What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine disorder affecting women of reproductive age. A staggering 6-15% of women have PCOS. Putting these numbers into perspective, that is 1 in 10 women1. This disorder interferes with hormonal, metabolic, and reproductive systems within women’s bodies. PCOS has two key symptoms: 1) the development of small cysts in the ovaries and 2) high amounts of androgens (male sex hormones) in the blood accompanied with other hormonal imbalances. In addition, there are other symptoms that can manifest, which vary from woman to woman.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
The most common PCOS symptoms are:
- Irregular periods
- Excess facial and body hair
- Severe acne
- Small cysts in the ovaries
- Insulin resistance
- Anxiety and depression
- Weight gain
- Hair loss
The symptoms observed in most cases are caused by hormonal imbalances during the two phases of the menstrual cycle. In the first phase (follicular), there is an increased production of luteinizing hormone (LH) and decreased production of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH)1. The result of these alterations is an increased production of androgens (male sex hormones) and estrogens (female sex hormones)2. This leads to a state called estrogen dominance (more estrogen in the blood compared to progesterone), which prevents the maturation of eggs in the ovaries. During second phase (luteal) of the menstrual cycle, the ovaries cannot expel these immature eggs to be fertilized; therefore, they remain in the ovaries, resulting in an environment promoting the formation of cysts. The small cysts that form due to the accumulation of immature eggs also have the ability to make androgens, further increasing hormonal imbalances and aggravating menstrual irregularities3.
What Causes PCOS?
There are two main factors associated with the development of PCOS:
- Environmental factors such as dietary habits, geographic and socioeconomic factors, stress, and lifestyle.
- In particular, the consumption of sugary drinks, fried food, processed meats, refined carbohydrates, environmental toxins, as well as lack of exercise, and weight gain can contribute to worsening PCOS symtpoms4.
- Genetic factors like race, ethnic background, and the presence of gene variations.
- All ethnic groups are affected by PCOS, with Hispanic and black women the most affected1.
Facts and statistics of PCOS
There has been a lot of research done to investigate the association with PCOS and other diseases with the goal to increase knowledge of this syndrome and its long-term effects. Below we’ve summarized some of their most staggering findings:
- PCOS is the primary cause of infertility in women5,
- Most women that are living with PCOS are undiagnosed6,
- Women with PCOS are the largest group of women at risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes7,
- Studies have shown that women with PCOS have:
- 4 times higher risk of developing endometrial cancer8,
- 2 times higher risk of developing ovarian cancer9,
- Suicide attempts are up to 7 times more common in women with PCOS than other women (due to symptoms of anxiety and depression)10,
- According to the CDC, more than 50% of women with PCOS will become diabetic or prediabetic before the age of 4011.
These statistics highlight the importance of having conversations about and raising awareness of this disorder, particularly since early diagnosis and intervention is associated with better health outcomes4. Currently, there is no cure for PCOS, but the symptoms can be managed and controlled so that women can lead relatively normal lives.
Conventional PCOS treatments
Treatment depends on several factors, such as the severity of the symptoms and whether women want to become pregnant.
- For women that want to become pregnant:
- A change in diet and physical activity will help reduce weight and reduce symptoms. In particularly by helping your body use insulin more efficiently, lower blood glucose levels, and it can even help promote ovulation.
- Women can use medication to increase the chances of ovulation.
- For women that do not want to become pregnant:
- The most common treatment is to take birth control pills. They help regulate menstrual cycles, lower male sex hormones levels, and reduce acne. Unfortunately, these may come with side effects, such as breast tenderness, headaches, nausea, bloating, increased blood pressure, and weight gain.
- Women are also generally encouraged to take diabetes medication – the most frequently prescribed medication being metformin – to lower insulin resistance caused by PCOS.
- As with women who want to become pregnant, lifestyle changes are highly recommended, particularly as a first step in their treatment. Research has shown that dietary changes and increased physical activity have a huge impact on managing symptoms of PCOS12.
