Do No Harm” and move the body toward overall health with non-invasive therapeutics, diet modifications and lifestyle education.
I produce a unique treatment plan for each patient that addresses the root cause of the problem using the above recommendations as a starting point. I am happy to work with you on your journey to wellness, please feel free to reach out today to discuss how we work together to treat PCOS and any other health concern.
Natural treatment of PCOS can take some time, and a focused effort. A minimum of three menstrual cycles is usually needed to allow for the hormones to become balanced. As your Naturopathic Doctor, I will provide you with support and can modify your treatment plan as needed based on your symptoms.