Spices And Herbs for PCOS: Natural PCOS Treatment
If you’re wondering whether there are herbs for PCOS – specifically, herbs that may counteract common symptoms of this condition with minimal side effects – then you’re in luck. A review in the peer-reviewed BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal examined 33 studies and concluded that there are 6 herbs which may aid in relieving hyperandrogenism, amenorrhea, and polycystic ovary syndrome. We also have gone ahead and researched other easily accessible spices and herbs which are also proven to relieve PCOS symptoms, resulting in a list of the top 8 spices and herbs for PCOS. Though there is much research still to be conducted in this area of alternative medicine, these results are promising and point toward a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to treating PCOS, which takes into account modern medicine, as well as other avenues for pursuing overall wellbeing. Let’s dive into how researchers came to this conclusion, what spices and herbs for PCOS the research identified, and how they may impact your PCOS symptoms.
Let’s talk methodology
We believe it’s worth briefly exploring how researchers examined the 33 studies in question. According to their article, “Herbal Medicine for the Management of PCOS and Associated Oligo/Amenorrhea and Hyperandrogenism,” scientists took a two-pronged approach to searching the literature.
The first involved searching for preclinical studies which explained the reproductive endocrine effects of “whole herbal extracts” on women with PCOS. The second sought out clinical studies which corroborated laboratory findings, and subjects included women with PCOS, menstrual irregularities, and hyperandrogenism. They take time to point out that the quantity of pre-clinical data was limited, and the quality of clinical evidence was “variable” – so make sure to take these results with a grain of salt. There is plenty more research to be conducted in this area!
Eight Spices And Herbs for PCOS
Herbal medicine falls into the category of complementary medicine (CM). It appears that the prevalence of CM use by women has been on the increase in the past 10 years, and for good reason: herbal medicines have been “positively associated with reduced incidences of breast cancer, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease.” Okay, so certain types of herbal medicine may offer health benefits – but what about herbs for helping treat PCOS?
If you want the Cliff’s Notes version of what top 8 spices and herbs for PCOS show most promise in reducing PCOS symptoms, we’ve listed them here:
- Vitex agnus-castus
- Cimicifuga racemosa
- Tribulus terrestris
- Glycyrrhiza spp
- Paeonia lactiflora
- Cinnamomum cassia
- Green tea
Researchers found that positive outcomes were down to one (or more) of the following effects: reduced luteinizing hormone (LH), regulation of ovulation, improved metabolic hormone profile, improved fertility outcomes, and fasting insulin and testosterone, depending on the spice or herb in question.
- Also called Vitex, chaste tree, chasteberry, Abraham’s balm, lilac chaste tree, or even monk’s pepper, this plant is a native of the Mediterranean region. If it sounds familiar, it’s because it is typically used for alleviating breast pain, PMS, and PMDD.
- So why is this potentially a herb for PCOS? Well, in this review, eight studies were evaluated which investigated the gonadotropic (meaning affecting the gonads) hormonal effects of this herb. Though it had no effects on LH or FSH levels, it appeared to improve pregnancy rates, probably due to its ability to lower prolactin levels. (Too high prolactin levels are linked to infertility, irregular periods, and early menopause).
Cimicifuga racemosa is also known as black cohosh (not to be confused with white cohosh or blue cohosh, which serve different purposes), black bugbane, black snakeroot, and fairy candle. It’s a type of flowering plant, native to eastern North America, living as far north as Ontario, or as south as central Georgia.
In this review we’ve been examining, there are four laboratory studies and three randomized control trials which showed the effects of black cohosh on women with PCOS. Here’s what researchers found:
- This herb lowers LH in women with PCOS
- This is important since women with PCOS often have higher than regular levels of LH, which is thought to – in turn – contribute to higher levels of androgens. This, alongside irregular FSH levels, may lead to “poor egg development and an inability to ovulate.” This lack of ovulation can result in relative deficiencies of progesterone production by the ovary, according to the University of Virginia School of Medicine, which ultimately leads to an absence of menstrual periods.
- Improves FSH: LH ratio
- Out-of-balance FSH to LH ratios can be an indicator of PCOS (though not always), and it is linked to fertility issues. Black cohosh seems to have the potential to help balance FSH: LH ratios in women with PCOS.
- Improves endometrial thickness for women with PCOS.
Tribulus terrestris is also known as “puncture vine” and well-suited to growing in dry climate locations in which other plants struggle to survive. It’s native to warm, tropical regions in southern Eurasia and Africa.
In this case, researchers looked at both animal studies and clinical studies involving humans (these clinical studies were rather small; one involved just 8 participants, which is something to keep in mind). The results were as follows:
- Increased FSH levels in healthy women
- Ovulation induction was equal between tribulus terrestris and Clomiphene (a medication used to induce egg production in women who struggle with fertility), specifically for women who have anovulatory infertility (accounting for around 30% of cases for infertility).
It’s noteworthy that at least in one study this herb for PCOS was as effective as Clomiphene, which is a drug that has been specifically developed for the purpose of aiding fertility. More research needs to be conducted in this area, but this is certainly an interesting path to explore, and one that may be worth investigating for those struggling with fertility issues.
In terms of herbs for PCOS, this may be one of the most exciting thanks to its potential impact on androgen levels. Glycyrrhiza root is an old, traditional Chinese medicine (sometimes called Chinese licorice) used to treat multiple conditions, from respiratory disorders, to gastrointestinal, to epilepsy, to fever, and even skin diseases.
Based on animal studies in rats, as well as human clinical trials, researchers found that this herb may help to: reduce free and total testosterone levels, reduce serum androgens in healthy women (even after menopause, women with PCOS have higher androgen levels than their non-PCOS counterparts), and improve ovulation rates in polycystic ovaries.
