Healing Your Hormones—Natural Treatments for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Did your doctor recently tell you that you have a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome?

Have you been struggling with polycystic ovary syndrome for years?  Whether you were recently diagnosed or have lived with polycystic ovary syndrome for years, this can be a frustrating and overwhelming diagnosis, especially if you’re trying to conceive. The good good news is that you can heal your body from polycystic ovary syndrome!

Polycystic ovary syndrome is the most common hormonal disorder in women, and it can show up in all sorts of ways—cystic acne, facial hair, obesity and male pattern baldness, which may cause you to feel self-conscious.  Abnormal hormone levels make your period irregular or altogether absent, and your doctor may tell you that you have pearl-like string of cysts on your ovaries.

Why You Should Take Your Diagnosis Seriously?

Polycystic ovary syndrome can be a warning sign that you are at risk for developing more serious health conditions. One of the most common symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome is insulin resistance (your body’s inability to take sugar into your cells).  Did you know that 65-70% of women with polycystic ovary syndrome are insulin resistant and at risk for type 2 diabetes?  You are at a greater risk ofsuffering a heart attack compared to women your age without polycystic ovary syndrome.  If you have PCOS you are also at an increased risk of endometrial cancer because absent, or irregular periods, allow the lining of your uterus to thicken instead of being shed during your period.

Why Does Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Cause Fertility Problems?

Luteinizing hormone, which triggers ovulation, is higher than normal if you have polycystic ovary syndrome and causes cells in your ovaries to produce more testosterone. High levels of testosterone restrict the normal development of follicles, the fluid-filled sacs that contain an immature egg, so that you either don’t get your period or your period is very irregular.  An increase in testosterone can also lead to acne, extra facial hair, and hair loss. These abnormal hormone levels lead to disrupted egg growth and ovulation and a lack of progesterone, the hormone that supports pregnancy.

What Can You Do to Naturally Treat Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

1. Acupuncture restores ovulation

The good news is that a study conducted at the Göteborg University in 2000, showed that acupuncture can influence hormone levels to restore ovulation in women with PCOS.  Acupuncture encourages regular periods by reducing testosterone, increasing blood flow to the uterus, and normalizing the ratio of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) to luteinizing hormone (LH)—essentially, acupuncture balances reproductive hormones.  Acupuncture points in your lower legs and abdomen are neurologically connected to the ovaries, which is one reason why acupuncture can be so beneficial in treating menstrual problems.

2. Dietary changes reduce your risk of diabetes and can restore hormone balance

Both dietary changes and remaining active are two lifestyle modifications that you can do on your own to treat the underlying insulin resistance in polycystic ovary syndrome.  If you are overweight and trying to conceive, consider that losing just 5% of your body weight drastically improves your chances for becoming pregnant!  Weight loss normalizes hormone levels and decreases insulin resistance, therein restoring ovulation and reducing your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.  Excess abdominal fat, called central obesity, can lead to elevated insulin and an imbalance of hormones.  The frustrating reality for many women with polycystic ovary syndrome is you may feel more hungry due to insulin resistance— this just perpetuates the cycle of weight gain.

I advise my patients to make these specific dietary changes:

  1. Clear out all refined sugars - they add non-nutrient rich calories and pack on the pounds.
  2. Focus on eating non-starchy vegetables - a few examples are beets, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, carrots, eggplant and green beans.
  3. Choose lean proteins from both plant and animal sources.
  4. Carbohydrate containing foods include starches, fruits, milk, yogurt, grains and sweets. Choose nutrient rich carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates in moderation.
  5. Remember that non-starchy vegetables, proteins and fats help you to feel full and satisfied with a meal without increasing your insulin response.

Restoring Ovulation?

One of the first supplements I recommend to patients is myo-inositol.  This B-vitamin can help regulate insulin and testosterone levels, thereby restoring ovulation and improving egg quality.  When the levels of insulin and testosterone are balanced you’ll experience less acne and facial hair.  D-chiro-inositol is mentioned in polycystic ovary syndrome research and some practitioners advise taking both forms of inositol.

I also recommend that patients start on NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine), an antioxidant and insulin sensitizer that reduces the damage to your cells caused by insulin resistance.  Research shows that NAC may even be better than Metformin, a drug commonly used to treat insulin resistance.

Chinese herbal medicine is complex, but a base formula used to treat polycystic ovary syndrome is Peony and Licorice (Shao Yao Gan Cao Tang). White Peony has been shown to reduce testosterone produced by the ovaries by converting testosterone into estrogen. Licorice is often used, in combination with other herbs, to treat women’s health conditions ranging from irregular periods to menopause because it contains plant based estrogens (phytoestrogens) that affect your endocrine system.  Licorice may reduce testosterone levels, which explains why women with polycystic ovary syndrome experience a decrease in excess facial hair and acne.

Polycystic ovary syndrome does not have to be a lifelong condition. As with many health conditions, diet and exercise can go a long way in helping you to heal. I encourage you to seek care from an experienced acupuncturist, naturopath or nutritionist if you need more targeted support.