When you were diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, your doctor most likely suggested a combination of pharmacological approaches and lifestyle changes, like:
- Birth control pills to reduce your symptoms, Clomid to help with ovulation if you are trying to get pregnant, and maybe even metformin to help regulate your insulin levels and assist with weight loss.
- Dietary changes, like a low-GI diet, and exercise.
Despite the fact that the idea that these herbs can help women with PCOS attain a better quality of life has some scientific backing, herbs can indeed have side effects as well as interact with other medications you may be taking. For that reason, it is important to check in with your treating doctor before adding any of these herbs to your daily life.
1. Licorice Root
Licorice root — Glycyrrhiza glabra — has been used medicinally for a very long time. Its active compound, glycyrrhizin, may benefit women with PCOS because:
- It fights inflammation
- It reduces blood sugar levels, being called a natural anti-diabetic
- It stimulates a healthier hormonal balance, including, research suggests, lowering testosterone levels in women with PCOS
Health food stores and of course online stores will sell licorice root as a supplement in pill form, but you can also drink it as a tea.
Yes, we've already said it, but consult your doctor first. Licorice is not a great idea for people with hypertension, kidney issues, or liver disease, for instance, and because it can also mimic the effect of estrogen, you shouldn't use it if you have estrogen-dependent conditions, like certain breast cancers.
2. Chasteberry (Vitex)
Chasteberry — Vitex agnus-castus — is another herb with strong roots in traditional medicine. If you're trying to conceive with PCOS, and especially if you are or are thinking of pursuing assisted reproductive techniques, you won't have been able to miss discussions about Vitex online, and for good reason.
- Vitex helps you achieve a better hormonal balance
- In the process, it helps regulate your menstrual cycle and increase your fertility
- It also combats acne, which many women with PCOS will be very happy to be rid of
You can get Vitex as a dry or liquid supplement, and some women take 20 milligrams three times a day, while others rely on a 40 mg supplement taken every morning.
Cinnamon — Cinnamomum cassia — is more than a tasty ingredient in your kitchen that makes a nice addition to cakes. This common household spice can also assist you in combating insulin resistance, lead to an improvement in the regularity of your menstrual cycles, cause a lighter menstrual flow, and even act as a pain reliever.
It is, again, not safe for everyone. Unlike licorice, which isn't safe for people with high blood pressure, cinnamon is a natural anti-hypertensive, so if you have low blood pressure, steer clear. Its blood-sugar lowering effect also means it could be dangerous for you if you have diabetes.
4. Black cohosh
You'll also definitely have heard of black cohosh if you're trying to conceive. This root has historically been used to treat all sorts of conditions, including:
- Absent, heavy, painful, or prolonged menstrual periods
- As a remedy for postpartum pains
- To stimulate breast milk
- Sore throats
- Kidney problems
As you see, many of these conditions are female-specific, and that is because black cohosh seems to help regulate estrogen levels. That may be a good thing for you, but not always — the prolonged use of black cohosh could lead to a thickened uterine lining, which increases your risk of uterine cancer. Taking too much black cohosh is also dangerous for your liver, and side effects are quite abundant — headaches, vomiting, heart rate problems, and even seizures have all been reported.
5. Tribulus terrestris
Tribulus terrestris is, essentially, a weed in the US, also known as cat's head, devil's eyelashes, puncture vine, and tackweed. This herb may come in handy for you if you are hoping to get pregnant, as research has revealed that it can boost your follicle-stimulating hormone levels (that's FSH). This means you have a better chance of ovulating during each menstrual cycle if you take it. There's always a downside, right? In the case of tribulus terrestris, it's that it can impact your blood sugar levels and blood pressure.
Peony — Paeonia lactiflora — has been found to regulate your hormones by reducing testosterone levels and boosting your progesterone and estrogen levels. This is good news for basically all your PCOS symptoms. Do ask your doctor before taking it, as peony can also reduce the rate at which your blood clots. That means it's not for you if you have a bleeding disorder or if you suffer from heavy menstrual bleeding.
7. Saw Palmetto
Fighting the high androgen levels so characteristic of polycystic ovary syndrome, saw palmetto, or Serenoa repens, is another of those herbal treatments that will definitely be recommended to you if you chat with other PCOS patients online. It works by interfering with the release of the hormone DHT, which many women have too much of because they also have high levels of the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase.
You can buy capsules, but saw palmetto is also available as dried berries. You may want to avoid those because of a taste many find disagreeable, and you'll want to stick to a gram or two a day — if your doctor says it's OK. Be aware that saw palmetto also has anticoagulant properties and that it may stimulate bleeding.