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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common hormone imbalance in women. In fact, PCOS may affect up to 1 out of 15 women. Most women who suffer from PCOS are in their 20’s or 30’s, but it can be present at the onset of puberty. The imbalance of hormones can cause irregular or absent periods, ovarian cysts, fertility problems, and increased risk for diabetes and heart disease.

The hormones in women who have PCOS are out of balance. In women without PCOS, the ovaries normally make a specific amount of both female and male hormones. The bodies of women with PCOS make more of the male hormone (androgens) than usual. This can cause the body to stop ovulating. It may also produce androgen-like symptoms such as: acne, weight gain, mood swings and an increase of body hair. Because all hormones need to be in a delicate balance with each other, the increase in androgens causes other hormones to be unstable. Insulin is one hormones which is affected by high circulating androgens. As a result, PCOS can lead to insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing diabetes.

Because these hormone changes reduce ovulation in women, the ovaries fail to release mature eggs. The immature eggs form in the ovary, but are not released, instead forming small cysts around the edge of the ovaries (the “ring of pearls” seen on an ultrasound). Although many women who suffer from PCOS can go on to have children, these cysts can also contribute to infertility.

In addition to causing these small cysts on the ovaries, there are a number of other symptoms that PCOS can cause, including:

  • Irregular or absent menstrual cycle with either very light or very heavy periods
  • Acne
  • Increased body hair
  • Hair loss or thinning of the hair on the head
  • Weight gain
  • Infertility
  • Hoarseness or deepening of the voice
  • Decrease in breast size
  • Darkening of the skin in certain areas
  • Depression or mood swings

If your doctor thinks you may be suffering from PCOS, a test for blood hormone levels will likely be ordered. Blood sugars and cardiovascular risk markers such as cholesterol should be checked due to the increased risk for diabetes and heart disease with PCOS. Thyroid levels should also be tested, as there is some similarity of symptoms in PCOS and thyroid dysfunction. Additionally, a pelvic ultrasound is typically done to determine if the ovarian cysts are present.

Conventional Treatment

The most common conventional treatment for PCOS is birth control pills, shots or IUD’s. All of these will regulate hormones by artificially over-riding and shutting down the body’s hormone birth control pills production. Some birth control pills may also help prevent acne and hair growth. Although this may be helpful in the short term, it is not a good option for women who are trying to conceive.

Another commonly prescribed medication is glucophage (Metformin). This is often used by diabetics to help decrease blood sugars. Because of the connection of insulin and glucose to sex hormone production, this drug will not only help blood sugar control, but also helps regulate periods and possibly weight loss.

If fertility is a concern in the treatment of PCOS, it is possible that a doctor may also prescribe fertility medicine that promotes ovulation or induces the ovaries to release eggs.

Medications may also be prescribed for symptomatic treatment. Some hormone regulating drugs, such as Spironolactone, may be given to help with acne and hair growth. Topical creams and antibiotics may help provide symptomatic relief of acne. There are also some topical creams which decrease hair growth in women, as well as laser hair removal or electrolysis for hair removal.

Homeopathic Treatment

Homeopathy provides effective and gentle treatment for women suffering from PCOS, without harmful side effects. Homeopathic remedies are made from natural substances, and are prepared so that they are entirely non-toxic. In the United States, the Food and Drug administration or FDA regulates the manufacture and sale of homeopathic remedies.

Homeopathy improves health by gently promoting the body’s innate capacity to heal and restore balance. In the treatment of PCOS, homeopathy can regulate sex hormones and increase fertility. Homeopathic remedies can also help stabilize moods, regulate periods and decrease acne and excess hair growth.

Homeopathic medicine will not interact with or lessen the effectiveness of conventional medications or hormones. It works on a very deep level, and does not just mask symptoms — instead, it helps re-balance the system and hormones for good. Because homeopathy is holistic in nature, people who suffer from other chronic problems, such as PMS, headaches, anxiety, depression or fatigue often find that issues are helped with homeopathic treatment.

Other Treatments

Although homeopathy is extremely helpful in regulating PCOS, it alone cannot help with associated weight gain. Exercise and diet are both very important components to treatment. As people with PCOS are often insulin resistant, a balanced diet that helps regulate sugars is vital to treatment. Diets that tend to work best for this purpose are whole food vegetarian/vegan diets or a carbohydrate restricted diet. Including lots of vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish and fruit can be helpful. Increasing soy foods and flax seeds can also help regulate hormone levels.(3) A good diet and exercise will also help prevent other health problems such as: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Even a small amount of weight loss (8-10 lbs) will help with hormonal regulation.

There are also hormone regulating herbs, vitamins and minerals that can help with the treatment of PCOS. Herbs such as: nettles root, chase tree extract, saw palmetto, green tea and rhodiola can help balance the hormones in PCOS.(3)  Chromium, cinnamon and gymnema can be used in order to regulate blood sugar.(3)  Vitamin D and calcium have also been found to regulate menstruation and fertility.(4)  Finally, for women with absent periods, using oral micronized natural progesterone or progesterone creams during part of the cycle can help bring on a menstrual cycle.(3) This would be important to avoid thickening of the endometrial lining which is a risk factor for endometrial cancer.

References:

3. Hudson, Tori. Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.(2008).McGraw-Hill. P 28-29.

4. Thys-Jacobs. Steroids. 1999 Jun;64(6):430-5.