Chinese Herbal Medicine for PCOS

Chinese Medicine for PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS for short, is a syndrome that affects women’s hormones.  Women with PCOS commonly have irregular menstrual periods, higher levels of male hormones, and cysts in their ovaries.  If you have PCOS, you may also experience excess facial hair, obesity, insulin resistance, or hair loss.  Up to about 26 percent of women suffer from PCOS in their childbearing years.  Check out this article to find out more about the symptoms and causes of PCOS. Read on if you would like to find out more about how Chinese Herbal Medicine can be used to treat PCOS.

PCOS Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), any symptoms you experience are signs of disease in your body.  A set of specific symptoms is called a “syndrome”.  In Western Medicine, you can be diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome if you have at least two out of these three main symptoms:

  • High levels of male hormones (androgens)
  • Cysts in your ovaries
  • Irregular menstrual periods.

However, Chinese Medicine practitioners take a more holistic approach to diagnosing PCOS.  Your practitioner will gather information about all the symptoms you experience, not just those directly related to your menstrual cycle.  Once your practitioner has enough information, they can tell you what the nature of your syndrome is.  In Chinese Medicine, syndromes have the natures of Yin or Yang, deficiency or excess, hot or cold, and so on.  To learn more about Chinese Medicine syndromes, please see our webpage.

PCOS Syndromes in Chinese Medicine

Many women who suffer from PCOS have dampness and blood stagnation type syndromes.  However, you may also have other syndromes that contribute to your condition as well.  PCOS is often caused by a combination of different factors.

Dampness

If you have a damp natured syndrome, this means there is too much water in your body. This can be due to water retention.  Dampness can transform into mucus, which may prevent matured eggs from being released.  This means you will not ovulate.  These trapped eggs later become masses called ovarian cysts.  Too much mucus in your body can also make it harder for you to get pregnant, by stopping your ovulation process, and by clogging up your reproductive organs.

Blood Stagnation

Another common syndrome that many women with PCOS suffer from is blood stagnation.  Water retention causes dampness in your body, but it can also contribute to blood stagnation.  This means your blood will move too slowly, which can make your periods more painful.

Spleen Qi Deficiency

In Chinese Medicine, “qi” is the energy that moves through our bodies.  The function of your spleen in Chinese Medicine is to transform the nutrients and fluid that you get from food, into blood.  Additionally, your spleen is responsible for moving water around your body.  Hence, if your stomach and spleen don’t have enough energy (qi deficiency), they will not be able to transform fluid into blood properly.  Also, your spleen won’t be able to move the water around your body effectively.  This can lead to an excess of water, which can transform into dampness, or mucus.

Patients who have spleen qi deficiency often experience obesity or being overweight alongside other PCOS symptoms.

Kidney Deficiency

Kidney deficiencies are another major cause of PCOS.  There are a few different types of kidney deficiencies:

  • Kidney Yin Deficiency
  • Kidney Yang Deficiency
  • Kidney Qi Deficiency
  • Kidney Essence Deficiency

Interestingly, kidney yang deficiencies can be caused by spleen qi deficiencies that progress further due to lack of treatment.  Kidney deficiencies can cause hair loss, excess facial hair growth, lower back pain, and low libido.

One scientific article states that, “According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), kidney deficiency is the main syndrome of PCOS. The deficiency of the kidney cannot vaporize water-dampness, and the retention of water-dampness accumulates into phlegm dampness stagnation, resulting in visceral dysfunction and metabolic disorder.”

Other Chinese Medicine syndromes that may contribute to PCOS include liver qi stagnation and blood deficiency.  If you suffer from hair loss with PCOS, this may be caused by blood deficiency syndrome or kidney deficiency syndrome.

Chinese Herbal Medicine for PCOS

How can Chinese Medicine actually help treat PCOS?  There are many aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine, including acupuncture, acupressure, cupping, and more.  But herbal medicine also plays an important role.  Chinese Herbal Medicine is different to the concept of pharmaceutical medicine, because Chinese herbal medicines are prescribed based on your unique individual health situation, not on a general basis. 

When prescribing a Chinese herbal medicine, your practitioner will select specific herbs to address different syndrome natures.  For example, cold-natured syndromes can be treated with hot-natured or heating herbs, such as cinnamon.  What’s great about Chinese Herbal Medicine is that you can combine multiple different herbs to make a formula to treat different symptoms and syndromes.

Most patients suffering from PCOS have dampness and blood stagnation syndromes.  The main herbal formula to treat dampness and blood stagnation is called Guizhi Fuling Wan.  It’s made up of five different herbs, to treat different symptoms as follows:

  • Guizhi – for warming
  • Fuling – to combat dampness
  • Danpi – to move blood
  • Shaoyao – to move blood
  • Taoren – to move blood.

