alternative remedies: a few thoughts

5 Jun

PCOS patients–or perhaps I could more generally say “patients with chronic conditions”–often get frustrated with the difficulties of treating the syndrome. Treatment protocols for PCOS can be very simple (more exercise, for example) or very complicated (an array of medications, lifestyle modifications, even invasive fertility treatments or weight loss surgeries). Often, “alternative” remedies start to look pretty good, especially if you struggle with bad side effects from your medications.

There are a few things I’d like to say here about some of the most commonly suggested alternative treatments for PCOS. I have not tried all of these things, by the way, so I am basing my recommendations and thoughts on scientific research, not personal experience.

Herbs
From what I have read, some herbs may be helpful for some of the symptoms of PCOS, but none have shown consistent results in clinical trials. That doesn’t mean they’re definitely not useful (especially because there are not a ton of researchers rushing to do large blind trials of products without a lot of profit potential), but it does mean that there are no solid recommendations for what to take, or how much to take. The other concern with herbs of any kind is that they are not regulated products in the way that pharmaceuticals are. You don’t know for sure what’s in your capsules, whether it’s a consistent strength, etc. For this reason, I recommend a lot of care if you use herbal supplements. And I recommend that you research the supplement and the company to make sure you’re buying from a company you trust.

Specifically, many women use vitex, and anecdotally, a lot of them seem to have some results for cycle regulation. Keep in mind, however, that these self-reported results are usually also the result of lifestyle changes, so it may or may not reflect an effect from the herbs.

The bottom line on this one is: use caution. Even if an herb has genuine use for a particular condition, it’s hard to know you’re getting what you pay for, and difficult to know what dose to take. Final caveat: TELL YOUR DOCTOR if you are using any herbal supplement. If there’s an interaction between the herbs and your drugs, your doctor will need to warn you about that, and in any case that is information your doctor needs in order to treat you most effectively.

Yoga

Yoga may be very helpful for PCOS patients. It’s good exercise, although probably not enough of an exercise regimen on its own; it can reduce stress in the same way that meditation might. As long as you are using good form and not pushing yourself too far, it is very unlikely that you’ll see any adverse effects from yoga (except maybe on your budget, if you’re doing classes). For that reason, it’s a great choice for an activity that might complement your other exercise. The worst that can happen is that you don’t find it useful. There are several different kinds of yoga, some more active than others, so you can get a pretty good workout if you choose the right variety.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is the stimulation of certain points on the body–most of the time, when people talk about acupuncture, they’re talking about the kind that uses needles to stimulate those points. There has been clinical research about acupuncture, but most of the studies have been fairly small. The studies all seem to agree, though, that there is no clear benefit. Acupuncture also carries some risks, though not common ones: infections from contaminated needles, punctured organs. If you want to give acupuncture a try, make sure you choose a reputable, careful establishment that uses single-use, new needles.

Although a lot of people cringe at the idea of acupuncture, the needles are very, very thin and most patients report that they do not hurt.

Insulite Labs Program
Finally, I wanted to discuss the program for insulin resistance sold by Insulite Labs. It is a popular program, and a lot of ladies have had good results from it. In my opinion, however, it is a very expensive program for what you get, and it is likely that the good results are coming from the fact that the program includes healthy eating and exercise in addition to weekly support and the “nutraceuticals” that patients take. I’m not knocking those things–if it helps you eat better and exercise, more power to you!–but I am very skeptical about the supplements themselves as a treatment for PCOS.

Summary
In sum, the trouble with alternative treatments is that there just is not enough evidence. While you might try some of these things, I recommend that you not give up on traditional medicine in the meantime. Some of these approaches–especially yoga or similar types of physical practice (tai chi, etc.)–can be great adjuncts to your PCOS treatment regimen. If you do have good luck with any of the alternative treatments, let your doctor know!

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