PCOS Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

What is PCOS? 

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder that affects people with ovaries, typically during their reproductive years. It is characterized by a combination of symptoms and hormonal imbalances, which can vary in severity from person to person. PCOS can have a significant impact on a person’s overall health and fertility.

What are the symptoms of PCOS? 

Ovulatory Dysfunction: One of the primary characteristics of PCOS is irregular or absent ovulation (anovulation). Ovulation is the process by which an egg is released from the ovaries, and in PCOS, this process may not occur regularly or at all. This can lead to irregular menstrual cycles or the absence of menstruation (amenorrhea).

Hyperandrogenism: People with PCOS often have higher levels of androgens, which are male hormones like testosterone. This can lead to symptoms such as hirsutism (excessive hair growth in areas where males typically grow hair, like the face and chest), acne, and male-pattern baldness.

Polycystic Ovaries: On ultrasound imaging, the ovaries of individuals with PCOS may appear enlarged and contain small, fluid-filled sacs called cysts. These cysts are immature follicles that have not developed properly due to hormonal imbalances.

Menstrual Irregularities: PCOS can result in irregular menstrual periods, heavy bleeding, or no menstruation at all. This can make it challenging for individuals with PCOS to predict their cycles and can also impact their fertility.

Insulin Resistance: Many individuals with PCOS also have insulin resistance, which means their bodies do not respond well to the hormone insulin, leading to elevated levels of insulin in the blood. This can contribute to weight gain and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Weight Gain: Obesity and PCOS are often linked. Excess weight can exacerbate PCOS symptoms, and PCOS itself can make it more challenging to lose weight.

Fertility Issues: Due to irregular ovulation, many individuals with PCOS may struggle with fertility. However, with appropriate medical intervention, such as medication to induce ovulation, many can still conceive.

Metabolic Complications: PCOS is associated with an increased risk of various metabolic complications, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.

What are the causes of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome? 

The exact cause of PCOS is not fully understood, but it is believed to be a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors. Diagnosis typically involves a thorough medical history, physical examination, blood tests to assess hormone levels, and sometimes imaging (such as ultrasound) to evaluate the ovaries.

What are treatments for PCOS? 

Medical treatment for PCOS is tailored to an individual’s specific symptoms and goals. It may include lifestyle changes (such as weight management through diet and exercise), hormonal medications (like birth control pills to regulate menstrual cycles or anti-androgens to manage hirsutism), and fertility treatments. Additionally, managing insulin resistance through medication and lifestyle changes is also important in some cases.

Chinese Medicine (CM) offers several herbal medicine strategies that may be used to address PCOS. Please note that it’s important to consult with a qualified CM practitioner or healthcare provider before starting any herbal treatment, as individual cases can vary, and a personalised approach is essential for better outcomes. Also, CM works best when individual herbs are prescribed as CM formulations, they are more balanced as each herb has a specific role in the prescription.

Here are some common (unspecific) Chinese herbal medicine strategies for PCOS:

Regulating Menstrual Cycle:

Chuanxiong (Ligusticum chuanxiong)

Dang Gui (Angelica sinensis)

Bai Shao (Paeonia lactiflora)

Tu Si Zi (Cuscuta chinensis)

Xiang Fu (Cyperus rotundus)

Yi Mu Cao (Leonurus heterophyllus)

Clearing Dampness and Phlegm:

Huang Bai (Phellodendron amurense)

Ze Xie (Alisma plantago-aquatica)

Fu Ling (Poria cocos)

Chen Pi (Citrus reticulata)

Ban Xia (Pinellia ternate)

Reducing Androgens:

Di Huang (Rehmannia glutinosa)

Zi Cao (Arnebia euchroma)

Shan Yao (Dioscorea opposita)

Sheng Ma (Cimicifuga foetida)

Wu Wei Zi (Schisandra chinensis)

Enhancing Insulin Sensitivity:

Huang Qi (Astragalus membranaceus)

Ku Shen (Sophora flavescens)

Shan Zha (Crataegus pinnatifida)

Improving Blood Circulation:

Hong Hua (Carthamus tinctorius)

Yan Hu Suo (Corydalis yanhusuo)

Dan Shen (Salvia miltiorrhiza)

Chuan Xiong (Ligusticum wallichii)

Stress Reduction:

Bai He (Lilium brownii)

Suan Zao Ren (Ziziphus jujuba)

Long Yan Rou (Longan fruit)

Kidney Tonic Herbs:

Shan Yao (Dioscorea opposita)

Shu Di Huang (Rehmannia glutinosa)

Lu Rong (Deer Antler Velvet)

Liver Qi Regulation:

Chai Hu (Bupleurum chinense)

Bai Shao (Paeonia lactiflora)

Xiang Fu (Cyperus rotundus)

It’s important to remember that CM treatments are highly individualised, and a CM practitioner will consider your specific symptoms, body constitution, current medication, treatment goals and overall health before prescribing any herbal remedies. Additionally, CM may be used in conjunction with dietary and lifestyle changes to effectively manage PCOS. Often acupuncture will be used to support an individual with PCOS too. It is advantageous to consult a registered and qualified Chinese medicine practitioner before starting any new treatment regimen.

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