How to Live with PCOS and Improve Fertility

This article discusses the symptoms and causes of PCOS and how to cope with the hormonal condition.

A young Asian woman smiles while holding pregnancy test result

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder affecting women of reproductive age. It is a common cause of infertility due to irregular ovulation. In this condition, the ovaries produce an unusually high amount of androgen – a male sex hormone usually found in small amounts in women.

What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome refers to the numerous small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) that occur in the ovaries in this condition. However, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, some women with PCOS do not develop cysts, while some who do not have PCOS develop cysts.

Symptoms of PCOS

PCOS has a variety of symptoms that affect women in different ways. Here are some of the common ones:

1. Irregular or absent menstrual periods

If your period frequently comes early or late, or the gap between your periods keeps changing, it is time to observe and record if you have other symptoms.

2. High androgen

Signs of high amounts of androgen include excessive hair growth, usually on the face, chest, back, or buttocks. You may also develop acne. According to the US National Library of Medicine, a woman with high androgen might notice a decrease in breast size and even a change of body shape, among other symptoms.

3. Weight gain

If you are gaining weight but there have been no changes to your lifestyle or eating habits, you should observe if you have other symptoms.

4. Acanthosis nigricans

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), practitioners view acanthosis nigricans as one of the symptoms of PCOS. “Patients with this condition have dry and dark patches of skin that usually appear around the neck or armpits,” says physician Ho Li Ying from Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic.  

Causes of PCOS

Medical science has not uncovered the exact cause of PCOS yet. “However, the causes might be related to the immune system, hormones, genetics, psychology, environment, and lifestyle. PCOS may also cause hormonal disorders, ovulation failure, and infertility,” explains physician Ho.  

From the perspective of Western medicine

A mother and daughter sitting close together on a bed
Studies found that Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is hereditary

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, which means the body cannot use insulin properly. Over time, insulin levels build up in the body and may cause higher androgen levels. Apart from this, obesity may also be a factor that causes insulin levels to increase and worsens PCOS symptoms. 

Many studies found that PCOS is hereditary. According to a 2016 study, PCOS affects 5–10 % of women of reproductive age. The study also noted that PCOS patients have a higher risk of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases compared to the general population. 

From the perspective of TCM 

“In TCM, the root of PCOS is due to kidney deficiency (ben, 本). As a result, it can lead to imbalances in the body, causing spleen-yang (active energy) deficiency, liver-qi (vital life energy) stagnation, blood stasis and phlegm stasis (biao, 标),” explains physician Ho. 

1. Kidney deficiency and blood stasis

Kidney deficiency and blood stasis lead to irregular menstrual cycles, blood clots during periods, and low blood volume. There might also be back pain.

2. Kidney deficiency and liver stagnation

Kidney deficiency and liver stagnation manifest in irregular menstrual cycles, prolonged periods, and breast pain before or during periods. “Women with this condition usually feel stressful, impatient, and anxious,” says Physician Ho.

3. Qi stagnation and blood stasis

Qi stagnation and blood stasis lead to irregular menstrual cycles, pain in the lower abdomen, blood clots during periods, dark-coloured blood, and breast swelling and tenderness before or during periods.

4. Phlegm stasis

Phlegm stasis results in irregular menstrual cycles, heaviness in the limbs, dizziness, obesity, and acne.

5. Spleen and kidney deficiency

Spleen and kidney deficiency leads to irregular menstrual cycles, light-coloured blood, and lower abdomen pain after period. In addition, other symptoms include feeling cold easily, poor appetite, bloating after meals, and loose stools.

How to Cope with PCOS

Although there is currently no cure for PCOS, you can still manage the symptoms and lead a normal life. If you’ve recently received a PCOS diagnosis, follow these practical tips to make it easier for you to cope with this hormonal disturbance and maintain your quality of life.

Maintain a healthy weight

According to the National Health Service (NHS) UK, you can improve the symptoms and reduce the overall risk of developing long-term health problems from PCOS by losing excess weight. Losing 5% of your weight can produce a significant improvement in PCOS. You can manage your weight by exercising and eating a balanced diet.

Taking Medicines

You can take medicines to treat the different symptoms of PCOS. For example, women with irregular periods can take contraceptive pills (which induce regular periods) or hormone tablets according to a doctor’s prescription. Medication also helps with fertility problems, while couples can opt for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).

Exercise regularly

According to a 2020 study, exercise helps reduce weight and maintain a healthy body in PCOS patients as well as improves their mental health. The same study further stated that guidelines for PCOS included at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week. Evidence confirmed that this should form the basis of treatment for the condition.

A young Asian lady sitting on the ground stretching her right hamstring, outdoor settings.
Regular exercise is crucial for managing PCOS.

Implementing TCM Treatment for PCOS

There are various treatments for different constitutions or PCOS types, such as Chinese herbs, acupuncture, moxibustion, and cuppings. However, nourishing the kidney, spleen, and liver is the most important factor in TCM. Physician Ho shares some valuable tips below:

  • Diet and exercise

It is important to have a balanced diet. Women with PCOS should reduce the intake of oily and spicy food and avoid sugar. Thus, they should also exercise regularly. If your body mass index (BMI) is above 25, losing weight is the key.

  • Herbal formula:

To strengthen the kidney and liver system, consider taking eight treasure soups (ba zhen tang) containing Chinese Angelica, Prepared Rehmannia Root, White Peony and Cnidium. Drinking herbal tea with rosebuds and red dates would help too. Additionally, off the shelf products with ingredients like those found in Bak Foong Pills can help improve weak body constitution, nourish and regulate the body, as well as relieve period pain and disorders.

  • Daily remedies

Try to relax and maintain a good mood. Stress and anxiety can aggravate PCOS. Also, be aware of your menstruation cycle, see a doctor/TCM physician if you have irregular periods. 

PCOS is a common and treatable cause of infertility. You can manage the symptoms effectively by maintaining an active healthy lifestyle. Try the different suggestions and remedies above to improve your condition.

References

  1. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. 2020. Exercise and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. [Accessed on 12 Oct 2021]
  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. N.d. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). [Accessed on 12 Oct 2021]
  3. National Health Service (NHS) UK. N.d. 2019. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.  [Accessed on 12 Oct 2021]
  4. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology. 2016. Genetic, hormonal and metabolic aspects of PCOS: an update.  [Accessed on 12 Oct 2021] 
  5. US National Library of Medicine. 2020. Ovarian overproduction of androgens. [Accessed on 12 Oct 2021] 

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