I am a beautiful, strong woman. I am a woman with PCOS. I have excess hair on my face, neck and other parts of my body. And that’s okay. It makes me feel really shitty sometimes. And that’s okay.
If you are like me and have excess hair on your body, especially in areas such as the face, neck, chest and abdomen, it is known as hirsutism. As women are supposed to have lower levels of androgen hormones like testosterone, the amount of body hair we have generally is much less than men. In women with PCOS, there are excess androgens, especially DHEAS, testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which causes more (often darker) hair than we’d like, or typically see in women.
If you are wondering really how severe your hirsutism is, check out the Ferriman-Gallwey chart below, designed to help clarify the extent of your hirsutism.
Over the years of balancing my own PCOS and working with women who have PCOS, I have discovered that there are a few natural remedies to help you conquer (or at least reduce) your hirsutism. While there are more permanent solutions like electrolysis or laser hair removal, and there are prescription drugs for this issue like Spironolactone, we won’t be talking about those here.
Natural Remedies for Hirsutism
As with almost any health condition, maintaining a healthy diet is so, so important. When it comes to PCOS, we must think about regulating insulin and blood sugar, as insulin resistance is a big part of what aggravates PCOS.
Here are a few tips for a proper PCOS diet:
- Eat green vegetables with at least 2 meals per day to help balance blood sugar and detoxify excess estrogens
- Enjoy a low to moderate carbohydrate diet
- Choose non-starchy vegetables and starchy vegetables instead of grains and baked goods like bread and crackers
- Include at least 20g protein with every meal like chicken, fish, shellfish, some legumes, turkey
- Make healthy fats a part of every meal and snack: think nuts/seeds, avocados, coconut oil, ghee, olive oil
- Drink lots of fresh, filtered water between meals, about half your body weight in ounces per day
You may not know this, but our stress-managing adrenal glands make androgen hormones too. When we get really stressed, from kids, the commute, finances or anything else, we create more stress hormones. Stress hormones like cortisol negatively impact our blood sugar control in certain situations, and unmanaged stress could lead to an increase in androgens, especially DHEAS. Androgens like these can be converted into DHT, a more potent form of testosterone at the tissue level- inciting acne, hirsutism and hair loss.
For my personal health, I was absolutely not able to regulate my cycles, reduce my hirsutism and other high-androgen symptoms like acne until I made a conscious effort to reduce my stress in any way possible. Sure, you can’t always avoid stress, but how you react to stress matters.
Here is a sample of what I do to reduce my stress:
- Daily yoga, meditation and walking outdoors (weather permitting)
- Turning off all devices at least 1 hour before bed
- Enjoying hot baths
- Drinking calming teas like lavender, chamomile, lemon balm, tulsi and others
- Spending time in nature
For even more ideas on taking care of yourself to help your PCOS, check this out.
As I mentioned above, balancing insulin is super important for PCOS. A happy bonus is that it often leads to weight release!
- Enjoy a delicious plant-heavy diet like I outlined above
- Reduce and manage your stress as much as you can
- Move your body regularly
- Try some insulin-sensitizing supplements, as I’ve outlined below
- Try some of these other ideas
There are many supplements out there that can help with PCOS and androgen symptoms like hirsutism. A whole book could be written on them! Below I’m focusing on 5 supplements that have some good science behind them and that I’ve seen helpful clinically in the women I work with.
NAC: N-acetyl Cysteine is an amino acid (protein building block) that has been shown many times over to be beneficial for PCOS. Specifically for hirsutism, one study showed that androgen levels in the body and corresponding symptoms like hirsutism were reduced after using NAC for only 5 days! The daily dose in this study was 1,200mg per day.
Green Tea: A delicious and highly antioxidant substance, green tea is one of my favourite beverages. The benefits of this tea are so numerous, and luckily supplement-makers have developed capsules so we can get loads of this great tea into our bodies. Green tea contains epigallocatechins, which may inhibit 5-alpha-reductaste, the enzyme that converts testosterone into DHT (the hirsute-making hormone).
Spearmint: While I’m more of a peppermint girl myself, the benefits of spearmint might outweigh the taste in my opinion. And for those like me, spearmint can also be found in capsule form. Spearmint has been shown to reduce levels of free testosterone in the blood (reducing the amount that could be converted into DHT) and perhaps for that reason increased the perceived quality of life in women with PCOS who were studied when drinking spearmint tea.
Licorice: Another common food item, licorice root has a huge history in herbal medicine as a remedy for many things, including menstrual cycle difficulties and signs of hyperandrogenism. It has been shown to reduce total testosterone in the blood, which could potentially be beneficial for hirsutism. Note that taking licorice is not recommended if you have high blood pressure. Clinically I find that a tincture (alcohol-based extract) of licorice works well.
Reishi: A mushroom with the latin name of ganoderma lucidum, reishi has many medicinal benefits. For hirsutism, it is believed that reishi reduces the activity of 5-alpha-reductase, like green tea, reducing the amount of testosterone that gets converted into DHT. I like to put some reishi mushroom powder into smoothies.