Herbal treatment for PCOS
Chaste tree berry extract (Vitex agnus-castus) has been extensively studied as an herbal treatment for pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), with some studies showing that it has the same efficacy of reducing PMS symptoms as contraceptive pills without the negative side effects13. Researchers then started wondering if this plant extract could also help women with PCOS. They found that although the herb cannot resolve most symptoms (like infertility) it can still help support a healthy hormonal balance1. In particularly it can help reduce estrogen dominance and balance estrogen and progesterone levels.
Herbaland’s Balanced Flow Gummies are formulated with chaste tree berry extract in a delicious strawberry lychee flavour. At Herbaland Naturals, we strive to develop products that can help people live a healthier lifestyle in a fun and functional way, which is why these gummies are an all-natural and sugar-free option (let’s not make that insulin resistance worse with gummies full of sugar!). We highly recommend to always consult a health care professional before taking chaste tree berry to treat estrogen dominance or any other conditions. It is important to make sure that the supplement does not interact with other conditions or medications.
PCOS is a very common endocrine disorder that affects women across the world. It is a condition that has a wide range of symptoms, and the severity can vary from person to person, so treatment is not always a straightforward approach. For most cases, the goal is to balance hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone), reduce insulin resistance, and obtain/maintain a healthy body weight (not always the easiest thing to do!).
Dr Katia Caballero, Herbaland R&D
My name is Dr. Katia Caballero, I have a PhD in Human Nutrition and experience in the fields of food science, biotechnology, and clinical nutrition. I currently work at Herbaland Naturals as a Research and Development Technician, looking to find new and innovative ways to make gummies healthy, nutritious, and fun.
- Zeng, L.-H. et al. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Disorder of Reproductive Age, Its Pathogenesis, and a Discussion on the Emerging Role of Herbal Remedies. Front. Pharmacol. 13, 874914 (2022).
- Rosenfield, R. L. & Ehrmann, D. A. The Pathogenesis of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): The Hypothesis of PCOS as Functional Ovarian Hyperandrogenism Revisited. Endocr. Rev. 37, 467–520 (2016).
- Lebbe, M. & Woodruff, T. K. Involvement of androgens in ovarian health and disease. Mol. Hum. Reprod. 19, 828–837 (2013).
- Lydic, M. & Juturu, V. Dietary Approaches and Alternative Therapies for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Curr. Nutr. Food Sci. 4, 265–281.
- Brassard, M., AinMelk, Y. & Baillargeon, J.-P. Basic Infertility Including Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Med. Clin. North Am. 92, 1163–1192 (2008).
- Shannon, M. & Wang, Y. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Common But Often Unrecognized Condition. J. Midwifery Womens Health 57, 221–230 (2012).
- Orio, F. et al. Obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease risk: an uptodate in the management of polycystic ovary syndrome. Eur. J. Obstet. Gynecol. Reprod. Biol. 207, 214–219 (2016).
- Fearnley, E. J. et al. Polycystic ovary syndrome increases the risk of endometrial cancer in women aged less than 50 years: an Australian case–control study. Cancer Causes Control 21, 2303–2308 (2010).
- Chittenden, B., Fullerton, G., Maheshwari, A. & Bhattacharya, S. Polycystic ovary syndrome and the risk of gynaecological cancer: a systematic review. Reprod. Biomed. Online 19, 398–405 (2009).
- Dokras, A. Mood and anxiety disorders in women with PCOS. Steroids 77, 338–341 (2012).
- PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and Diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/pcos.html (2020).
- Wang, Z. et al. Effectiveness of a 6-Month Lifestyle Intervention on Diet, Physical Activity, Quality of Life, and Markers of Cardiometabolic Health in Women with PCOS and Obesity and Non-PCOS Obese Controls: One Size Fits All? Nutrients 13, 3425 (2021).
- Verkaik, S., Kamperman, A. M., van Westrhenen, R. & Schulte, P. F. J. The treatment of premenstrual syndrome with preparations of Vitex agnus castus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am. J. Obstet. Gynecol. 217, 150–166 (2017).