Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine system disorder in women of reproductive age. It is a condition in which the levels of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone are out of balance in the body. This causes the formation of benign masses on the ovaries called ovarian cysts. When seen during an ultrasound exam, women with PCOS, have enlarged ovaries that contain small collections of fluid located in each ovary. PCOS can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle, fertility, cardiac function, and appearance.
Women with PCOS may be facing obesity, insulin resistance, irregular menstrual bleeding, irregular cycle, lack of ovum production, leading to problems with conception and childbirth. PCOS is thought to be one of the leading causes of female infertility. An inclusive study on Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) to observe the trends in PCOS cases in young women in India revealed, that one in five women suffer from PCOS problems and East India leads the chart with 1 in 4 women suffering from PCOS. The increasing trend of PCOS is predominantly seen in the age group 15 to 30 years.
Causes Of PCOS
Even though the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, doctors believe that hormonal imbalances and genetics play a role.
PCOS can also be caused due to overproduction of the hormone androgen. Androgen is a male sex hormone that women’s bodies also produce, only women with PCOS produce higher than normal levels of androgen. This affects the development and release of eggs during ovulation.
Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas, that helps convert sugars and starches into energy. Excess insulin may cause high androgen levels. If one is insulin resistant, the body may try to pump out high levels of insulin in an effort to keep the blood sugar levels normal. Very high levels of insulin can cause your ovaries to produce more androgens, such as testosterone.
Sometimes insulin resistance can be caused by having a BMI (body mass index) above the normal range. This makes it harder to lose weight, which is often a struggle for women with PCOS.
Low-grade inflammation. Your body’s white blood cells produce substances to fight infection in a response called inflammation. Research has shown that women with PCOS have low-grade inflammation and that this type of low-grade inflammation stimulates polycystic ovaries to produce androgens.
Symptoms of POCS
The symptoms of PCOS usually start after a woman starts to menstruate for the first time. The symptoms vary from person to person. Not all the symptoms are manifested in all the cases of PCOS. The most common symptom of PCOS is irregular menstrual periods.
Since PCOS leads to a decrease in the production of female sex hormones, it causes women to develop certain masculine characteristics like excess hair on the face, chest, stomach thumbs, and toes. It leads to a decrease in breast size and hair loss.
Other symptoms are weight gain, infertility, and acne. As a result of PCOS, many women have related health problems such as diabetes, hypertension, and abnormally high lipid profile. These conditions arise mostly because of the weight gain that occurs in women with PCOS.
Herbal Treatment For Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
How does Diet affect PCOS?
Foods that are high in refined carbohydrates, such as starchy and sugary foods, can lead to insulin resistance, and thus make it more difficult to control weight gain. They also cause inflammation. High-fibre foods on the other hand can help combat insulin resistance by slowing down digestion and reducing the impact of sugar on the blood. This may be beneficial to women with PCOS.
Foods to Avoid
- Foods high in refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and any food made out of refined white flour.
- Sugary snacks and desserts. Look for names like sucrose, high fructose and dextrose on food labels and avoid.
- Drinks such as soda and juices.
- Red or processed meats.
- Pasta and noodles made from white flour which are high in carbs and very low in fibre. Pastas made from lentil or wheat flours are a good alternative.
- French fries and margarine.
Diet for PCOS
- High-fibre cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage,cauliflower, Brussels sprouts radish, turnips and lettuce.
- Beans Lentils and Oats
- Lean protein, such as fish, chicken and tofu, are better options than red meat.
- Vegetables like green and red peppers, sweet potatoes, winter squash, tomatoes, kale, spinach and pumpkin. The green leafy vegetables are anti-inflammatory and help with acne that is very often the result of PCOS.
- Almonds, walnuts and low GI fruits like apples, pears, berries, plums, grapefruit, kiwi, and oranges.
- Use cold pressed oils which are high in Omega-3-fatty acids like olive oil, sesame seed oil, coconut oil and fatty fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon and sardines. Avoid refined oil.
Lifestyle Changes to Manage PCOS
PCOS, like many other disorders, responds positively to healthy lifestyle choices.
Exercises: Daily exercises and physical movement helps reduce insulin resistance. Exercises along with healthy food in the form of low sugar intake and high fibre, can make a difference. This may result in improved ovulation.
Stress: Stress is another contributing factor in PCOS. Yoga and meditation, which reduce stress and calm the mind can benefit those with PCOS.
