PCOS – an Environmentally-Rooted Condition
PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, is a complex hormonal disorder that affects up to 10% of women of reproductive age worldwide. PCOS is often associated with chronic, low-grade inflammation, ovarian dysfunction (including multiple cysts in the ovaries), and excess androgen production.
This complicated condition is characterized by hormonal imbalances that can cause a range of symptoms, including diminished production of sexual hormones, hirsutism (excess hair growth), irregular and painful menstrual cycles, amenorrhea, or anovulation which is commonly associated with infertility. PCOS is also characterized by multiple metabolic issues such as insulin resistance, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. This results not only in a compromised quality of life, but also a significant risk in developing diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
Symptoms can appear gradually and include irregular periods, weight gain, excess hair growth, acne, and infertility. Not all women with PCOS experience all of these symptoms, and the severity of symptoms can vary. PCOS can be diagnosed by a healthcare provider through physical exams, medical history, and lab tests to check hormone levels, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels.
The exact cause of PCOS is not yet fully understood, but both genetic and environmental factors are thought to play a role in its development. Some environmental factors that have been associated with higher rates of PCOS include:
- High Body Mass Index (BMI): BMI is a person’s weight in kilograms (or pounds) divided by the square of height in meters (or feet). A BMI greater than 25 is categorized as overweight and a BMI of 30+ categorized as obese. Obesity is strongly associated with PCOS. Women who are overweight are more likely to develop PCOS, and weight loss can help improve symptoms.
- Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance is common in women with PCOS. High insulin levels can lead to the production of excess androgens, which can cause symptoms such as excess hair growth and acne.
- Environmental toxins: Some studies have suggested that exposure to environmental toxins such as Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates may be associated with an increased risk of PCOS.
- Sedentary lifestyle: Lack of physical activity has been associated with higher rates of PCOS.
- Nutritional factors: Some research suggests that low vitamin D levels and a high intake of unhealthy fats and processed foods may be associated with an increased risk of PCOS.
PCOS – The Struggle is Real
As wellness providers, you know firsthand the challenges and frustrations that women with PCOS face each day. From menstrual irregularities and excess hair growth to acne and weight gain, the symptoms of PCOS can be both physically and emotionally debilitating. And as we mentioned already – PCOS can lead to insulin resistance, high cholesterol, and mood disorders, including depression and anxiety.
These symptoms can have a profound impact on women's quality of life, affecting everything from their relationships and careers to their self-esteem and overall wellbeing. Women with PCOS may struggle with infertility, which can add an extra layer of stress and disappointment. They may also be at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other health complications.
Despite these challenges, traditional prescription-based treatments for PCOS often fall short. Women with PCOS may experience side effects from hormonal contraceptives, insulin-sensitizing medications, and anti-androgen drugs, and these treatments may not address the underlying hormonal imbalances that contribute to PCOS symptoms.
As wellness providers, it's important to acknowledge the limitations of traditional treatments and to explore more effective and sustainable treatment options for PCOS. Natural, non-prescription-oriented approaches to PCOS management that emphasize a mind-body-spirit approach to healing can be a powerful tool in helping women manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Throughout this blog post, we will deep dive into the complexities of PCOS as well as some natural approaches, including herbal remedies, lifestyle modifications, and mind-body therapies, and highlight their potential benefits for women with PCOS.
Chemicals of Convenience Create Chaos for Health
Globalization has unleashed an onslaught of manmade chemicals that bioaccumulate in our environments as well as our bodies, causing harm to ecosystem and body system imbalance. While PCOS is multi-factorial, increasing evidence suggests that the ongoing exposure to chemicals that seem to literally coat everything we touch or put on our bodies, are creating a burden that is difficult for the body to unload.
