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Ayurveda for PCOS: Is Natural Management Better?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex endocrine disorder that affects 1 in 10 people in the UK and often results in various metabolic and hormonal imbalances. Ayurveda, an ancient system of medicine originating from India, is a holistic approach to managing PCOS used by many practitioners across the world. This approach focuses on emphasising the balance within the body and the harmony between the individual and their environment.

Using principles that date back thousands of years, Ayurveda approaches PCOS not just as an isolated condition but in relation to the body’s overall constitution or ‘Prakriti’. This approach involves dietary recommendations, herbal supplements, lifestyle changes, and mind-body practices, all tailored to the individual’s needs. With an emphasis on natural remedies and self-care, Ayurvedic treatments for PCOS are becoming more popular than ever – but can Ayurveda help common symptoms of PCOS?

Key Takeaways

  • Ayurveda provides a holistic approach to managing PCOS, focusing on individual balance.
  • Lifestyle modifications, including diet and mind-body practices, are central to Ayurvedic treatment for PCOS.
  • There is little evidence to support the use of Ayurveda as a whole for PCOS treatment.
  • Some parts of Ayurveda could be beneficial for PCOS such as developing a yoga practice, but other practices like detoxification rituals may be harmful.
  • It is important to understand the risks associated with Ayurveda practices and infuse evidence-based advice into your PCOS management plan.

PCOS and Ayurveda: A “Natural” Approach?

In seeking alternatives to conventional treatments, Ayurveda offers a holistic approach to managing Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) through balancing your doshas.

What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda, a traditional system of medicine originating from India, is based on the principle of maintaining bodily balance to promote health. Ayurveda views health as a state of equilibrium of the body’s doshas – VataPitta, and Kapha – and tailors treatment to the individual’s unique constitution or prakriti.

Ayurvedic Perspective on PCOS

According to Ayurveda, PCOS can be understood as a dosha-specific disorder where there is a vital imbalance, particularly of Kapha and Vata. This imbalance affects the artava dhatu or reproductive tissues, leading to symptoms typical of PCOS such as irregular menstrual cycles, ovarian cysts, and hormonal imbalances.

DoshaCommon PCOS Symptoms
VataIrregular periods, anxiety
PittaInflammation, excessive heat
KaphaWeight gain, lethargy

The Doshas and PCOS

  • Vata-dominant individuals with PCOS might experience weight fluctuation and irregular menstruation. Balancing Vata often involves grounding and nourishing therapies.
  • Pitta imbalance can manifest as acne or excess heat in the body. Cooling and moderating therapies are usually recommended for Pitta regulation.
  • Kapha imbalance, often characterized by weight gain and fertility issues, calls for stimulation and detoxification to counter sluggishness and fluid retention.

Managing PCOS through Ayurveda usually focuses on creating a tailored plan to “balance out your doshas” while “considering your individual prakriti”. This can include dietary adjustments, herbal supplements, body treatments, and other lifestyle changes.

The Ayurvedic Approach to PCOS

So what does an Ayurvedic approach to PCOS look like? Ayurvedic practitioners often discuss food, herbal supplements and herbal medicines, yoga, meditation and detoxification techniques with their clients.

Ayurvedic Approach to Food

An Ayurvedic approach to food includes prioritising fresh fruits and vegetables because of their high fibre and nutrient content. This approach also prioritises whole grains like quinoa, barley, and brown rice as they provide sustained energy and keep you feeling full.

The Ayurvedic approach also promotes excluding foods which are high in sugar and foods that are high in salt.

Common Ayurvedic Herbs

Herbal medicine is a large part of the Ayurvedic approach to PCOS. Here are some of the most common Ayurvedic herbs used for PCOS management:

  • Turmeric: Known for its potent anti-inflammatory qualities, turmeric may help reduce the inflammation commonly associated with PCOS.
  • Ashwagandha: This herb is traditionally used for its adaptogenic properties, which can assist in managing stress levels, a known exacerbator of PCOS symptoms.
  • Triphala: A combination of three fruits, Triphala is believed to aid in digestion and detoxification.
  • Cinnamon: Often recommended for its ability to help regulate blood sugar levels, cinnamon may be beneficial for insulin sensitivity.
  • Shatavari (shatapushpa): Shatavari, sometimes known as shatapushpa, is valued for its potential to balance hormonal levels and improve reproductive health.
  • Amla: Also known as Indian gooseberry, amla is rich in vitamin C and antioxidants.
  • Neem: Neem is thought to help maintain clear skin, often a concern for individuals with PCOS.
  • Ashoka: Another herb traditionally used to support uterine health and balance hormones.

Each of these herbs can be taken in various forms, such as powders, capsules, or teas. It’s important to remember that Ayurvedic medicine should be used responsibly and with professional guidance if you choose to take this approach to your PCOS.

Yoga and Meditation

Yoga and meditation are key parts of Ayurveda. Incorporating them into your daily routine may contribute to the management of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). These practices are known not only for enhancing physical capacity but also for their roles in stress management.

Yoga Practices

Yoga offers various asanas (postures) that are beneficial for those with PCOS by reducing stress. Some of these may include:

  • Balasana (Child’s Pose): Encourages relaxation.
  • Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation): An all-encompassing workout that boosts overall health.
  • Bharadvajasana (Twist): Aims at improving digestive health.

Meditation and Breathing Exercises

Meditation and pranayama (breathing exercises) can aid in reducing stress levels and balancing cortisol levels. Techniques such as Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) are excellent for calming the mind and enhancing sleep quality.