It’s important to understand that there is no cure for PCOS, but, by making the right diet and lifestyle changes, we can manage the symptoms, and live fulfilling lives.
Ayurveda and PCOS
The ayurvedic way of treating PCOS is by correcting the hormonal imbalance and treating obesity and inulin resistance. Ayurveda believes that when the doshas are in balance, the person will be healthy. PCOS is considered a Kapha disorder. The cure in Ayurveda starts with detoxification of the body, then strengthening the female reproductive system and regularizing menstrual cycles. It recommends various herbs along with dietary and lifestyle changes to cure PCOS.
Diet includes the following. Warm low-fat milk with a pinch of turmeric and grated ginger; Fruits, such as apples, oranges, grapefruit, pineapple and papaya, and pears, are good; Reduce intake of sugar products and use honey which is very good for reducing Kapha; Beans and grains like barley, chickpea and millet are good while nuts should be avoided; Potatoes and sweet potatoes to be avoided as they may cause a gain in weight.
Stress and tension should be avoided. Ayurveda does not recommend overworking yourself, physically or mentally, as this may lead to stress. An active lifestyle is good, but should not be overdone. Fasting excessively or overeating, Smoking, alcohol consumption, and using drugs are said to aggravate menstrual disorders.
Herbs that help in the Management of PCOS
Some herbal medicines regulate PCOS by balancing the hormones. Milk thistle and dandelion are said to regulate sex hormones. Other herbs help to manage insulin resistance. These include neem, tulsi, fenugreek, and basil. Cinnamon also provides support for people with insulin resistance.
Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)
The Shatavari herb is very beneficial for women suffering from excess or low levels of estrogen. The herb is rich in phyto-estrogen and helps in balancing the hormonal levels. It is also known to help in promoting the normal development of ovarian follicles and regulating the menstrual cycle. This herb helps to manage the symptoms of PCOS by promoting fertility in women. Scientific research has shown that 85% of PCOS patients who were treated with Shatavari were able to get their symptoms under control, while 75% of the patients were able to conceive. The results showed that Shatavari helps PCOS patients by managing insulin levels.
Guduchi (Tinospora Cordifolia)
Guduchi is a powerful anti-inflammatory herb. It helps to increase the immunity of the patients. Chronic inflammation of the tissues is considered the main cause of insulin imbalance and ovarian cysts. Guduchi helps to revitalize all the tissues in the body and boosts metabolism naturally.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Roots
Ashwagandha is a popular herbal supplement, extensively used in traditional Indian and Ayurvedic medicine. Ashwagandha has been traditionally used as a treatment for impotence and infertility. Ashwagandha root is prescribed in Ayurveda for the treatment of PCOS. It is a herb that balances your hormones. It is also known to enhance brain function and reduce stress and anxiety. It also lowers the production of testosterone, the hormone-disrupting menstrual cycles. When taken with other herbs like Arjuna, it induces ovulation, regularizes periods, and relieves period pain
Aloe Vera(Aloe barbadensis)
Aloe vera is an Ayurvedic herb that is very useful in treating PCOS. It regularizes the menstrual cycles, promotes normal menstruation, and normalizes hormonal imbalances. A preliminary study showed that aloe vera gel formulation exerts a protective effect against the PCOS phenotype by restoring the ovarian steroid status and altering key steroidogenic activity. This can be attributed to phyto-components present in the extract.
PCOS Home Remedies
The ayurvedictalk.com site recommends the following remedies to manage PCOS.
- Take Ashwagandha roots (150gms), Arjun bark (70gms), and divide them into 30 equal parts. Boil one part every morning in 3 cups of water (150ml), and reduce the quantity to 1 cup. Filter the resulting mixture and add a cup of cows milk to it. Boil this mixture again adding 2 cardamoms to it. Drink this early morning on empty stomach. The remaining filtrate can be used in evening.
- A paste made of neem, bail and tulsi leaves (about 20 leaves each) can also be taken once in the morning to reduce insulin resistance.
- To reduce insulin resistance, soak a tsp. of fenugreek seeds in water at bed time, and drink it up first thing in the morning.
- It may be ideal to include ½ to 3/4th tsp. of cinnamon into every meal, as it helps control blood sugar levels.
- Some yoga exercises like Vajrasan, Simhasan, Sarvangasan and Shalabhasan may also prove helpful for the condition.
As always, please consult a naturopath before consuming any herb, to be sure that it is the right herb for your constitution.