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PCOS & natural therapies

More than 70% of women with PCOS in Australia use natural and complementary therapies to improve one or more aspects of their health.[1] Research reports that women with PCOS use these therapies most commonly to improve their general wellbeing and to treat the PCOS symptoms of infertility and depression.[1] The natural remedies most often used include supplements, such as vitamins, minerals and fish oils, and herbal medicine in the forms of teas, tablets or liquid.

The types of treatments and remedies used in natural and complementary therapies are often influenced by the main concern(s) of the woman; for example, the treatment for excess hair growth might be different from a treatment used to improve fertility.

There is some emerging research on some natural therapies for the management of PCOS. It’s important to note that many of these research findings are preliminary. This means that larger – and more robust – studies are needed before any conclusions can be made in regard to the treatments’ effectiveness in women with PCOS.

Topics on this page

Managing insulin resistance & menstrual cycles

Insulin resistance is thought to be a key part of the development of PCOS.

Insulin resistance means that the body doesn't respond normally to insulin, the hormone responsible for keeping blood glucose levels in a safe range. Some parts of the body might be 'resistant' to insulin, and higher levels of this hormone are often produced to keep blood glucose in the normal range.

Higher levels of insulin in the body increase the production of androgens (male-type hormones), such as testosterone, in the ovaries. This can affect the function of the ovaries, including ovulation (the release of a mature egg from an ovary), making managing insulin resistance a key part of managing PCOS.

Group girls table smiling pcos booklet
PCOS booklet

Read more on PCOS in our booklet 'Understanding polycystic ovary syndrome: All you need to know'

Inositol

The greatest amount of research into any natural therapy in PCOS management has been on inositol, a vitamin-like substance.

Available as a supplement, inositol occurs naturally in the human body, but is also present in many foods, particularly grains, nuts and fruit.

Inositol has a role in blood glucose control and can make body cells more sensitive to insulin.

A 2018 review of research found that ovulation rates and menstrual cycles appear to improve with inositol in women with PCOS.[2]

Many of the studies in the review tested nutrient combinations, such as inositol and folate. Studies that tested inositol by itself were not available.

Overall, the research in this area is still limited. Many key questions remain.[3]

Seek professional guidance on the usage and dosing of this therapy.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon

There are only very small studies that look at cinnamon specifically in the treatment of PCOS (for insulin resistance and menstrual cycles), and results are not conclusive.[4, 5]

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia or Cinnamomum burmanni) is a herb that seems to improve the way insulin works by keeping blood glucose levels in a healthier range.

There is some research to support its use in managing insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes.

Chromium

Chromium is a mineral that humans need in trace (small) amounts. It is found naturally in low doses in foods such as broccoli, beef, green beans and potatoes.

Chromium picolinate is the form of chromium often used in supplements. It is thought to be the form best absorbed by the digestive system.

It is generally agreed that chromium improves the action of insulin in the body, but there are only a few small studies into the effects of chromium in women with PCOS.[6, 7]

One of the studies found that at least six months of treatment was needed for positive outcomes to occur.

But in conclusion, larger and more robust studies are needed to confirm the effectiveness of chromium picolinate.

Omega-3 fatty acids (prescribed as fish oil supplements)

Currently, there are only very small studies looking at the effects of omega-3 fatty acids in improving insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS.[8, 9]

Further studies are needed to understand if they are effective and how they might work.

Fish oil1 800 337

Managing infertility

In women with PCOS, high levels of androgens and insulin can affect the menstrual cycle and prevent ovulation. Ovulation can stop completely (anovulation), or it can occur irregularly. This can make it more difficult for women with PCOS to become pregnant naturally. However, it is important to know that women with PCOS give birth to the same number of children as women without PCOS, but it can take longer to get pregnant.

Peony and licorice (herbal medicine combination)

A traditional Chinese medicine of peony (Paeonia lactiflora) and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), also known as the herbal formula TJ-68 (shakuyaku kanzo-to), is often prescribed by herbalists for the management of infertility in women with PCOS.

More research is needed in this area; however, it is thought that the herbal formula helps to convert testosterone (which is increased in PCOS) to oestrogen.[10]

This formula (and all herbal medicines) should be prescribed only by a registered traditional Chinese medicine practitioner or a qualified herbalist for safety, and to avoid potential side effects and interactions with other medications.[11] Tell your doctor about any natural therapies and supplements you are taking.

Herbal supplements in bowl

Australian research

Read about some of the benefits seen in an Australian clinical trial of a herbal treatment used in women with PCOS.

Black cohosh

The herbal medicine black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa or Actaea racemos) has a small amount of research to support its use in treating problems with fertility in women with PCOS.

There are strong safety considerations with this herbal medicine, so its use should be discussed with a health professional qualified in herbal medicine.[12]

Managing excess hair (hirsutism) and acne

Hirsutism is excess hair growth on the face and body due to high levels of androgens stimulating the hair follicles. This excess hair is thicker and darker than normal. The hair typically grows in areas where it is more usual for men to grow hair. Up to 60% of women with PCOS have hirsutism.

The higher level of androgens in women with PCOS can also increase the size of the oil production glands on the skin. This can lead to increased acne. Acne is common in adolescence, but young women with PCOS also tend to have more severe acne.

Chromium

There is conflicting evidence as to whether chromium supplementation improves acne or hirsutism in women with PCOS.[13, 14]

Some researchers suggest the poor findings were due to the trials being too short in length. They suggest that a minimum of 16 weeks of treatment with chromium is needed to assess its effects on hirsutism and acne. Further investigation is needed.

Spearmint tea

Spearmint tea

Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is commonly used as a herbal tea by Middle Eastern women to reduce excess hair growth.[15]

Two small studies investigating this treatment produced inconclusive results, so more research, with more participants, is needed.[16, 17]

Spearmint tea is considered safe for general consumption.

