Traditional Chinese Treatments and PCOS



PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, a condition that affects between 5 and 10% of women during childbearing years. PCOS is generally characterized by an imbalance of hormones, with an increase in male sex hormones (androgens), sometimes leading to lack of ovulation in women.

Symptoms of PCOS can consist of some typically “male” physical qualities, such as male pattern baldness and body hair, as well as weight gain. The “cysts” in “polycystic” refers to the follicle in the ovary that matures the egg. The egg partially matures inside the follicle (still connected to the ovary), but then is not released; the follicle is simply re-absorbed into the ovary, sometimes attaching to the ovary as a cyst.

It can lead to challenges with a woman’s mental and physical health, and can also interfere with a woman’s ability to conceive a child, due to lack of ovulation and lack of hormonal support. Weight loss and increased overall physical health will likely help lessen symptoms of PCOS. Otherwise, hormone therapy or more invasive fertility treatments may be required for women who have PCOS.

The above treatments can be expensive and intimidating to a woman contemplating getting pregnant with PCOS. Probably even more intimidating is the thought of trying for months and months with no success in conceiving. Add to this the depression and anxiety that women with PCOS tend to experience, and you have a recipe for a seriously unhappy lady!

With this challenging prognosis, a woman may want to seek out so-called alternative or traditional therapies. Many women have turned to traditional Chinese therapy for help with PCOS.

A popular Chinese herb used in the treatment of PCOS is called Dong Quai. It has been used for thousands of years to treat the female endocrine system, as well as helping to regulate irregular menstrual cycles and help with premenstrual syndrome.  It has been used for so long that it has been called the “female ginseng.”

Since PCOS is often considered to be a chronic or long-term condition, many women would prefer to take herbal supplements for a longer period of time, rather than modern meds. Herbs are considered to have fewer side effects and to be more successful in the long term. Of course, in order for this to be the case, make sure to buy herbal supplements from a traditional Chinese practitioner that you trust, because otherwise herbal supplements may not be pure (as the production and sale of herbs are not regulated).

Other ancient Chinese treatments sought by women with PCOS are acupuncture and acupressure—these treatments are designed to help regulate a woman’s body and to help maintain balance. These are important outcomes, so acupuncture may be a good option for a woman with PCOS. Since it is completely drug-free, it may be your best option for long-term care of PCOS.

All these treatments should be done under the supervision of a doctor, in order to prevent counter-indications. PCOS is a difficult syndrome to live with, and it is worth trying alternative therapies to find relief and success with trying to conceive.

    PCOS and Vitex

    PCOS (Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome) can be a complex and challenging diagnosis. Many women with PCOS are concerned about their chances of conceiving without hormonal or surgical assistance. Some women are concerned about a “short luteal phase,” which is the phase in the menstrual cycle between the mature egg being released and the uterine lining being shed. If women have a short or disrupted luteal phase, that may have an impact on a couple’s ability to conceive. This can be related to PCOS, as in PCOS, a woman often lacks the estrogen to mature the egg and tell it to release from the ovary.

    Some women with these sorts of reproductive challenges look to natural supplements to help with their hormonal balance. One such supplement is called Vitex (or chasteberry), which is a shrub from Greece or Italy. Over the years, the reproductive benefits of Vitex have been catalogued and expounded upon. But does it really work?

    First of all, it’s ironically named, since it was believed to promote chastity among early monks. Funny that it came to be known as a reproductive aid! Vitex has been studied in relation to PMS symptoms, and has shown some promise, although the tests are not considered to be well-designed. It seems that the science is thin, but the anecdotal evidence is plenty for this extract in helping with PMS, as well as with regulating menstrual cycles and helping with fertility.

    The folks who are in favor of using it to help with fertility believe it works by influencing the pituitary gland to regulate reproductive hormones. They believe it can help lengthen the luteal phase, to ensure that a mature egg can be released with enough time for it to be fertilized by a sperm.

    So, where does that leave you? You may want to mention it to your doc; she may have read the research and have an opinion on it. Chances are, your doc will not know about it, as the science is not deemed to be conclusive. You could go see a naturopath, or you could just pick some up at a pharmacy or natural health store. It is recommended that you start with a low dose, since side effects may not be well catalogued or understood.

