PCOS symptoms are often overlooked. Learn the signs and how combining complementary and conventional treatments is often the best way to manage the condition.
·November 2nd, 2021
Many polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) symptoms go unrecognized for years.
Treating a condition holistically often means finding the right combination of conventional medicine and complementary treatments that can bring lasting relief.
Irregular cycles can be managed with birth control pills and acupuncture.
Chinese herbal medicine offers natural remedies for excessive facial hair and acne in PCOS.
Working with a dietitian can help you lose weight and manage or prevent diabetes.
For people with PCOS-related depression, behavioral therapy can complement medical treatment.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) symptoms can be challenging to treat. Many people with PCOS find that a holistic treatment plan — one that combines Western medicine with integrative, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies — works best. This article will address the most common PCOS symptoms, its treatments, and alternative remedies that can help.
Recognizing PCOS symptoms
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition that can go unnoticed for years. Many PCOS symptoms are linked to other diseases, such as diabetes. Others seem completely unrelated.
PCOS is a skillful opponent, affecting both your body and mind. For that reason, holistic treatment, or a treatment plan that treats the whole person and not just individual symptoms, can make the most sense when treating PCOS.
That’s why for many people, the best holistic defense is a combination of Western medicine and complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies.
Following is a list of PCOS symptoms and CAM therapies that, when combined with conventional medicine, can improve not only symptoms but also quality of life for people suffering from PCOS.
Menstrual and fertility problems in PCOS
If you have irregular periods with heavy bleeding, it might be a sign of PCOS. But be aware that many women have irregular cycles; not menstruating every 28 days like clockwork does not necessarily imply cycle disturbances.
For adults, “regular” can mean anywhere from every 24 to 35 days. The key here is that your cycle has a more or less predictable pattern and that you ovulate each month. The problem with cycles in PCOS is that often they are not ovulatory, meaning the ovaries do not release eggs.
Infrequent ovulation makes it harder to get pregnant. But even if you’re not trying to conceive, understanding your cycle can help your healthcare provider diagnose PCOS sooner.
Common PCOS treatments for irregular cycles and infertility
OB-GYNs typically prescribe birth control pills to women with PCOS. Hormones regulate cycles and lead to lighter and less painful periods. But for those who want to get pregnant, hormone therapy is not a viable solution.
Also, for some patients the pill is too risky (for example, heavy smokers or those with a family history of blood clots). For these people, complementary medicine can be a better option.
Many others use complementary treatments in conjunction with medication. Acupuncture, for example, is one CAM therapy that has a solid body of research behind it, and people say it has helped them regulate cycles and get pregnant naturally.
Research on the effects of acupuncture on menstrual cycles is ongoing, but a review of randomized controlled trials reported that acupuncture for PCOS can be helpful for regulating the menstrual cycle and inducing ovulation.
Excessive facial hair and acne in PCOS
People with PCOS over-produce androgens. Androgens are male sex hormones, including testosterone, but women produce them, too. If a woman’s body produces too much, she can develop facial hair and acne.
Common PCOS treatments for excessive facial hair and acne in PCOS
Chinese herbal medicine uses plants that act as antiandrogens to combat excessive hair growth and skin problems. An herbalist can propose treatment tailored to your needs, but you can also try some remedies at home:
Natural remedies may be combined with aesthetic medicine to combat excessive hair growth. For example, laser hair removal can bring more lasting results when combined with licorice-based lotions.
Before taking any herbal supplements for PCOS, we strongly recommend discussing your intentions with your medical provider. It’s also important to work with a reputable herbalist who can advise you on the best herbal supplements for PCOS and your individual symptoms as well as potential herb-drug interactions to be aware of.
Obesity in PCOS
For many people, the hormonal rollercoaster of PCOS leads to difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. Lowering your body mass index (BMI) is an essential weapon in the battle with PCOS, but losing the extra pounds may prove much harder than for a person without PCOS.
Common approaches to weight loss in PCOS
If you struggle with obesity, your doctor may prescribe medication to support weight loss. But even if you are just a bit overweight, working with a dietitian can help you find the right nutrition for your individual situation.
There is no scientifically proven diet that works for all people with PCOS. Your doctor may recommend low-carbohydrate foods, but if you are tempted to try a popular diet such as keto or paleo, discuss it with your doctor first.
Then, for best results, get a personalized meal plan from a nutritionist or dietitian to reduce the risk of interfering with your cholesterol levels, a common problem for people with PCOS.
Behavioral therapies are also commonly used for weight loss in people with PCOS. A 2017 narrative review concluded that people are more likely to be successful with weight loss efforts when they use behavioral or psychological strategies like goal-setting, problem-solving, and self-monitoring.
The study also mentions cognitive restructuring, the cornerstone of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), as an effective way to help people with PCOS lose weight. CBT has also been shown to be helpful with fatigueand quality of life in people with PCOS.
A CBT therapist can help you understand and change negative thinking patterns, giving you the tools to reduce stress, increase self-esteem, and improve your PCOS symptoms.
Because insulin resistance leads to diabetes in so many people with PCOS, it’s important to begin treating it early, when you may be able to get your blood sugar under control by losing weight and exercising. Again, the support of a dietitian specializing in PCOS weight loss will be invaluable.
For people with PCOS, the damage goes beyond the physical. Mental health is also a concern, and we know that PCOS is a risk factor for depression.
Common treatments for depression in PCOS
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may need to take antidepressants to stabilize your mood, but for some, behavioral therapies work well, either combined with antidepressants or on their own.
Depression often responds well to simple behavior modifications like exercise. In fact, a 2015 Swedish review found that exercise can work as well as antidepressant drugs and CBT for the treatment of depression. When exercise is used along with drugs or behavioral therapy, the results can be even more beneficial.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
For some people, CBT may be a better option. CBT helps by teaching ways to reframe destructive thought and behavior patterns, which can be a powerful tool for treating depression.
Making sense of your PCOS symptoms can be challenging, but you are not alone in the fight. Let Sound Cycle be a weapon in your arsenal. Follow our blog for trustworthy information about PCOS, and visit our provider directory to find the right complementary therapist for you.