Tea tree oil

Skin washes containing tea tree oil can be useful for reducing acne. Some limited research shows that the essential oil of tea tree can prevent growth of bacteria that is found in acne.[18] In another study, application of a tea tree oil gel was shown to reduce the number of acne lesions.(19)

Note: tea tree oil is for topical use only (application to the skin). It is poisonous if swallowed.

Things to keep in mind

When it comes to management of PCOS with natural therapies:

  • Just because it’s ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s safe. Some natural therapies come with serious safety considerations
  • Use natural therapies only under the guidance of a qualified health professional who has specific training in their use
  • Ask your natural therapist about their education background and experience in treating PCOS
  • Every woman with PCOS is unique. Seek advice that is specific to you and your needs
  • Some natural therapies need longer treatment times in order to be effective; don’t expect results overnight
  • Tell your doctor about any natural therapies and supplements you are taking.
0919 jh factsheet pcos THUMB
PCOS fact sheet

Includes information on how to improve PCOS symptoms and manage your long-term health.

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at September 2019.

References

  • 1
    Arentz S, Smith CA, Abbott JA, Bensoussan A. A survey of the use of complementary medicine by a self-selected community group of Australian women with polycystic ovary syndrome, BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014;14:472.
  • 2
    Pundir J, Psaroudakis D, Savnur P, Bhide P, Sabatini L, Teede H et al. Inositol treatment of anovulation in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a meta-analysis of randomised trials. BJOG. 2018 Feb;125(3):299–308.
  • 3
    Unfer V, Nestler JE, Kamenov ZA, Prapas N, Facchinetti F. Effects of inositol(s) in women with PCOS: a systemic review of randomized controlled trials. Int J Endocrinol. Published online 2016 Oct 23. doi: 10.1155/2016/1849162.
  • 4
    Wang JG, Anderson RA, Graham GM 3rd, Chu MC, Sauer MV, Guarnaccia MM et al. The effect of cinnamon extract on insulin resistance parameters in polycystic ovary syndrome: a pilot study. Fertil Steril. 2007 Jul;88(1):240–3.
  • 5
    Kort DH, Lobo RA. Preliminary evidence that cinnamon improves menstrual cyclicity in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomised controlled trial. Am J Obstet Gynaecol. 2014 Nov;211(5):487.e1-6.
  • 6
    Ashoush S, Abou-Gamrah A, Bayoumy H, Othman N. Chromium picolinate reduces insulin resistance in polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. J Obstet Gynaecol Res. 2016 Mar;42(3):279–85.
  • 7
    Amooee S, Parsanezhad ME, Ravanbod Shirazi M, Alborzi S, Samsami A. Metformin versus chromium picolinate in clomiphene citrate-resistant patients with PCOS: a double-blind randomized clinical trial. Iran J Reprod Med. 2013 Aug;11(8):611–18.
  • 8
    Oner G, Muderris II. Efficacy of omega-3 in the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2013 Apr;33(3):289–91.
  • 9
    Rafraf M, Mohammadi E, Asghari-Jafarabadi M, Farzadi L. Omega-3 fatty acids improve glucose metabolism without effects on obesity values and serum visfatin levels in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. J Am Coll Nutr. 2012 Oct;31(5):361–8.
  • 10
    Takeuchi T, Nishii O, Okamura T, Yaginuma T. Effect of paeoniflorin, glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhetic acid on ovarian androgen production. Am J Chin Med. 1991;19(1):73–8.
  • 11
    Takahashi K, Kitao M. Effect of TJ-68 (shakuyaku-kanzo-to) on polycystic ovarian disease. Int J Fertil Menopausal Stud. 1994 Mar–Apr;39(2):69–76.
  • 12
    Shahin AY, Mohammed SA. Adding the phytoestrogen cimicifugae racemosae to clomiphene induction cycles with timed intercourse in polycystic ovary syndrome improves cycle outcomes and pregnancy rates: a randomized trial. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2014 Jul;30(7):505–10.
  • 13
    Jamilian M, Bahmani F, Siavashani MA, Mazloomi M, Asemi Z, Esmailzadeh A. The effects of chromium supplementation on endocrine profiles, biomarkers of inflammation, and oxidative stress in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2016 Jul;172(1):72–8.
  • 14
    Amr N, Abdel-Rahim HE. The effect of chromium supplementation on polycystic ovary syndrome in adolescents. J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 2015 Apr;28(2):114–8.
  • 15
    Grant P, Ramasamy S. An update on plant-derived anti-androgens. Int J Endocrinol Metab. 2012;10(2):497–502.
  • 16
    Akdogan M, Tamer MN, Cure E, Cure MC, Koroglu BK, Delibas N. Effect of spearmint (Mentha spicata Labiatae) teas on androgen levels in women with hirsutism. Phytother Res. 2007;21(5):444–7. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2074.
  • 17
    Grant P. Spearmint herbal tea has significant anti-androgen effects in polycystic ovarian syndrome. A randomized controlled trial. Phytother Res. 2010;24(2):186–8. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2900.
  • 18
    Kanlayavattanakul, M, Lourith, N., 2011, ‘ Therarapeutic agents and herbs in topical application for acne treatment.’ iInt J Cosmet Sci. 2011 Aug; 33(4):289–-97.
  • 19
    Bassett, I.B., Pannowitz, D.L., Barnetson, R.S.. 1990. ‘ A comparative study of tea tree oil versus benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of acne’. Med. J. Aust. 1990 Oct 15;153(8):, 455–458.
Last updated: 21 May 2020 | Last reviewed: 15 September 2019

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