Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that can cause missed or irregular periods, multiple cysts on the ovaries, excess hair on the face and body, elevated insulin levels, excess weight (particularly around the middle), high blood pressure and acne. Women who have PCOS typically have high levels of androgens, which are male hormones normally produced in small amounts in all women's bodies. The cause is unknown. PCOS may affect between six and 10 percent of all women.
Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., director of education for the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, says that PCOS is principally a metabolic problem and that many treatment approaches are similar to those for insulin resistance. For example, she says that exercise is "an absolute must - no exceptions!" This means exercising for at least 30 minutes every day.
I recommend the following dietary changes:
- Adopt my anti-inflammatory diet.
- Avoid conventionally raised beef and dairy products. (They may contain residues of estrogenic hormones used as growth promoters.)
- Increase your intake of whole soy foods, including tofu, tempeh, soymilk, and edamame. The isoflavones in soy may help with the hormonal imbalances.
Dr. Low Dog notes that a small study published in the July, 2007, issue of Fertility and Sterility showed that one-quarter to one-half teaspoon of cinnamon powder reduced insulin resistance in women with PCOS. She adds that two herbs used in Chinese medicine, peony and licorice, have been studied in PCOS, but she cautions that the recommended doses are rather high and may further elevate blood pressure. If you want to try these herbs, consider working with a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) who also may suggest dietary changes and acupuncture. To find a TCM practitioner in your area, contact the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at www.nccaom.org.
Andrew Weil, M.D.