A systematic review that examined the correlation of PCOS and endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), chemicals that can interfere with the body's hormonal balance, reported that these persistent chemicals can cause physical and functional changes to female reproductive systems which can result in infertility, irregular menstrual cycles, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, earl-onset puberty, gynecological cancers and PCOS. Some of the most studied endocrine disruptors in relation to PCOS include:
- Bisphenol A (BPA): This chemical is found in plastic containers, food can linings, and thermal receipt paper. BPA has been shown to disrupt ovarian function, leading to hormone imbalances, and potentially contributing to the development of PCOS.
- Phthalates: These chemicals are commonly found in personal care products, such as lotions, shampoos, and fragrances. They have been linked to insulin resistance, weight gain, and hormonal imbalances, all of which are common features of PCOS.
- Organochlorine pesticides: These pesticides have been shown to disrupt ovarian function and hormone levels, potentially contributing to the development of PCOS. They are commonly used in agriculture and can be found in the food supply.
Overall, while more research is needed to fully understand the link between environmental toxins and PCOS, studies suggest that reducing exposure to endocrine disruptors may be an important part of managing and preventing PCOS.
BPA – the King of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
BPA is one of the most abundant chemicals produced worldwide and one of the most extensively studied EDCs. BPA has been used as a plasticizer since the 1950s and is commonly found in plastic packaging materials and bottles, inner lining of canned goods, housewares, toys, and even thermal printed receipts. Because of the ubiquitous nature of this chemical, BPA is detectable in dust, air, and water supplies. Due to constant exposure rates, BPA is detectable in urine, saliva, breastmilk, and even amniotic fluid.
In 2011, the EU banned the use of BPAs in plastic baby bottles and sippy cups. In the U.S., more than 30 states and local government have brought in policies restricting the production, use, and distribution of BPA. Only seventeen states in the U.S. have banned the use of BPA and its analogs primarily from baby bottles, sippy cups and reusable food and beverage containers. Since the 1950s, the use of BPA in the lid lining of canned goods continues to be standard practice. It is no surprise that there is a proven association between the environmental persistence of BPA and its effects on the endocrine system, which result in reproductive and metabolic complications.
Because of its structural similarities to human sex hormones, BPA acts as a synthetic sex hormone and binds to hormone receptors, disrupting hormone balance, and causing atypical estrogenic, antiestrogenic, androgenic and antiandrogenic effects, all of which can be related to PCOS-like syndromes. Research indicates that BPAs displace sex steroids from sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which results in high levels of free testosterone. Furthermore, BPA directly stimulates androgen (testosterone) production while inhibiting enzymes needed for testosterone to be utilized. Elevated BPA levels in urine and blood impair the ability of the liver to detox BPAs and moreover, are associated with anovulation and consequently, infertility.
Additionally, women with PCOS who had high BPA levels, also had significantly higher insulin levels, regardless of body weight, when compared to women with PCOS and low-BPA levels. Vitamin D deficiency appears to be prevalent among women with PCOS and may possibly be associated with metabolic-related challenges with PCOS.
Standard of Care Offers Substandard Solutions
While there are prescription-based treatments available for PCOS, such as hormonal contraceptives, insulin-sensitizing medications, and anti-androgen drugs, these treatments have limitations and potential side effects. Hormonal contraceptives or birth control pills, for example, may be effective in regulating menstrual cycles and reducing excess hair growth, but they may also increase the risk of blood clots and cardiovascular disease. Insulin-sensitizing medications, such as metformin, may be effective in improving insulin resistance and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, but they may also cause gastrointestinal side effects. Anti-androgen drugs, such as spironolactone, may be effective in reducing acne and excess hair growth, but they may also cause breast tenderness and menstrual irregularities. As such, there is a need for holistic, non-prescription-oriented treatment options that address the underlying hormonal imbalances and promote healing from within without significant adverse effects.
PCOS - Complex Conditions Require Comprehensive Support
As we discussed in the previous section, traditional prescription-based treatments for PCOS may not be effective for everyone, and they may come with unwanted side effects.
