PCOS: It’s complicated.

PCOS has been identified and diagnosed more widely, and as a result there are more people looking for a solution. There are also many less-scrupulous folks out there willing to provide a solution…an oversimplified solution that requires you to buy their product, that is. Let’s cut through the crap and examine the many layers of solutions that may help support someone dealing with this condition.

PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It is a syndrome, not a “disease” and that means it is more a collection of symptoms that each have to be addressed in their own way rather than, like, an infection that you can cure. The syndrome and symptoms manifest differently in different bodies and the treatment will be rather individualized.  It may be that a person will be managing this situation in a long-term way. What I mean is, please do not expect to take a tincture for a few weeks and then move on with your life.

That said, it is not all doom and gloom. PCOS is not the end of the world, you are not broken or bad, and you’re in great company–it is a very common condition. Positive thinking will not save us, but sulking and dwelling on the negative alone can block us from seeing solutions. Sometimes anger or frustration can drive us towards change, if you allow that. Find a balance.

So first let’s remember that often, Insulin resistance and metabolic dysfunction are at the root of hormonal imbalances, including PCOS and others. It may be helpful to address that underlying issue in a long-term way rather than focus solely on manipulating the ovary.

I strongly suggest starting with exercise, at least some of it vigorous, as the foundation of a PCOS management plan. Don’t fear a little challenge, try brisk walking, running, kettlebells, dance, basically anything that builds muscle. Building muscle is a great way to address the underlying metabolic issues. Merely parking farther away from the mall doors will NOT cure you of anything. But sometimes starting slowly is appropriate.

I also suggest lower-glycemic eating. I am not a fan of extreme dieting, but learning about the glycemic index and choosing (mostly)  more lower-glycemic foods, more vegetables and less refined carbohydrates is a good start. You do not need to give up all sugar, all grains and all dairy forever –in the absence of allergies. You do not need to give up on Holidays and pizza parties. You do NOT need to “go on a diet”. Take a balanced approach and see where it leads you.

Sleep, hydration, stress reduction are all important contributors to overall health too. Massage therapy can be helpful, stretching programs such as-but not limited to- Yoga and deep breathing or meditative practices can also support relaxation.

Ok, herbs. The most important question to ask with herbs is “What are we trying to do here?” Remember, many books, blogs and ads are trying to sell you something–let’s use a problem-solving approach.

So perhaps your testosterone is higher than you’d like. Licorice root is one route to helping lower it.  We do want some testosterone of course, but when it is too high we may see symptoms that are called “masculinizing” . Allow me to address this briefly, there is no shame in these symptoms. IT IS JUST AN IMBALANCE. Please note that gender is complex and female-bodied people grow or lose all kinds of hairs — we do not all fit into standard gender boxes and that is FINE. That said, too-high serum testosterone over time can have unwanted effects.

One way to support your Endocrine system is with tincture of  Licorice root and Peony Root, a TCM combination which may help normalize ovulation, lower circulating testosterone and reduce symptoms of PCOS. Remember that a chronic lack of periods, or amenhorrea, is often caused by a lack of ovulation so the intention is to promote ovulation, which leads to the shedding phase, NOT irritate the uterus into bleeding with no ovulation. I suggest taking this combo as a tincture 2-3 times a day, but there are other options too, such as tablets. In many cases a few months of this combo is enough to normalize the system and promote normal cycles but in other people maintenance doses will be ongoing.

Please note that in some cases, high doses of Licorice root can exacerbate hypertension and interact with medications so please do your research on that, and if you notice BP issues, stop taking it or lower your dose.

Additionally, you might wish to help your liver process the higher amounts of androgens being produced. Blessed Thistle is my personal favorite for this purpose, or a bitters blend with one or more other plants like Milk Thistle, Artichoke Leaf, Burdock root, Dandelion, Angelica, Wild Lettuce and Mugwort. In general, most people benefit from some bitters in the diet and/or as a beverage and most livers are happy to have a little extra support. But for those of us who need a bit of help breaking down these hormones, bitter herbs really show how useful they are.  It is not just that your hormones exist, but that they are not exiting in a timely manner. Imagine a traffic jam of androgens. Bitters are an herbal  traffic cop that says “GO” when too many are lined up causing problems.

Bitters can be taken daily, before meals, as food or as needed.

Relaxing nervines are a category that can help support relaxation, rebuild the nervous system and promote better sleep. Milky Oats is one of my very favorites. Scullcap, Blue Vervain, Rose, Chammomile and Passionflower are all herbs I use and suggest to help support the nervous system. Living in a state of chronic nervous irritation may exacerbate inflammation, which does not support the healing work you are doing in other areas, and does;t usually feel great either. Tinctures can be used daily or as needed during times of stress.

And finally, balancing the overall body and supporting all of the systems–it doesn’t sound very glamorous but the big secret of human health is that the underlying terrain of your body held determine how you express your imbalances. Thus, immunomodulators, adaptogens and tonics specific to the individual can help in a longer term way to bring the body back into balance. This could be medicinal mushrooms, needed vitamins and minerals, more protein, a lymphatic mover, and so forth.

I generally suggest speaking with an herbal or integrative practitioner to help you find the right tonics.

Ideally, I have given you some ideas of where to start. Each of us will find our own way towards wellness, and every improvement is worth celebrating. Remember, you are not broken and you don’t need to punish yourself with diets, detoxes, raw food, cleansing or extremes. Integrative, common sense approaches promote long-term health. Natural approaches are nice but NOT always better….Do what works. It might take time to undo the condition, be patient, nourish and support your body.


One thought on “PCOS: It’s complicated.

  1. It’s all rubbish. Good food and exercise will do you no good when your body is poisoning you from the inside out.

    Get your ovaries checked and remove anything that shouldn’t be there. And, it your doctor argues, fire him. Your PCOS and cysts are directly responsible for your diabetes, high triglycerides, weight gain, and hypothyroidism issues. Everything else is merely a symptom. I’ve been circling this drain for 35 years and I am getting mine removed after fighting with doctors for years over it. Guess who was right? I have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of suffering for nothing. I may be right … but they won.

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