    Even if it does not work, guess what? If you think it will work, it very well may work for you, my friend! It’s called the placebo effect, and it can be virtually indistinguishable from actual effectiveness. For example, it may help you to be more relaxed and more excited to have sex with your partner. If you do not release an egg to fertilize, it won’t change anything, but if you do, those changes may be the ones that push you over the edge into baby-making territory!

    So good luck, and happy supplementing and conceiving!


    PCOS and Fertility

    Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) can be a complex issue to understand. If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, there are some risks and some challenges for you, but there are also some things you can do to help.

    Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome usually affects a woman’s hormones; she ends up producing too many male sex hormones (androgens), which can cause her to take on some male physical traits, like male pattern baldness, or growing facial hair. Other characteristics of PCOS are acne or oily skin, sleep apnea, and missed periods. Because of the hormonal imbalance, a woman’s fertility is also affected. When a woman without PCOS ovulates, her ovaries build what’s called a follicle, which develops and then releases the egg into the fallopian tube. When a woman has PCOS, the follicle develops partially, but there are not enough hormones to develop the eggs, so the follicle just sort of hangs around in the ovary. Sometimes the unused follicle attaches to the ovary as a cyst, hence the name: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.

    This is obviously a major challenge to women with PCOS who want to conceive: if you don’t ovulate, you can’t get pregnant! So what can you do to increase your chances of getting pregnant?

    Another hormonal component of PCOS is that it affects insulin production. You will likely want to speak to a nutritionist about a healthy, whole food-based, low-carb diet to help control your blood sugar levels and keep your weight in check. It is especially important to maintain a healthy weight in order to help keep reproductive hormones in check. It is difficult as a woman with PCOS, since the hormonal imbalance often encourages weight gain. Your hormones encourage weight gain and your weight gain encourages hormone imbalance—tough spot to be in. Make sure you exercise daily as a means of encouraging hormonal health as well as maintaining an ideal weight.

    If that is not enough to get your cycles back on track and get you on your way toward making a baby, you can try taking fertility meds like Clomid. Clomid (a trade name for a drug called clomifene) works to help your ovaries produce and release eggs. This may be the “missing piece” in your fertility puzzle, although there are some side effects. If the Clomid doesn’t work, there are some more powerful hormonal treatments you can use to increase your chance of ovulation, but the side effects of these are even more intense than with Clomid. Finally, you can try in vitro fertilization (IVF), where several fertilized eggs are implanted into your uterus in the hopes that one or more will implant and grow into a healthy pregnancy. This also carries risks, and is very expensive.

    There are many options to try if you have been diagnosed with PCOS, but they all need to be discussed with your doctor. PCOS used to almost be a death sentence to a woman’s desire to have a baby, but now women have many options to help them conceive!

    The Link Between PCOS and Anxiety

    Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex and somewhat difficult-to-understand diagnosis. In many cases, it’s a “diagnosis of exclusion”—that is to say, if you come to the doc’s office with a series of symptoms and they can’t place all the symptoms (or if tests come back inconclusive for other stuff), they likely will call it the closest “non-testable” diagnosis. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is another such diagnosis. PCOS is fairly common in women of reproductive age, affecting from 5 to 10% of women.

    PCOS also offers a somewhat philosophical experience of “which came first: the chicken or the egg?:” many of the causes of the syndrome are also its effects. Crazy, right? And no fun. For example: PCOS is caused by/causes a hormonal imbalance involving an increase in male sex hormones (androgens). This can cause some male characteristics (male pattern baldness or hairiness on the back or the face), and it is this hormonal imbalance that can cause weight gain, which in turn perpetuates the hormonal imbalance. Excess weight can cause hormonal issues with estrogen and releasing mature eggs, which is (guess what?) a major symptom of PCOS. It hurts the brain, doesn’t it?

    Anxiety is one of those challenges with PCOS. Many folks with PCOS report feeling anxiety and depression, and there are a few causes that could be considered. First are the hormones: those little buggers floating through our bloodstream and all around our body have such a profound connection with our mental state and overall mental health, we haven’t fully even discovered the extent of it. Reproductive hormones are especially powerful in women, and when those are out of balance, life can get really rough emotionally.

    The second cause for anxiety could be some of the effects of the syndrome itself: if you are losing hair on your head and growing hair on your face, you might feel anxious too! This anxiety and depression might lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, in which you don’t go out as often leading you to feel isolated, which leads to more (again…) depression and anxiety. Isn’t this fun?

