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Natural Treatments For PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)


Up to 10 per cent of women in the UK suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) a condition where the ovaries produce cysts (fluid-filled sacs). While polycystic ovaries themselves do not always cause problems, the hormonal changes that accompany them can bring on many unpleasant symptoms.

These include excess facial and body hair, acne, irregular or absent periods, obesity, recurrent miscarriages, mood swings and infertility.

Worse still, sufferers of PCOS are at greater risk of developing serious conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, blood clots, heart disease and cancer of the uterus.

While the precise cause is still not known (although it does appear to run in families), the good news is that there are many natural treatments which can offer much-needed relief from distressing symptoms and prevent the condition from getting worse.

Conventional treatments can cause nasty side effects like bloating, nausea and worse

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is important to see your doctor straight away for a diagnosis, especially given the serious conditions PCOS is associated with. It is easily diagnosed through a routine blood test, which measures your hormone levels, and an ultrasound scan that will show up any cysts that are on your ovaries.

If these tests reveal that you have the condition, you may be prescribed a high-oestrogen contraceptive pill to replace the oestrogen that your ovaries should be producing. You may also be given an anti-diabetic drug such as metformin to make your cells more sensitive to insulin. If your symptoms also include acne, a steroid cream may be prescribed.

All of these medications can have unpleasant and even dangerous side effects. The contraceptive pill can cause weight gain and depression and has been linked to an increased risk of blood clots, heart disease and high blood pressure conditions you may already have as a result of PCOS.

Metformin can cause loss of appetite, diarrhoea, nausea and bloating; prolonged use of steroid creams causes thinning of the skin and suppression of the immune system (BMA New Guide to Drugs and Medicines, 2001).

A combination of diet and nutritional supplements can help banish distressing symptoms

Your first line of defence against PCOS involves making specific changes to your diet. It is particularly important to take steps to lose weight if youre currently overweight one of the symptoms of the condition as this can improve several other symptoms, including infertility.

Losing weight is so effective because it encourages abnormal hormone levels in your body to stabilise, which in turn leads to a reduction in facial and body hair and acne. The health of your ovaries will also benefit, which improves your fertility levels.

It is particularly important that you follow a diet low in refined carbohydrates (such as white bread and pasta) and sugar, not only to promote weight loss but also to ensure that your blood sugar levels remain stable to lower your risk of diabetes as mentioned earlier the condition is strongly associated with PCOS.

In addition to monitoring your diet, certain nutritional supplements can also help you lose weight, lower your blood sugar levels and balance hormones levels in your body.

The mineral chromium is particularly important in this regard, as it lowers your risk of diabetes. It works in two main ways: one by encouraging the hormone insulin to work more efficiently and, two, by reducing excess levels of glucose in your blood (Health and Nutrition Breakthroughs, Sept 1998).

Chromium can also aid weight loss, as it is able to reduce cravings for sugar and sweets. However, if you are already on anti-diabetic medication it is important to consult your doctor before taking this mineral. The recommended dosage for chromium is 200mcg a day.

Zinc is another beneficial mineral. It helps to control your appetite and reduces cravings for both salty and sweet foods. Zinc is also necessary for the proper functioning of many hormones in your body, which results in less pronounced PCOS symptoms. Take the citrate form of zinc at a dose of 30mg a day.

A good reason to get moving

There is abundant evidence to show that regular exercise improves the bodys use of insulin. However, PCOS sufferers should try to concentrate on resistance rather than cardiovascular exercise.

This is because resistance exercise (such as weight training, swimming, yoga and pilates) builds muscle, which increases the bodys insulin sensitivity. Whereas too much cardiovascular exercise raises adrenaline and cortisol levels and consequently raises insulin levels.
Exercises such as yoga are particularly recommended because they relieve stress and work the muscles as well as targeting specific health problems.

Herbs play an important role in balancing hormone levels

The following herbs have all been found to benefit PCOS sufferers by regulating hormone levels.

* Agnus castus has been found to stimulate and normalise the function of the pituitary gland in your brain, which is involved in regulating hormone production. In particular it appears to increase the level of LH (luteinising hormone) that helps maintain ovary health (J Ethnopharmacol. 2006;106(2):216-21).

The recommended dosage is 1g of the raw herb taken once a day. This herb should not be taken during pregnancy or by lactating mothers.

* Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens). This North American palm tree has been found to reduce excess levels of the male hormone testrosterone high levels of which are found in the blood of PCOS sufferers.

This makes it especially beneficial at combating excessive hair growth, as it is able to block an enzyme called 5alpha-reductase which encourages the production of testosterone that is linked to this particular PCOS symptom. Better still, scientists have found that when this enzyme is inhibited the size of cysts on the ovaries are also reduced (J Herb Pharmacother. 2005;5(1):17-26).

The recommended dosage is 160mg of saw palmetto extract taken once or twice a day.

* Astaxanthin. Research has shown that when this powerful antioxidant is used in conjunction with saw palmetto, testosterone and other male hormones are lowered far more effectively than if either supplement is used alone.

Astaxanthin works in the same way as saw palmetto namely it blocks the action of the enzyme 5alpha reductase to ensure that male hormone levels remain well within normal limits.

The recommended dosage for Astaxanthin, taken as a purified extract, is 1 mg twice a day.

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  • Hello. Thank you very much for this very informative article. I have had about 5 months of missed periods yet again. Two days ago I started taking chromium, zinc, agnus castus and saw palmetto. I have just started my period and surely the medicine is going to get all the credit.

    I am convinced the medicine is helping because my moods have also improved and I am not feeling tired and depressed anymore.
    I recommend you try the medication if you are like me, not wanting to go for ovarian drilling.

    And to Debbie, Holland and Barret sells the Saw Palmetto. They might do the astaxanthin but you would have to check their website.

  • My daughter is 21 and has been diagnosed with PCOS. She suffers with depression/mood swings and excessive hair growth. Can you let me know which of the remedies you recommend can be taken together and where I can get Saw Palmetto and Astaxanthin extracts from in UK. Thanks

  • kindly assist me with information regarding the nutrition i should have to get rid of excessive abdominal fat and fibroids

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