Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that’s thought to impact around 1 in 10 women. Its effects can vary from woman to woman, but symptoms generally include irregular periods, weight gain and excessive hair growth.
Knowledge and research on PCOS has its limitations, and can be incredibly frustrating for those living with the condition. One common line of treatment for women with PCOS is the contraceptive pill. While this can help to regulate periods and ease symptoms, many women find that this simply masks the problem, with symptoms returning with a vengeance once they stop taking the pill.
Here to explain some of the natural ways to support PCOS is Chantal Perkins, a naturopath and medical herbalist at Healing Herbs Holistic Therapies.
It’s important to remember that these suggestions won’t work for everyone and are only intended as a general guide for remedies that may help to alleviate symptoms. Any herbs mentioned in this article are not recommended to be taken during pregnancy. Please consult a professional trained herbalist before taking any herbal remedies.
Support your liver
Our liver is constantly working to remove toxins from our body. These toxins include ones from external sources, as well as those made by the body - hormones included. In PCOS, it’s an imbalance of hormones that’s often associated with symptoms. By supporting your liver, you give your body a better chance of regulating your hormones.
“Diet plays a massive part in regulating the symptoms of PCOS,” explains Chantal. “Reducing carbohydrates may help. Eating more fibre-rich food can also have a beneficial effect as it helps to support the liver and balances hormones."
Plants are a fantastic source of fibre - fruit, vegetables, legumes and wholegrain all count towards your intake. By eating more fibre, it keeps your digestive system and its surrounding organs (liver included) happy.
Herbs to support your liver
There are also a number of herbs that can help to support the liver. Dandelion root is often considered a liver tonic, supporting the liver in detoxifying. It also helps to aid digestion by increasing the flow of digestive juices.
“Milk thistle and burdock are also good for supporting the liver,” says Chantal. “These - along with dandelion root - are perhaps my ultimate detox herbs.”
Milk thistle works as an antioxidant, helping to decrease damaging free radicals in the liver. It also helps to keep the cells of the liver healthy too. Similarly, burdock supports the liver in its work and can help to improve digestion too.
Balance your blood sugar
Studies suggest that many women with PCOS also struggle with insulin resistance. Insulin is produced by the pancreas to control the amount of sugar in the blood. If your body is resistant to insulin, your pancreas has to produce more to get the same effect. This excess insulin can in turn cause too much of our other hormones - testosterone included - to be produced. This hormone imbalance can potentially go on to cause the symptoms that we associate with PCOS.
“One of the most important treatment strategies for PCOS is to balance the blood sugar,” says Chantal.
Along with eating regular healthy meals and cutting down on sweet treats, there are a number of herbs that can help to stabilise your blood sugar.
“Things like cinnamon, nettle and dandelion root can help,” explains Chantal.
Cinnamon is a regular in our kitchens - especially during the winter months - but it also helps to support our digestion too. It’s thought to enhance how effective insulin is.
Nettle also has a role in supporting our digestive system. It has a hypoglycaemic action, meaning it helps to reduce blood sugar.
Help your hormones
With our hormones in such a delicate balance, it’s important we pay them attention when it comes to finding natural remedies for PCOS.
Endocrine disruptors are increasingly gaining attention when it comes to our hormonal health. These are chemicals - either natural or man-made - that have the ability to mimic or interfere with the action of our hormones. They can be found just about anywhere, from the food we eat to the body lotions we put on our skin.
While it can be impossible to completely avoid these disruptive chemicals all of the time, reducing your exposure to them can help to balance your hormones and potentially decrease the likelihood of PCOS symptoms.
“Avoiding external sources of hormones - like meat and dairy - in your diet can be a good place to start with PCOS,” says Chantal. “Household cleaners can also have an effect, so it can be worth taking the time to research safer options.”
Herbs to support your hormones
A number of herbs can help to support hormone function.
“Liquorice has an oestrogenic effect,” says Chantal. “This means it has a similar effect to oestrogen. It’s useful for PCOS and absent periods. Things that are oestrogenic are generally good for PCOS.”
Chaste berry is another herb that can be incredibly supportive for PCOS and women’s health in general. Chaste berry is thought to lead to an increase in progesterone production - a hormone that works to regulate the menstrual cycle.
“Chaste berry is an all-round hormone balancer,” explains Chantal. “It works to regulate the pituitary gland and as a result can be good for conditions like PCOS and endometriosis. It’s also good for infertility and absent periods.”
Chantal has had a lifelong passion for nature. As she grew older, she became curious as to how a connection with nature could help to treat illness in the body and mind. Chantal read about herbs, essential oils and different healing energies, before training in reflexology.
This was closely followed by training as a Crystal Therapist, Reiki Master, LUXOR Light practitioner and eventually completing a degree in Herbal Medicine.