- Food therapy has been used alongside herbal formulas in Chinese Medicine for thousands of years to help treat chronic conditions and hormonal imbalances at the root cause.
- PCOS is a complex genetic, hormone, metabolic, and reproductive disorder that requires a holistic approach to healing that encompasses diet & lifestyle changes, exercise, herbal supplements, and more.
- Through food therapy, you can address the symptoms associated with PCOS by enjoying a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, proteins, whole grains and herbal supplements that are personalized to your needs.
One of the most important principles in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is that food is medicine. While taking the right herbal supplements for your body is extremely important, diet also plays a huge role in treating hormonal imbalances at the root cause. This is especially true for those with chronic conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
PCOS is a genetic, hormonal, metabolic, and reproductive disorder that affects 1 in 10 women with periods in the United States. It is often associated with irregular cycles, painful periods, hormonal acne, obesity, hair loss, insulin resistance, and even infertility. If untreated for extended periods of time, PCOS can sometimes lead to type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Due to its complex nature, it’s important to approach PCOS with a holistic healing mindset, with diet and lifestyle changes at the core to support long-term hormone and insulin balance. We teamed up with Elix TCM advisors, Dr. Liem Le and TCM Food Therapist Zoey Gong, to help you learn about PCOS from a Chinese Medicine perspective, and discover food therapy tips that you can use to start healing.
What Causes PCOS?
In TCM, there are a few patterns of imbalance in the body that characterize PCOS and its symptoms. Dr. Le identifies them as the following:
Spleen Qi Deficiency
The energy we absorb from the world around us, such as the air we breathe and the food we eat, combine in the spleen and stomach to create blood and Qi, the vital energy we need to live. When our body is not producing enough blood and energy, we may start to see symptoms develop like:
- poor digestion (gas, bloating, loose stools, food retention, or reflux)
- slow metabolism
- Fatigue & lightheadedness
- shortness of breath
- water retention
In the case of PCOS, when Spleen Qi Deficiency is paired with dampness, which is heavy and sticky in nature, it can cause common PCOS symptoms like:
- Feelings of heaviness
- Low energy or fatigue
- Weight gain
Liver Qi Stagnation
Our liver is in charge of circulating the blood and vital energy that’s created in the stomach and spleen throughout the body. If blood and Qi energy are not flowing effectively, this can cause:
- Irregular periods
- Amenorrhea or painful periods
- Anovulation or no ovulation
Long term liver Qi stagnation can lead to an accumulation of heat in the body which can lead to symptoms like:
- Brittle hair and nails
- Dry skin & Acne
Food Therapy for PCOS
The most fundamental principle of Chinese medicinal food therapy is to enjoy a balanced diet that consists of a wide variety of seasonal fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and herbal supplements. Zoey recommends incorporating 25 different kinds of fruits and vegetables (with 80% of them being cooked), 5 different kinds of whole grains (such as black rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread), and personalized herbal supplements (such as Elix’s Cycle Balance) as a general starting point. Once this is part of your wellness routine, you can further dive into the specific symptoms of PCOS, and develop a personalized regimen to address the root cause.
Hair Loss & Brittle Nails
Hair and nails are built with protein, therefore it is essential to incorporate high quality proteins into your diet that are easily digestible. This can be from slow-cooked bone broths, wild caught fish, and grass-fed eggs. It’s also important to note that vegan protein in this case may not be the most efficient way to correct these symptoms. In addition to upping your protein intake, Zoey recommends trying to eat more black sesame seeds, mulberry tea, organ meat (such as grass-fed liver pate), and walnuts to replenish blood, promoting hair growth and shine.
If you are struggling with hormonal acne associated with your PCOS, this is primarily caused by excessive heat and dampness in the body. To clear both of these Zoey recommends eating foods in the following categories on a regular basis:
- Foods rich in vitamin C and antioxidants such as citrus, ginger, parsley, blueberries, and goji berries, or this Antioxidant Rich Beet Mocktail
- Cooling foods such as fresh green vegetables, mung beans, mint, watermelon, and cucumber.
- Foods that reduce dampness like brown rice, chinese yam, corn silk tea, or this Adzuki Bean Porridge.
- Foods high in zinc such as oysters, firm tofu, lentils, and pumpkin seeds.
Excessive Weight or Obesity
For people with PCOS, keeping a healthy weight can be challenging due to an increased level of androgens and higher than normal cortisol levels—the excessive weight in turn can make PCOS symptoms more severe. To break this cycle, Zoey recommends eating balanced meals at consistent times during the day to maintain stable blood sugar levels. This means that at meal times, you shouldn’t feel extremely hungry, and your plate should consist of a combination of protein, cooked vegetables, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Snacking on a single banana alone might not be the best choice. But, combining the banana with several nuts or a cup of nut milk & an herbal tincture—like your Elix formula—would be the better option.
Over 60% of women with PCOS have mental health problems like anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder. Eating fresh leafy greens like parsley, celery, basil, and spinach are great for combatting liver Qi stagnation, which can cause higher levels of stress and anxiety. A green smoothie is an easy way to incorporate leafy vegetables into your day, and mixing in an adaptogenic rich formula like Elix’s Daily Harmony can further support your body’s ability to adapt to stress.
Painful and Irregular Periods
In TCM, one of the best things you can do for your cycle health is to eat warming foods and herbs that promote healthy blood and Qi movement. Foods like ginger, cinnamon, curry, a little bit of natural red wine, and meat stews are great to gently warm the body to fight painful cramps, bloating, and indigestion. Zoey loves using Elix’s Ginger Aide in her recipes like this Honey Ginger Poached Pear or Pumpkin Spiced Sweet Potato Latte. Supporting your body with herbs like angelica sinensis, vitex berry, safflower, and cyperus can also help to promote a more regular and pain free period. The easiest way to incorporate these herbs into your diet is to simply steep a warm and soothing cup of herbal tea, like a rose and hibiscus blend, and drop in your personalized Cycle Balance formula.
, DAOM, LAcDr. Fine is currently the Dean of Clinical Education at Emperor’s College and has been practicing Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine for over 25 years, with a specialization in Women’s Reproductive Health.