    One of the only tests for PCOS is to actually study the amounts of the different hormones in your body, but this is only a snapshot, rather than a full image of what’s going on. Still, it is helpful. If this sounds like you, it is definitely worth talking to your doctor about.

    Anxiety may cause weight gain from lack of exercise or poor eating habits. And weight gain is a symptom (or a cause?) of PCOS, which can further exacerbate the hormonal imbalance in your body. When a woman’s body carries too much weight, it can lead to an imbalance of estrogen, causing a potential lack of release of mature eggs from the ovaries. Strangely enough, this is exactly what happens in PCOS!

    So, what can you do to help your body regulate itself? Exercise, eat healthy, and maintain a healthy weight. In addition, for the anxiety, watch funny movies; spend time with cool people, plus all of the above. PCOS can be a challenging thing to live with, but it can be managed.

    Myo-Inositol Can Boost Fertility in Women with PCOS

    So, your doctor diagnosed you with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and the diagnosis explains many of the problems you have been having with your menstrual cycle and inability to get pregnant.

    PCOS affects between 5 and 10 percent of women of child bearing age. A major symptom of this syndrome includes lack of a period or irregular periods. If you are trying to get pregnant, this a problem. The inability to figure out if and when you will ovulate makes timing sex, for getting pregnant, quite challenging.

    Doctors will routinely suggest Clomid to help induce ovulation, but there may be a more natural option to try before you go that route.

    Studies have show that myo-inositol can have a positive, baby-making friendly, affect on women with PCOS. There are many studies done on pcos and myo-inositol and one, in particular, has shown amazing results.

    In this particular study, 88% of the study participants had at least one normal menstrual cycle and 72% of those women maintained normal ovulation, after the study. 40% of study participants achieved pregnancy during the 6 month study.

    PregnitudeThose results are outstanding for women who have been trying, unsuccessfully, to get pregnant on their own.

    In addition to the fertility enhancing benefits, the studies have shown that myo-inositol can help decrease BMI (weight) and testosterone and insulin levels.

    BabyHopes newest product offering, Pregnitude, has the recommended dosage on myo-inositol in it, as well as 200 mcg of folic acid. The feedback in the online ttc communities has been favorable, though it doesn’t appear to work for everyone who has PCOS. Be sure to talk to your doctor before you decide to add Pregnitude to you fertility boosting arsenal.

    Have you tried Pregnitude? Did it work for you? We would love to hear about your experience!

    The Best Exercises for PCOS

    We know that exercise is good for us. Studies have consistently shown that moderate exercise can help women conceive. Women with PCOS can benefit from exercise in a variety of ways.

    First, the weight loss which generally accompanies regular exercise can help regulate our ovulation cycle. Exercise has also been shown to help control insulin levels. This is especially important for women with PCOS, whose bodies tend to be insulin resistant. Exercise can also use up androgens like testosterone, which can hinder fertility.

    All exercises are not created equal, however. There are some kinds of exercises which are more beneficial than others for women with PCOS. Some of the best exercises for managing the symptoms of PCOS and promoting fertility include:

    • Free weight training. Using free weights burns up androgens. It also engages your peripheral muscles better than using weight lifting machines.
    • Circuit training. While not as good for you as lifting free weights, weight machines are still beneficial if used properly. To get maximum benefits, find a trainer who is familiar with PCOS and can help you get the most out of circuit training.
    • Isometric exercise. Isometric exercises like pushups, lunges and squats are great for those who don’t want to invest in a gym membership of weight equipment. Lunges and squats are particularly beneficial to those with PCOS.
    • Cardio. Any exercise that gets you up and moving (aerobics, walking, jogging, etc.) can be helpful in managing PCOS symptoms. Stay away from cycling if you’re trying to get pregnant, and keep your exercise at a moderate level. Studies show that intense exercise, while great for weight loss, building endurance, and body sculpting, can work against you when trying to conceive.

    It’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen. This is doubly true if your intention is to manage your PCOS symptoms. Your doctor may have additional advice specific to your situation which you will want to consider.

    It’s also worth noting that adding exercise is not a substitute for eating a healthy diet or any medication your doctor may have prescribed. Even so, the right exercise can play an important part in managing your PCOS symptoms and promoting fertility.