As you can see, in this formula there is one herb to help warm your body including your blood, one herb to help fight off dampness, and three herbs to help get your blood moving.  So, you can see how this formula can treat PCOS patients with dampness and blood stagnation syndromes.  The warmth provided by Guizhi combats dampness as well as blood stagnation (because stagnation is caused by coldness). 

Other Chinese Herbs for PCOS

Although this main formula (Guizhi Fuling Wan) is very good, your Chinese Medicine practitioner can go further and add more herbs to your formula to give you even better results.  Depending on what other syndromes are affecting your PCOS symptoms, your practitioner can add other herbs as follows:

  • Kidney Yang Deficiency: Ba wei di huang wan
  • Kidney Yin Deficiency: Liu wei di huang wan
  • Spleen Qi Deficiency: Li zhong tang or bu zhong yi qi tang
  • Liver Qi Stagnation: Shaoyao san
  • Blood Deficiency: Si wu tang
  • Dampness: Er chen tang

Does Chinese Herbal Medicine Really Work?

By now, you might be wondering, “How effective are these Chinese Herbal Medicine formulas anyway?”  Researchers have been wondering the same thing and have done scientific studies to find out.  Here are some of their findings:

 “TCM involving syndrome differentiation and treatment is widely used to adjust women’s menstrual cycles. Our patented formula Bushen Huatan Decoction (BSHTD) has been proven to be effective in the clinical treatment of IR-PCOS.”

“In conclusion, we found Guizhi Fuling Wan can regulate the structure of gut microbiome, and this regulatory effect of Guizhi Fuling Wan is the basis of alleviating inflammation and improving insulin resistance. Our study provides a basis for promoting the treatment of PCOS with Guizhi Fuling Wan and lays a solid foundation for the treatment of PCOS with TCM.”

“Among the four kinds of complementary and alternative therapies for PCOS discussed in this review, herbal formula and single herbal are the most commonly used main therapies of PCOS. There are combination therapies of acupuncture and herbal medicine, dietetic therapies, and moxibustion therapies which were used for the treatment of PCOS. All of these therapies of CAM [complementary and alternative medical treatments] can contribute to improve the symptoms of PCOS women in different degrees.”

The CHM [Chinese Herbal Medicine] group achieved a higher cumulative clinical pregnant rate (87.0% vs. 47.4%, P<0.05), live birth rate (>28W) (79.6% vs. 38.6%, P<0.05) and term delivery rate (59.3% vs. 24.6%, P<0.05) than the non-CHM group (All pregnancies following fresh or frozen-thawed embryo transfer in the same stimulated cycle were included) (Table 4). While the miscarriage rate, preterm delivery rate didn’t increase in the CHM group (P>0.05).”

Conclusion

Overall, Chinese Medicine diagnoses PCOS patients based on the different types of syndromes they have.  Most PCOS patients have dampness and blood stagnation syndromes, but spleen qi deficiency and kidney Yin or Yang deficiency syndromes are also common too.  Your Chinese Medicine practitioner will prescribe herbal medicine for you based on your unique set of symptoms and syndromes, and can effectively address your PCOS health concerns.

To find out more about how Chinese Medicine can help with PCOS and other fertility issues, please see our website at Fertility Treatment, Acupuncture Treatment for PCOS, and PCOS and Acupuncture.

References

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Centre of Balance: Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine (n.d.). Acupuncture Treatment for PCOS.https://balancetcm.co.nz/pain-fertility-clinic-acupuncture-polycystic-ovary-syndrome-hamilton-cambridge/

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https://trialsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13063-021-05770-z

Pan, X., Gu, Y., Zhang, X., Shi, B., Cui, L., Wang, F., & Qu, F. (2022). Chinese herbal medicine (Bu-Shen-Tian-Jing Formula) for outcomes of IVF in Chinese patients with polycystic ovary syndrome: A retrospective cohort study. Integrative Medicine Research, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.imr.2021.100775

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S. Phua, personal communication, May 18, 2023

Shen, W., Jin, B., Pan, Y., Han, Y., You, T., Zhang, Z., Qu, Y., Liu, S., & Zhang, Y. (2021). The effects of traditional Chinese medicine-associated complementary and alternative medicine on women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/6619597 https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2021/6619597/

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Zhu, Y., Li, Y., Liu, M., Hu, X.-D., & Zhu, H. (2020). Guizhi Fuling Wan, Chinese herbal medicine, ameliorates insulin sensitivity in PCOS model rats with insulin resistance via remodeling intestinal homeostasis. Frontiers in Endocrinology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2020.00575

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