Healing PCOS Naturally
Can I tell you a secret? PCOS is not a life sentence of hormonal chaos or an “infertility” diagnosis. It’s actually really responsive to solutions that center around dietary and lifestyle changes while also addressing any underlying psychoemotional causes.
Yin, Yang and the Ovaries
First we need to understand a bit more about how the ovaries work and what is normal and optimal when it comes to ovulation.
There can be a lot of confusion around cysts because the medical paradigm has trained us to associate cyst with a problem. Not all cysts are problematic, some are functional and normal. That is true if they result in healthy, robust ovulation and then resolve within that same cycle.
However, a cyst that is causing pain, irregular cycles, spotting or bloating and digestive changes is not NORMAL. And while it may resolve on its own over time. There are many ways to support this healing process.
Cysts offer a really clear understanding of how Yin and Yang interplay through the ovulatory cycle. A cyst is a normal part of a healthy cycle when the excess Yin of the growing fluid filled sac eventually transforms into Yang when the fluid pushes the mature egg out of the follicle.
What remains becomes the corpus luteum and produces progesterone for us. Much of this process comes down to vitality at the cellular level.
When this process is disrupted or ovulation isn’t happening normally, there are many types of ovarian cysts that can develop: functional cysts, endometriomas (chocolate cysts), dermoid cysts, corpus luteum cysts, follicular cysts.
Regardless of what kind of cyst it is, it’s rooted in a disequilibrium between Yin and Yang and the accumulation of fluid, which is Dampness according to Chinese medicine.
Chinese Medicine and Dampness
Dampness is very common in western centric cultures. It’s the result of not tending to the Inner Earth element of the Spleen and Stomach. These organ systems (and their meridians) support digestion of food and life.
We’re in a culture that often under consumes foods that are nutrient dense and over consumes news, ideas and media. Our Spleens cannot keep up! Dampness is the result of a burdened Spleen or digestive system. This Dampness is as much psychological as it is physiological.
While Dampness may be generated in the middle portion of the body (the gut, referred to as the middle burner in Chinese Medicine), it’s heavy and tends to move downward in the pelvis and legs. This is why so many women’s health issues are the result of Dampness accumulating in the womb or pelvic space.
We resolve Dampness by tending to gut healing, not just what you’re eating but also how. With PCOS, Dampness is a big factor to address for healing.
The Basics of PCOS
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is the most commonly diagnosed endocrine dysfunction of women in their reproductive years.
PCOS is a metabolic condition, rooted in endocrine dysfunction at the level of how your body manages resources. It is also rooted in how your brain is (or isn’t!) communicating with the ovaries.
This leads to irregular ovulation and hormone dysregulation. With PCOS, you often see elevated androgens, a high ratio of LH : FSH, insulin resistance and anovulation.
PCOS is about a lot more than having ovaries with multiple undeveloped follicular cysts.
Symptoms can include:
- Irregular ovulation
- Anovulatory cycles
- Pelvic pain
- Irregular bleeding
- Painful periods
- Hirsutism or hair loss
- Bloating or digestive changes
- Excess estrogen symptoms like excessive PMS or fibrocystic breast tissue
- Lack of periods
- Ovarian cysts
So what is underneath this hormonal dysfunction?
There is no one root cause to PCOS. Instead there is a root network, or vast ecosystem, that requires tending to heal in a sustainable way.
First let’s discuss the physiology underneath PCOS and then we’ll get into the Chinese medicine point of view.
Common roots that need tending when addressing PCOS are:
- Insulin resistance (blood sugar regulation)
- Gut health and microbiome resilience
- HPO (hypothalamus pituitary ovarian) axis dysfunction
It’s essential to understand that PCOS is an expression of neuroendocrine dysfunction. It’s quite literally an issue with the pulse frequency of gonadotropin releasing hormone activated in the hypothalamus. With this understanding, you can see that the areas that need the most support for healing PCOS are: the brain and nervous system, the gut and microbiome, the liver and of course the ovaries.
Understanding the Chinese Medicine POV
As mentioned above, Dampness is always a factor when it comes to PCOS. However, it is a manifestation of an underlying issue, often referred to as a pattern in Chinese Medicine. The most common underlying pattern associated with PCOS is a Kidney deficiency.
The Kidneys govern our reproductive life cycles. They also support the Yang of our digestive systems - aka our metabolism and digestive capacity for food and life.
With PCOS often Kidney Yang is the underlying deficiency. This includes the common symptoms of PCOS but also includes:
- Fatigue and tiredness in the limbs
- A pale, puffy or swollen tongue
- Feeling cold
- Low appetite
- Scanty, pale red flow with menstruation
Less commonly, Kidney Yin deficiency can be the underlying pattern. This pattern is more likely to develop from chronic stress and includes:
- Feeling tired but wired
- Trouble staying asleep
- Night sweating
- Red, dry or thin tongue
- Small blood clots with menstruation
Both of these underlying patterns can contribute to Dampness and Blood and Qi stagnation, which is what creates a lot of the symptoms of PCOS like cysts, pain, irregular cycles etc.
