What Is PCOS, and How Can Ayurveda Help Treat It?
While you may never have heard of PCOS, it’s a condition that affects 1 in 10 women—many of whom aren’t aware that they have it. This hormonal disorder is characterized by the irregular growth of cysts in the ovaries, which can cause excess androgen levels and irregular periods, among other symptoms.
Since it may affect women’s fertility, body hair and weight—not to mention the anxiety that an irregular or unpredictable period can cause—PCOS can negatively impact one’s self-confidence and leave one feeling stressed about the state of one’s body. As someone who was diagnosed with PCOS for the first time a couple of years ago, I know the feeling of surprise and fear that can accompany such a diagnosis, especially since I wasn’t familiar with PCOS before and worried about how my body would react in the future if my hormone levels remained irregular.
For those who have been diagnosed with PCOS, it’s easy to feel as though your body has betrayed you, or as though you have no control over its innerworkings. However, in reality, this is far from true—both in Ayurveda and modern medicine, there are a number of concrete approaches to remedy both the symptoms and underlying hormonal imbalances of PCOS.
While Western medicine typically recommends treatments that alter one’s hormone levels through an external source, such as birth control pills, Ayurveda offers remedies that work from within your body, training it to regain balance through natural means. Through Ayurvedic techniques, one can create a customized, holistic treatment plan, that may be used in addition to your medical practitioner's plan, to have a long-term positive effect on the body’s ability to regulate itself.
In this blog, we break down the symptoms of PCOS. Then, we detail a number of all-natural Ayurvedic practices for treating its underlying causes.
Symptoms of PCOS
Here are a few of the major symptoms of PCOS. Note that not everyone will experience all symptoms (thereby stressing the importance of taking an individualized approach to treatment), and that this list is not exhaustive. If you feel that you may have PCOS, we recommend going to a doctor and advocating for your body—while PCOS is notoriously difficult to diagnose, you should trust your knowledge of your own body while also being receptive to professional medical advice.
While the occasional formation of ovarian cysts is nothing to be alarmed about, as they typically resolve themselves with time, those with PCOS may experience an abnormal proliferation of cysts in the ovaries that do not go away on their own. While an occasional cyst typically causes no pain, those with more significant amounts of cysts may experience symptoms like bloating, nausea, pelvic pain and breast tenderness. The presence of cysts is usually identified through an ultrasound.
Hair Loss & Unwanted Hair Growth
On one hand, the elevated testosterone levels associated with PCOS can cause hair loss, especially toward the midline of the scalp. On the other hand, PCOS can simultaneously cause unwanted hair growth in areas like the chin and upper lip (abnormal facial hair growth is called hirsutism), the back and the stomach.
A major telltale sign of PCOS is the occurrence of irregular periods, or peven the lack of a period at all. While a typical menstrual cycle can take anywhere from every 21 to 35 days, irregular cycles can be shorter than 21 days or longer than 35 days; irregular periods may also occur 8 or fewer times per year. When periods do occur, those with PCOS may experience heavier bleeding due to the extended buildup of the uterine lining.
Many women with PCOS also experience recurrent or frequent acne breakouts. In particular, they tend to experience cystic acne, which is characterized by deep, painful, red bumps that develop along the lower half of the face—especially the jawline, chin and upper neck.
The eggs that are contained in cysts typically never reach maturity, so in addition to causing missed or irregular periods, PCOS might also cause infertility.
PCOS is also associated with insulin resistance, which is correlated with prediabetes and diabetes. Insulin resistance can also contribute to infertility, acne, weight gain and other symptoms.
Due to the likelihood of experiencing insulin resistance, women with PCOS are also more likely to gain weight more easily than those without it.
Ayurvedic Practices for Treating PCOS
On first glance, these symptoms might appear intimidating, frightening or overwhelming. However, it’s important to remember that one’s health is never completely out of one’s hands. There are a number of Ayurvedic health and lifestyle practices that can target these symptoms of PCOS by also treating their root causes.
Incorporate Insulin-Balancing Ayurvedic Herbs
One simple, yet effective way to mediate insulin resistance and combat stress and anxiety (which can often exacerbate PCOS symptoms) is by incorporating natural, healing Ayurvedic herbs into your diet.
Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is a powerful adaptogenic herb that is renowned in the wellness world for its balancing and detoxifying properties, in addition to its ability to alleviate stress and tension. Furthermore, research has shown that Ashwagandha can help balance cortisol levels, which improves both stress levels and PCOS symptoms like weight gain. One easy way to reap the multitude of Ashwagandha’s benefits is by taking a supplement, such as our UMA Deep De-Stress Herbal Supplement.
Turmeric: As research has demonstrated, turmeric is a medicinal herb whose benefits include the decrease of inflammation and insulin resistance. Furthermore, turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties endow it with potent skin care benefits, including combating acne, age spots, wrinkles and more. You can incorporate it into your cooking or try to whip up golden milk, a turmeric-based drink renowned for its immunity-boosting effects.
Get Regular Exercise
It’s important to exercise regularly, which can help combat weight loss and promote one’s overall physical health. The benefits of weight loss include lowering insulin levels and boosting ovulation. As one study has shown, yoga helped reduce anxiety in adolescent girls who had PCOS. Below are several resources on how to use an Ayurvedic perspective to incorporate exercises such as yoga into your daily routine:
Reduce Your Caffeine Intake
The effects of insulin resistance, often associated with PCOS, include weight gain, poor digestion and hormonal imbalance. Caffeine can worsen these imbalances by altering hormone behavior and increasing Vata and Pitta, which can exacerbate inflammation. It’s best to try to avoid or limit your caffeine intake. For more on coffee and Ayurveda, including tips on how to reduce caffeine, check out our blog here.
Cut Out Sugary, Oily & Spicy Foods
In Ayurveda, it is believed that PCOS is related to an excess of the Kapha dosha. Kapha weakens the agni, or digestive fire, leading to slower digestion and a greater likelihood of weight gain. Foods that are spicy, oily, sugary and fried exacerbate Kapha levels, worsening the symptoms of PCOS. Ayurveda recommends cutting these foods out of your diet whenever possible, and eating vegetables, fruits and legumes that are rich in nutrients instead.
In sum, while PCOS may seem mysterious and frightening to those who have been diagnosed with this condition, there are a number of concrete steps one can take to alleviate its symptoms and promote overall hormonal and internal balance. An Ayurvedic perspective on PCOS can help offer a holistic, empowering approach to one’s health and wellness.