By Karen McElroy, Naturopath, Nutritionist & Medical Herbalist
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common hormonal condition in women, occurring in 15-20% of women of reproductive age. Of these, it is estimated that as many as 70% remain undiagnosed. It is generally characterised by high levels of androgens (male hormones) in the body, cysts on the ovaries and insulin resistance. The condition leads to absent or erratic ovulation, longer menstrual cycles and can cause symptoms like excessive facial and body hair growth, weight gain, acne, oily skin, thinning hair or male-pattern baldness, and pelvic pain. The signs and symptoms tend to vary between women, with some women displaying very few signs of the condition and others having many of the symptoms.
Many women who go on the pill as teenagers for acne may have early signs and undiagnosed PCOS. Unfortunately, the syndrome is masked by the pill as women get a monthly bleed and they are none the wiser. It is not until they come off the pill later in life when wanting to get pregnant that they get diagnosed after failure to get their period.
Women with PCOS have been found to have low-grade inflammation which can give rise to further complications throughout the body and exacerbate insulin resistance and fertility issues. PCOS is also associated with an increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease. Thus, early diagnosis and management of PCOS is extremely important.
While the exact cause of PCOS is still unknown, genetics is an important factor as PCOS seems to run in families. It is also well understood that the syndrome is often triggered by changes in diet and lifestyle, such as increased consumption of carbohydrates and sugars, weight gain, stress and lack of exercise. This explains why this disorder is on the rise, reflected in part by increasing rates of obesity weight issues in the community.
Natural Treatment For PCOS
Although there is no simple cure for PCOS, it can be well managed with dietary and lifestyle changes. Nutritional and herbal remedies (and in some cases conventional medications) are often necessary to control the symptoms, improve fertility (if that is the goal) and reduce the long-term risk of complications and other disorders. Key herbs can be used to modulate insulin resistance and blood sugar imbalances, as well as target ovarian function to improve ovulation and fertility.
In addition, there has been good research to support the use of certain nutrients in managing PCOS. As each woman with PCOS is different, it is recommended that they have a consultation with a qualified naturopath or nutritionist to put in place a healthy diet and lifestyle programme and have nutrients or herbs individually prescribed for best results.
Fertility Solutions works with a variety of complementary therapists who specialize in infertility treatment. Feel free to contact them directly or call us on 1300 337 845 (1300 FERTILITY) for a referral.
March WA, Moore VM, Willson KJ, Phillips DI, Norman RJ, Davies MJ. The prevalence of polycystic ovary syndrome in a community sample assessed under contrasting diagnostic criteria. Hum Reprod 2010;25:544–51.
Teede H, Deeks A, Moran L. Polycystic ovary syndrome: a complex condition with psychological, reproductive and metabolic manifestations that impacts on health across the lifespan. BMC Med 2010;8:41.