5 Step Healing Process
When it comes to healing PCOS, taking a truly holistic approach that mitigates symptoms and addresses the underlying root causes is the way to create long term hormonal resilience.
Here are the 5 steps you can keep in mind when starting your own healing process
ROOTS - Understand your cycle and your hormonal physiology to identify your root cause patterns
NOURISH - Heal your gut, nourish your womb
REGULATE - Regulate your blood sugar, sleep and nervous system
LIBERATE - Free yourself from Liver stagnation, stress and endocrine disruptors
INTEGRATE - Integrate your Womb Heart axis (brain-ovarian connection), embodied sexuality and clear emotional stagnation
These are all essential; however, depending on your needs you may need to focus on one area more than others. For example, you may want to start by prioritizing blood sugar regulation and sleep if you know those are areas where you struggle.
If you’re ready to do that here’s how to get started:
Stop intermittent fasting, including skipping breakfast, working out before eating in the morning and drinking coffee on an empty stomach. Intermittent fasting may give you the perception of “boosting” your metabolism short term but long term it’s sure to lead to burning through your Yin (minerals) and affecting Yang, which is often already an issue with PCOS.
Another essential piece to heal PCOS is to remove endocrine disrupting chemicals in your environment - you don’t have to do this obsessively but you do have to start! Improving your neuroendocrine function relies on clear signaling.
To further support neuroendocrine healing, it’s necessary to stop running on stress hormones. Restoring the connection between the brain and the ovaries relies on nervous system resilience and lowering stress hormones. This is probably the hardest to do without consistent support.
Hormone healing is about long term vision and clear, consistent action. Hormones (and their dysfunction) tell the story of what’s going on underneath the waves and turbulence. Your daily routines, lifestyle and diet matter most when it comes to creating long term hormonal resilience.
3 of my favorite supplements for PCOS
Supplements can be a nice addition but they only work alongside making other changes. Here are my top 3 for healing in a sustainable way
- Inositol, commonly recommended in a ratio of myo inositol : d-chiro inositol 40:1. You can find this in powder form or capsules. I like Sensitol by Designs for Health for easy use. Inositol supports ovarian vitality and blood sugar regulation.
- Magnesium glycinate. I recommend this one often, not just for PCOS. Magnesium is needed for cellular function and metabolism, as well as liver function for estrogen elimination and even for blood sugar regulation.
- NAC or N-Acetyl-Cysteine. This amino acid is a powerful antioxidant and acts as a precursor to glutathione production. It can support estrogen elimination, blood sugar regulation and lowering the inflammatory response. It’s even been compared to the pharmaceutical metformin for women with PCOS and it works just as well with less side effects. (PMID: 21831508)
You can find these via Fullscript here.
Depending on the root cause pattern, a chinese herbal medicine formula for PCOS will often include herbs that support the Spleen (digestion), herbs that move Qi (often hepatoprotective), herbs that nourish and move Blood and Kidney tonics.
Chinese herbal medicine formulas combine herbs to create a synergistic effect that can address many layers of the pattern both the symptoms and the root causes.
Here are 4 herbs that could be helpful for PCOS
- Milk thistle
Milk thistle is a powerful gall bladder and liver tonic. It helps to regenerate liver cells and supports the flow of bile from the gall bladder. This modulates the gut microbiome and allows for proper estrogen elimination which is essential for reducing symptoms of PCOS.
- White peony root
White peony root is a traditional Chinese Blood tonic. It nourishes Blood and regulates menstruation. It also has a mild astringent effect which nourishes Yin and soothes the Liver. It’s been studied to have anti-androgen effects which can really benefit PCOS. It also reduces pain.
Licorice is often used with white peony root to address excess androgens. It’s in the category of Qi tonics. It supports the Spleen and digestive capacity, increases vitality and also alleviates pain.
Cinnamon is often recommended to support blood sugar regulation. It can be used with white peony root to address insulin resistance. It also warms digestion and helps to transform Dampness. Cinnamon can also harmonize the Womb Heart and support the brain-ovarian connection by moving Qi in the chest.
There are several more that I often consider to support the Kidneys specifically, such as reishi, rehmannia, eucommia and others!
Herbs can be a really helpful addition when following the 5 step healing process that was outlined above. If you’re ready for deeper support and lasting hormonal resilience, check out Know Your Blood, Heal Your Hormones for clear, actionable steps towards healing PCOS naturally.
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