Regular practice of these exercises can contribute to a more relaxed state of mind and a lower stress response, which could be beneficial for managing PCOS.

Detoxification Procedures

Panchakarma, a foundational Ayurvedic detoxification procedure, is a cornerstone of addressing PCOS in Ayurveda. Panchakarma consists of four actions which supposedly “purify your body and eliminate imbalances”:

  1. Vamana: Therapeutic vomiting that is supposed to remove toxins, specifically from the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.
  2. Virechana: Induced purgation which is hypothesised to cleanse the small intestine and related organs.
  3. Nasya: Nasal administration of medicinal herbs that is supposed to rebalance the head.
  4. Udvartana: A herbal paste massage that is hypothesised to reinvigorate the skin.

​These practices are unnecessary for the treatment of PCOS and can be incredibly damaging to both physical and mental health. Making yourself vomit or administrating herbs nasally has no evidence to support them and is unlikely to improve symptoms of PCOS.

External Therapies

Beyond detoxification, Ayurveda recommends external therapies:

  • Udsadam: A type of sudation therapy involving the application of herbal steams and warm poultices that target the reproductive system and can aid in alleviating congestion.
  • Udvartana: This therapy involves a dry herbal powder massage that is believed to reduce body weight and improve circulation.

​Again, these claims are unsubstantiated and could be harmful for people taking part in these practices.

The Evidence Surrounding Ayurvedic Treatments for PCOS

PCOS is a hormonal disorder that cannot be cured. Treatments such as Ayurveda often falsely claim that PCOS can be “cured”. Instead, PCOS symptoms can be managed to improve quality of life, improve reproductive outcomes and regulate menstrual cycles.

The evidence for Ayurvedia for PCOS is lacking. One small study of forty patients with PCOS found that supplementing with a variety of over ten different herbal formulations improved symptoms, normalised hormones and improved pregnancy outcomes. However this study is of low quality, so more research is needed to understand the Ayurvedic approach to PCOS management. Similarly, a systematic review of Ayurvedic Herbal Medicine for PCOS is of extremely poor quality with unreliable references.

​Certain aspects of Ayurvedic treatments have evidence to support them, for example, there are some promising studies on the effect of cinnamon supplementation on blood glucose levels, or yoga practices on PCOS symptoms.

To put it simply, aspects of Ayurvedic treatment could be helpful for PCOS symptoms such as yoga, but more research is required before it can be conclusively recommended that Ayurvedic therapies play a key role in PCOS management. Plus, it is important to be aware of some of the more dangerous aspects of Ayurvedic treatment such as cleanses and purges.

Considerations and Precautions

If you’re considering Ayurvedic remedies for PCOS, being aware of potential side effects and interactions with other medications is crucial.

Potential Side Effects

Ayurvedic herbs and practices are often considered safe; however, like any treatment, they can cause side effects. Some individuals may experience gastrointestinal issues, headaches, or allergic reactions.

It’s essential to monitor your body’s responses and consult with a healthcare provider before beginning this treatment approach.

Always discuss with your healthcare provider before starting any new Ayurvedic herbs or supplements, especially if you are on medication for insulin resistance, or to regulate your hormonal balance. It is essential to discuss your medical history and disclose any existing health issues with your healthcare practitioner.

Key Takeaways: Ayurveda for PCOS

When addressing polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a multifaceted approach encompassing lifestyle adjustments can be helpful to manage symptoms. People are often attracted to Ayurveda because of its “natural” approach to PCOS management. However, it is important to mention that Ayurveda has little to no evidence for PCOS symptom management. Some aspects of Ayurveda such as supplementing with cinnamon or regularly participating in yoga could be beneficial, but more research is required to understand how these changes impact PCOS.

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s answer your most commonly asked questions about Ayurvedic treatment and PCOS.

What are effective Ayurvedic treatments for polycystic ovary syndrome?

Ayurveda approaches PCOS with a holistic treatment plan that often includes detoxification processes, hormonal balancing techniques, and stress alleviation therapies. Unfortunately, the majority of Ayurvedic practices have little to no evidence to support their management of PCOS symptoms. Yoga asanas have some evidence to reduce stress levels which may have a beneficial impact on PCOS symptoms.

Can Ayurvedic dietary changes improve PCOS symptoms?

Ayurveda encourages the consumption of fruits and vegetables plus whole grains for PCOS symptom improvement. Because of the fibre content in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, this is generally good advice to help with PCOS symptom management.

What lifestyle alterations are recommended in Ayurveda to manage PCOS?

Ayurveda suggests regular physical activity, stress management techniques such as yoga and meditation, and adequate sleep are important lifestyle alterations.

Which herbs are commonly used in Ayurveda to regulate menstrual cycles in PCOS patients?

Herbs such as Shatavari, Ashoka, and Guduchi are commonly prescribed in Ayurveda to promote hormonal balance and regulate menstrual cycles. It is important to mention that there is a low-quality evidence base for these herbal remedies.

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Alex Okell ANutr Founder and Editor

Founder and Editor | Registered Associate Nutritionist

  Founder of Be The Collective LTD [The PCOS Collective & The Endo Collective] Alex Okell ANutr is a London-based reproductive health nutritionist with experience in research, private practice and digital media. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from King’s College London and has co-authored papers with the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, The Food Foundation and the Food Standards Agency. Alex offers 1:1 PCOS support in our virtual PCOS clinic.

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