PCOS is a complex hormonal disorder that requires a holistic approach to management. Natural, non-prescription-oriented approaches can be particularly effective in addressing the root causes of PCOS and managing its symptoms. This includes paying particular attention to eliminating exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs). This includes agricultural and industrial pollutants such as pesticides, herbicides, bisphenol A (BPA).
Practitioners and their clients may benefit from additional resources that provide current information on the consumer safety of products and produce that contain harmful endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit that focuses on consumer-safety and advocacy The EWG conducts and publishes annual research on the prevalence of modern-made contaminants (like skin care products and pesticides) in an effort to reduce excessive exposure to produce items and skin care products that we should consider steering clear of. PRL encourages its practitioners to stay committed to educating their clients about free, annually updated resources, such as the EWG’s Consumer Guides for choosing the least toxic sunscreens, cosmetics and produce items, which is updated annually based on current data.
Medicinal Plant Allies for PCOS
One of the most effective natural treatments for PCOS is the use of medicinal herbs that have been studied for their potential benefits for women with this condition. Research indicates that medicinal plants may offer support to balance hormones, regulate menstrual cycles, improve insulin sensitivity, support detoxification pathways, as well as naturally reduce testosterone levels with plant-derived anti-androgens which do not have the harsh side effects associated with typical allopathic medication protocols.
Medicinal plants that have been studied for managing symptoms of PCOS include:
1. Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia): Cinnamon is a spice that has a long history of use in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for its anti-inflammatory and insulin-sensitizing properties. Research indicates that cinnamon may improve both the reproductive and metabolic aspects of PCOS. A randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2014 found that supplementing with cinnamon capsules for 8 weeks improved insulin sensitivity and menstrual cycle regularity as well as lowered cholesterol levels in women with PCOS. Additionally, evidence suggests that cinnamon has natural anti-androgenic effects which are mediated by the downregulation blood levels of insulin, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), and testosterone.
2. Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus): Chasteberry, also known as vitex, is an herbal remedy that has been traditionally used to manage hormonal imbalances and improve fertility in women. It has been studied for its potential benefits in managing symptoms of PCOS, and some women with PCOS have reported improvements in menstrual regularity, acne, and hirsutism (vitex is a natural anti-androgen), as well as ovulation cycles.
3. Turmeric (Curcuma longa): a powerful anti-inflammatory herb, may also be helpful in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Studies have shown that curcumin may improve insulin sensitivity, which can help regulate menstrual cycles, reduce androgen levels, and improve metabolic markers in women with PCOS.A randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation in 2016 found that supplementing with curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, for 12 weeks improved insulin sensitivity as well as menstrual cycle regularity in women with PCOS. Curcumin has been shown to have antidepressant effects, which may help improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression in women with PCOS.
4. Saw palmetto berry (Serenoa repens): Saw palmetto berry is commonly used as an herbal remedy for urinary symptoms related to benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) in men. However, it has also been studied for its anti-androgenic effects and may be beneficial for women with PCOS. A randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences in 2011 found that saw palmetto extract was effective in reducing hirsutism (excess hair growth) and blood levels of free testosterone levels in women with PCOS.
5. Spearmint (Mentha spicata): Spearmint tea is loaded with aromatic antioxidant compounds as has been studied for its anti-androgenic effects in women with PCOS. A randomized controlled trial published in the Journal Phytotherapy Research in 2010 found that drinking spearmint tea twice a day for one month significantly reduced free testosterone levels, reduced number of ovarian cysts and improved hirsutism. Additionally, daily consumption of spearmint tea over a 2-week period appears to have antidiabetic potential, stimulating pancreatic beta cells to improve glucose utilization, thus reducing serum blood sugar levels as well as cholesterol levels, though human trials are needed.
6. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Chronic inflammation is common in women with PCOS and may contribute to insulin resistance and other metabolic abnormalities. Licorice root has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, which may help reduce inflammation and improve metabolic function in women with PCOS. Licorice root contains compounds called glycyrrhizin and flavonoids, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-androgenic, and insulin-sensitizing effects, all of which may be beneficial for women with PCOS. By improving insulin sensitivity, licorice root may help regulate menstrual cycles, reduce androgen levels, and improve other metabolic markers in women with PCOS.
*It's important to note that while licorice root may be a helpful natural remedy for some women with PCOS, it may not be appropriate for everyone. Licorice root can have interactions with certain medications, and may cause side effects in some people, such as high blood pressure, potassium loss, and electrolyte imbalances. Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications should consult with a healthcare provider before using licorice root.
It is important to note that while these plants and herbs have shown promise in reducing androgen levels and managing symptoms of PCOS, more research is needed to fully understand their effectiveness and safety.
Stay Motivated, Positive and Adaptive
In addition to using herbal remedies and reducing BPA exposure, lifestyle modifications are an important aspect of PCOS management. Exercise, for example, can help improve insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation, and promote weight loss.
Stress management techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, are likely to reduce cortisol levels and improve hormonal balance. Dietary changes, such as reducing sugar and processed food intake, increasing fiber and protein intake, and incorporating healthy fats, can also be helpful in improving insulin sensitivity and reducing inflammation.
Mind-body therapies, such as yoga, acupuncture, and QRA, can also be effective in reducing stress and promoting hormonal balance in women with PCOS. Yoga, for example, can help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce cortisol levels, while acupuncture can help regulate menstrual cycles and reduce stress. QRA, as a kinesiology-based assessment method, can help identify underlying imbalances in the body's energy systems that may be contributing to the development and progression of PCOS. By addressing these imbalances through dietary changes, and other natural therapies, QRA practitioners can help promote healing and improve overall health and wellbeing.
As wellness providers, it's important to incorporate these natural, non-prescription-oriented approaches and QRA into your PCOS treatment protocols.
Clear Out the Chemicals
If you have clients with PCOS or are concerned about limiting BPA exposure, consider the following steps to help them reduce exposure:
- Look for BPA-free products, especially canned foods and reduce overall consumption of canned foods otherwise.
- Limit exposure to plastics. If you use plastic storage containers for foods, avoid those marked with recycle codes 3 or 7, which contain BPA.
- Avoid heat. Do not put plastic containers in the microwave or dishwasher. The heat breaks down the plastics, allowing BPA to leach into foods. Same goes with Styrofoam; never drink warm liquids from Styrofoam. Talk about a chemical soup…
- Use alternatives, such as glass, porcelain, or stainless-steel containers for hot foods and liquids instead of plastic containers.
- Choose fresh, whole foods instead of canned or preservative-rich frozen or premade foods.
- Consider detoxification and antioxidant support like roasted dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) root tea, as well as a liver support formulation that includes milk thistle (Silybum marianum) seed.
- Sweat it out! Research shows that BPA is excreted in sweat—exercise, sauna therapy, and adequate water intake can support this detoxification pathway.
PCOS – Practitioner Support is Pivotal
PCOS is a complex hormonal disorder that can be difficult to manage with traditional treatment methods. Prescription-based treatments have limitations and potential side effects, and they may not address the underlying hormonal imbalances that contribute to PCOS symptoms. It is important to note that PCOS is a complex condition that can have both physical and emotional impacts on individuals who have it. Women with PCOS may benefit from working closely with their healthcare provider to manage their symptoms and improve their overall health and wellbeing. As wellness providers, it's important to explore natural, non-prescription-oriented approaches to PCOS management that emphasize a mind-body-spirit approach to healing.
In this blog post, we have discussed the potential benefits of herbal remedies, lifestyle modifications, and mind-body therapies for managing symptoms of PCOS. We have also highlighted the importance of taking an individualized, patient-centered approach to PCOS management that considers each patient's unique needs and preferences, and that emphasizes collaboration, open communication, and informed decision-making. Additionally, we have introduced QRA as a complementary approach to PCOS management that can help identify underlying imbalances and promote healing through dietary changes and natural therapies.
