A recent study examined the use of herbal medicines Tribulus, Peony, Licorice, Cinnamon and St John's Wort* for PCOS alongside lifestyle changes versus lifestyle changes alone. These medicines have long been used by naturopaths and herbalists to ease symptoms of irregular periods, infertility, acne, hirsutism, sugar cravings, weight gain, anxiety and low mood in women with PCOS. Additionally, there is already some scientific evidence that Tribulus improves ovulation rates, Peony and Licorice reduce androgens, Cinnamon combats insulin resistance and St John's Wort alleviates anxiety and depression. This study validates the use of these herbs to address these issues in women with PCOS.
The randomised controlled trial (considered a high level of evidence) examined 122 women with PCOS. For three months, all of them undertook exercise and dietary changes, while only half took the herbal medicines.
Tribulus was taken for 10 days from day 5 of the menstrual cycle (or by day 7 of the trial starting if they weren't getting a period). A combination tablet of Peony, Licorice, Cinnamon and St John's Wort was taken every day for the three months.
The exercise regime included 90 minutes per week of aerobic exercise and 60 minutes per week of resistance exercise (if you don't know what these are read here). The dietary changes included low glycaemic carbohydrates and nutrient dense foods (think veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legmes, fish and meat) with attention to calorie intake. Diet and exercise interventions were aimed at weight loss or preventing weight gain.
The herbal treatment group had a significant increased improvement in irregular periods, weight, insulin levels, luteinising hormone, blood pressure, anxiety, depression and stress. They also had improved quality of life and better pregnancy rates in those trying to concieve. This meant that women on herbal medicine had:
- 33% reduction in time between periods
- lost an average of 3kg and 3cm from their waist
- had 40% lower insulin levels
Interestingly there were no significant differences in amount of exercise done and healthy dietary choices between the two groups, indicating that the herbal medicine was responsible for the great outcomes in the herb-taking group.
This study is an excellent example of how much quicker you can get results with the use of herbs that address the imbalances in PCOS. It can be expected that even greater outcomes would result with a longer treatment period.
Note that not all herbal medicine products are created equal - some lack the important active ingredients needed to be effective. Ask for verification of the quality of products that you source or see your naturopath or herbalist for recommendation.
*St John's Wort may increase the metabolism of prescription medications and reduce their effect. Please check with your doctor before starting herbal medicine.
Arentz S, Smith CA, Abbott J, Fahey P, Cheema BS, Bensoussan A. Combined Lifestyle and Herbal Medicine in Overweight Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): A Randomized Controlled Trial. Phyther Res. 2017;31(9):1330-1340. doi:10.1002/ptr.5858.