Can you explain what polycystic ovarian syndrome is?
Women who have irregular menstrual cycles or have trouble conceiving may have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), one of the leading causes of infertility in women. PCOS is a multifactorial condition where the female reproductive hormones between the brain and the ovary are imbalanced, and do not communicate as effectively as they should. There is usually an increase in the predominately male hormone testosterone. Other factors beside absent or irregular menses are blood sugar and insulin abnormalities, weight gain, obesity, and excessive hair growth – although not all of these may be present at the same time. Other associated symptoms and conditions are acne, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, thinning scalp hair or male pattern baldness and hypothyroidism may also be a contributing factor. Because of the association with blood pressure and cholesterol, PCOS can be a significant risk factor for heart disease.
Back to all Questions
View More by Dr. L. Sorensen
Since many women with PCOS struggle with obesity and insulin resistance, a low carbohydrate diet with an emphasis on good quality protein from vegetables or nuts and seeds, fish or wild game can be very helpful, as well as a regular exercise program. Outdoor exercise can also increase vitamin D, which has shown to be low in women with PCOS. Several supplements are essential to reduce excess androgens, improve insulin function and hormonal regulation by the ovaries. Individual variations exist, although prescriptions usually include B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, chromium and Omega 3 fatty acids.
Many herbal medicines can help to regulate the hormone imbalance associated with PCOS. Nettles, which is useful to reduce the amount of active testosterone is also valuable due to its abundant concentration of minerals. Nettles in conjunction with Saw palmetto can decrease some of the testosterone symptoms, like acne, thinning hair and hirsutism. The herb Vitex agnus-castus or chaste berry can indirectly increase progesterone levels, which can lead to normal ovulation and menstrual cycles. And a great herb to consider is green tea – whether from drinking the beverage or taking supplements. The medicinal properties of Green tea can target three areas: it stimulates metabolism and weight loss, it is a powerful antioxidant and more importantly the polyphenols can to help reduce circulating hormones that may be contributing to PCOS. If you drink the tea, plan to drink 3-10 cups a day and try to always buy organic to minimize exposure to harmful pesticides and herbicides.