Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common endocrine disorders in reproductive age women. This disorder characterized by the absence of menstruation or irregular and abnormal menstruation, excessive amounts of body hair, excessive body weight, and infertility. Women with PCOS often have multiple ovarian cysts, high levels of androgen hormones, and insulin resistance.
Estimates suggest that polycystic ovarian syndrome is seen in 4-10% of women of reproductive age.
The cause of polycystic ovary syndrome is very complex and not really understood. We do know that hormone imbalances associated with PCOS lead to the symptoms which are seen and lead to problems in the ovary’s production of eggs. Often, the eggs turn into cysts, which are like little fluid-filled sacs.
There is likely a genetic component to polycystic ovarian syndrome. Studies of first-degree relatives of women diagnosed with PCOS suggest familial clustering of the disease.
Chronic stress, nutrient deficiencies, and excess consumption of animal foods (high in arachidonic acid) may all contribute to the development of PCOS.
Women with PCOS have increased risk of developing diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, and estrogen-associated cancers including breast and endometrial cancer.
Symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome can vary greatly from person to person. No two women are affected exactly the same way. Someone with PCOS may experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Amenorrhea (lack of menstrual periods)
- Anovulation (lack of ovulation and therefore infertility)
- Dysfunctional uterine bleeding (abnormal bleeding patterns)
- Endometrial hyperplasia and cancer
- Hirsutism (excess hair growth, usually in a male pattern)
- Insulin resistance (problems with blood sugar regulation)
- Oligomenorrhea (very light menstrual cycles)
- Male-pattern hair loss and fat deposition
- Weight gain
- Some women who have polycystic ovary syndrome have no signs of it.
- History and symptoms
- Physical exam
- Laboratory studies (may vary depending on presenting symptoms)
- Urine HCG level
- Prolactin level
- Testosterone level
- Leuteinizing Hormone (LH) level
- Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) level
- Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH)
- Fasting glucose
- Fasting insulin
- Fasting lipid profile, including LDL and HDL cholesterol levels
- DHEA-S level
- Tests to rule out other possible causes of symptoms
- Imaging Studies
- Pelvic ultrasound examination of the ovaries
Because the cause is not really understood, conventional treatment of PCOS is directed at treating the symptoms of the disorder.
- Weight reduction
- Medroxyprogesterone (Provera) for 10-14 days per month
- Low dose oral contraceptive pills
- Antiandrogens (spironolactone, flutamine, cyproterone)
- Metformin (Glucophage) to regulate blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity
- Other medications may be used such as GnRH agonists and induction of ovulation
- Surgical treatment includes ovarian wedge resection, ovarian laser ablation, or ovarian electrocautery.
Natural treatment of polycystic ovarian syndrome is multifactorial.
Lifestyle. Exercise and weight reduction have been shown to be highly beneficial in the treatment of PCOS and its symptoms. Exercise can helps reduce weight, regulate menstrual cycles, and reduce risk factors for diabetes and heart disease which are associated with PCOS.
PCOS Diet. Women with PCOS respond well to a low glycemic index, low simple carbohydrate, low animal product, high fiber diet which helps reduce weight, regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, and reduce inflammatory prostaglandins.
Nutritional Therapy. Depending on your specific presentation of PCOS, there are a variety of nutritional therapies which will be considered. Nutritional therapies can help to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, reduce circulating androgens, improve ovarian function, improve fertility, reduce risk of heart disease, and support liver detoxification of estrogens.
Herbal Therapy. Depending on your symptoms of PCOS, a variety of herbal therapies may be considered. The goal of herbal medicine might include: reducing circulating androgens, optimizing ovarian function, and supporting optimal endocrine function.
Because the primary cause of polycystic ovarian syndrome is not well-understood, prevention is difficult. However, since naturopathic doctors work to treat underlying causes and underlying imbalances, prevention of PCOS is similar to its treatment.
The doctors at The Connecticut Center for Health are well versed in the treatment of PCOS. If you have (or suspect you have) PCOS, or just want more information on this condition, we recommend that you contact one of our clinics for a free consultation or an appointment.