Otherwise known as Chinese peony, paeonia lactiflora is a species of perennial flowering plant, originating from central and eastern Asia (spanning from eastern Tibet, across northern China, and all the way to eastern Siberia!). This herb has been used for treating rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis, muscle cramping, and fever across Korea, Japan, and China for over 1200 years, and is widely known for its antiinflammatory and immunomodulatory effects.
This herb, when combined with Chinese licorice root in the form of Glycyrrhiza, was found across human and animal studies to present benefits for those with PCOS. Here’s what researchers found. Taken together, these two herbs may:
- Reduce total and free testosterone levels
- Reduce LH levels
- Reduce LH to FSH ratio
- Improve ovulation in women with PCOS
Cinnamomum cassia, otherwise known as Chinese cinnamon, is an evergreen tree native to southern China. It’s widely cultivated there, as well as throughout South and Southeast Asia, and used not only in cooking thanks to its aromatic scent, but also for medicinal purposes as well. This herb for PCOS is excellent because it is linked to improving insulin sensitivity.
In the research review conducted, paeonia lactiflora (detailed above) was used in combination with cinnamomum cassia to study hormonal effects on cultured human cells obtained from women undergoing IVF. It was also evaluated with paeonia lactiflora in clinical trials which included amenorrheic women ranging from ages 17 to 19. There were just under 200 women in the aforementioned trial, and in this group after 2 months of treatment, ovulation occured in over 60% of primary amenorrheic women (women who never got their period) and approximately 27% of secondary amenorrheic women (women who went more than 3 consecutive months without a period).
That wasn’t the only impact of these herbs for PCOS, though. Researchers also found:
- Reduced LH levels
- Improved ovulation rates
- Increased granulosa production of oestradiol
- Oestradiol is a steroid hormone made from cholesterol and has many functions (one of which is managing and maintaining the female reproductive system!)
- Increased granulosa production of progesterone
- Progesterone is a hormone released by the ovaries and also plays an important role in the reproductive cycle.
Okay, so now we depart from the research review we have been focusing on throughout this article to focus on other studies.Green tea, originating from China, is made from Camellia sinensis leaves and buds that have not undergone the same withering process used to make black tea. These unoxidized leaves means green tea is one of the least processed types of tea. One study we examined, titled “Effect of Green Tea on Metabolic and Hormonal Aspect of Polycystic Ovarian Sydrome in Overweight and Obese Women Suffering From PCOS” found that green tea consumption led to weight loss, a decrease in fasting insulin, and a decrease in the level of free testosterone.
Though the study was relatively small (including 60 participants total), this double-blind, randomized clinical trial showed promising results: women were split into two groups and given either placebo or green tea. Free testosterone hormones, fasting insulin levels, and body weight were all measured at the beginning of the study, and then 12 weeks later. Researchers found there were measurable differences in the experiment groups after 3 months of consuming green tea. Given the low cost of this herb for PCOS, as well as its accessibility, combined with the positive health implications of it, we’d recommend this as a great option for those who are interested in exploring benefits like increased antioxidants and polyphenols (natural compounds known to reduce inflammation and help fight cancer).
Turmeric comes from a flowering plant, called Curcuma longa, and is part of the ginger family. It is a traditional Indian spice, known for its vibrant yellow color in cooking. The active ingredient that offers many health benefits in this space is curcumin; it has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is known as a strong antioxidant.
So how can it help with PCOS?
Well, one study showed that turmeric improves ovulation in women with PCOS, while another (double-blind, randomized, and placebo-controlled) clinical trial showed that a 12-week administration of curcumin to women who had PCOS had beneficial effects on body weight and glycemic control (meaning blood sugar levels).
Should You Take Herbs For PCOS?
Clearly, these studies indicate that the above eight spices and herbal medicines may have beneficial effects for women with PCOS (and those who struggle with amenorrhea and hyperandrogenism independent of PCOS).
There is a note to be made here, though. For instance, in the first article we examined, the researchers do take time to point out that certain data was more robust for certain herbs than for others. For instance, the most variable and “strongest” evidence goes to Vitex agnus-castus and Cimicifuga racemosa when it comes to alleviating infertility and a lack of ovulation, while Cinnamomum cassia showed promise in improving metabolic hormones in PCOS.
The use of two herbs together needs to be further understood, as the use of Paeonia lactiflora with Cinamomum cassia combine two sets of herbs (and their chemicals) together to yield promising results, but how exactly the two interact to impact potential PCOS symptoms isn’t as clear-cut as scientists would like.
The best part of all this though? In every study examined, clinical investigations found no adverse effects for the first six herbal medicines on this list.
This isn’t to say there are no side effects ever, of course. For instance, too much green tea (more than 8 cups a day) can result in headache or irregular heartbeat, thanks to its caffeine content. But it is good news that these more ‘natural’ remedies may come with less side effects. As always, it’s important that you consult with a physician when considering implementing spices or herbal medicine (or any other type of medicine) into your routine, since herbs can interact with other prescriptions you may be taking, and can impact your body in both positive and negative ways.
That being said, the early stages of research on this topic are very promising. If you’re interested in taking herbs for PCOS, definitely discuss your options with an experienced health provider, or reach out to an Allara professional to learn how to implement herbal medicine as part of a holistic treatment plan that is tailored to your body and your needs.
Allara Health provides personalized treatment for hormonal, metabolic & gynecological conditions that utilizes a holistic plan that merges nutrition, lifestyle, medication and supplementation, and ongoing, expert support to heal your body.