As wellness practitioners, you have the power to help women with PCOS achieve better health and wellbeing through natural, non-prescription-oriented approaches. Here are some actionable steps you can take to incorporate these approaches into your practice:
- Encourage patients to incorporate herbal remedies, lifestyle modifications, and mind-body therapies into their daily routines.
- Provide education and resources on healthy eating, exercise, stress management, and other lifestyle modifications that can benefit women with PCOS.
- Stay informed about the latest research on natural remedies, lifestyle modifications, and mind-body therapies for PCOS, and incorporate this knowledge into your treatment plans.
- Take an individualized, patient-centered approach to PCOS management that considers each patient's unique needs and preferences, and that emphasizes collaboration, open communication, and informed decision-making. Seek out training and certification in areas such as herbal medicine, mind-body therapies, and QRA to enhance your knowledge and skills.
- Share your knowledge and experience with other healthcare providers, policymakers, and the general public to raise awareness of the benefits of natural, non-prescription-oriented approaches to PCOS management.
By taking these steps, you can empower women with PCOS to take control of their health and wellbeing, and to live their best lives. Remember to approach PCOS management from a patient-centered, collaborative perspective, incorporating natural remedies, lifestyle modifications, and QRA into your treatment plans. Together, we can promote a more holistic, integrative approach to women's health that emphasizes prevention, wellness, and self-care.
· PCOS Symptoms. PCOS Awareness. Available at: https://www.pcosaa.org/pcos-symptoms
· A Review on Phytomedicine and Their Mechanism of Action on PCOS. Available at: 3170_pdf.pdf (ijcrr.com)
· Polycystic ovaries and herbal remedies: A systematic review. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35916457/
· Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11154-016-9326-7
· Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Endocrine Disruptors (Bisphenols, Parabens, and Triclosan)—A Systematic Review. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36676087/
· What is BPA, and what are the concerns about BPA? Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/bpa/faq-20058331
· An Update on Plant Derived Anti-Androgens. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23843810/
Q: What is the article about?
A: The article is about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), its causes, and natural solutions to manage the condition.
Q: What is PCOS?
A: PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age. It is characterized by the presence of multiple cysts on the ovaries and a range of symptoms such as irregular periods, acne, and weight gain.
Q: What are the root causes of PCOS?
A: The root causes of PCOS include insulin resistance, inflammation, and hormonal imbalances such as high levels of androgens and low levels of estrogen.
Q: What are the natural solutions for managing PCOS?
A: Natural solutions for managing PCOS include dietary changes such as reducing sugar intake, increasing fiber intake, and consuming anti-inflammatory foods. Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, stress management, and adequate sleep are also important. Additionally, supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and probiotics may be beneficial.
Q: Can natural solutions replace medical treatment for PCOS?
A: While natural solutions may be helpful in managing PCOS, they should not replace medical treatment. It is important to work with a healthcare provider to develop a comprehensive treatment plan.
Q: How does insulin resistance contribute to PCOS?
A: Insulin resistance can lead to high levels of insulin in the body, which can stimulate the ovaries to produce more androgens. This can contribute to hormonal imbalances and the development of PCOS.
Q: What are some anti-inflammatory foods that may be beneficial for managing PCOS?
A: Anti-inflammatory foods that may be beneficial for managing PCOS include leafy greens, berries, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds.
Q: How can stress management help with PCOS?
A: Stress management can help with PCOS by reducing cortisol levels, which can contribute to hormonal imbalances. Practices such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can be helpful.
Q: Are there any supplements that may be helpful for managing PCOS?
A: Supplements that may be helpful for managing PCOS include omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, probiotics, and inositol.
Q: Is there a cure for PCOS?
A: There is no cure for PCOS, but it can be managed with a combination of medical treatment and lifestyle changes.