Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
A woman who finds herself with irregular menstrual cycles, excess facial and body hair, adult acne, weight gain, infertility and enlarged ovaries may have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), an unfortunate condition that afflicts 5‒10% of women of childbearing age and approximately 70‒90% of women with irregular menstrual cycles.1 Among its many symptoms, PCOS causes hormonal imbalances, including elevated testosterone (male hormone) and estrogen (female hormone) levels, as well as increased insulin levels.2,3
Although PCOS is the most common female endocrine disorder in the United States, its cause remains unclear.4 Perhaps this is why “syndrome” is most commonly used in conventional medicine to describe PCOS since the word itself alludes to its varied signs and symptoms but does not indicate a precise cause of the condition.
However, research largely overlooked by mainstream medicine reveals a strong association between PCOS, obesity, and insulin resistance, including characteristic features of insulin insensitivity such as dyslipidemia (abnormality of metabolism of fats) and hypertension.5,6
If left untreated, women with PCOS often develop severe clinical manifestations, such as hirsutism (excess facial and body hair), adult acne, infertility, and depression.7,8 Women with PCOS are at significantly higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease9 and endometrial cancer.10
Integrative medicine recognizes the seriousness of PCOS, as well as the need to approach the management of PCOS as a disease of insulin resistance in order to offer hope to the millions of women who suffer from this disease. For example, metformin, an insulin sensitizing agent that also helps to reduce excessive androgen production, promotes weight loss, restores fertility, and enhances glucose metabolism in patients with PCOS, is drastically underutilized by conventional medicine for this disease. However, management strategies commonly used to control individual symptoms of PCOS are known to have a number of undesirable side effects.11
Fortunately, for the millions suffering with PCOS published clinical studies support the use of natural therapeutics, such as inositol and N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), for controlling the symptoms and side effects.