Although it may seem like you need 1,000 different herbal supplements to help manage your PCOS, you really only need to know about 3 groups of herbs: adaptogens, anti-androgens, and insulin sensitizers. Adaptogenic herbs play a major role in regulating your stress response, thereby reducing hormones like cortisol, insulin and testosterone that exacerbate PCOS. Meanwhile, anti-androgenic herbs block male hormones that cause many of the unwanted symptoms of PCOS like facial hair growth and acne. And, finally, insulin sensitizing herbs help your body respond to insulin and glucose in a healthier way, addressing the metabolic dysfunction often seen with PCOS. The Cysters Kit, our newest two-part protocol for women with PCOS, contains all 3 of these types of herbs to comprehensively support balanced hormones and an optimal metabolism. 


By definition, adaptogens help your body to adapt to life’s inevitable stressors and experience a sense of balance. They have an uncanny ability to interpret what your individual body needs, and then act on it accordingly. Because of this, adaptogens are often called “nonspecific” herbs, since their mechanism of action is different in everyone. But, generally speaking, they modulate your stress hormones so that when you face stress, your body doesn’t stage such an intense response.

To go a bit deeper, adaptogens regulate your Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) Axis – an extremely important system that plays a crucial role in regulating your hormone production, particularly stress hormones. Adaptogens tend to decrease the stress hormone, cortisol, which has a cascading effect on almost every other hormone in your body, including insulin and testosterone (both massively involved in the manifestation and presentation of PCOS). 

Ashwagandha in particular has been shown in research studies to lower cortisol levels and increase both follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). One study demonstrated that taking Ashwagandha daily reduced fasting, morning cortisol levels as well as DHEA-S (a type of testosterone) levels (1). Some researchers suggest that in addition to regulating the HPA axis to lower the stress response, Ashwagandha’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects may also reduce anxiety and stress (2, 3). And, finally, preclinical studies show that Ashwagandha activates GABA receptors in the brain which increases the amount of GABA, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for counteracting stress hormones and calming your nervous system (4). While all of these mechanisms are certainly important, their interaction is likely the reason Ashwagandha is so effective in treating and managing the body’s stress response. 

Examples of Adaptogenic Herbs:

  • Ashwagandha
  • Rhodiola 
  • Cordyceps 
  • Maca
  • Asian Ginseng 
  • Astragalus 
  • Eleuthero 
  • Schisandra
  • Holy Basil
  • Reishi 
  • American Ginseng

Anti-androgenic Herbs

Women with PCOS often have several hormonal imbalances going on but the most noticeable is certainly elevated androgen levels. Androgens are a group of sex hormones that are responsible for classically male physical characteristics, like excessive facial hair and male pattern balding. The most common androgen is testosterone, but dihydrotestosterone (DHT), androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S), and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) also fall into this category. 

Fortunately, certain herbs exert anti-androgenic effects on the body by blocking or suppressing  androgens within your body at some point along a hormone-regulating axis called the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis. This encompasses the thyroid, adrenal glands and gonads (aka testes or ovaries). The main way that anti-androgenic herbs work is by preventing testosterone from converting into DHT – a more biologically active and aggressive form of testosterone that tends to be the culprit of many unwanted PCOS symptoms. 

Some of our favorite anti-androgenic herbs are Saw Palmetto, Nettle, and White Peony due to their proven efficacy in scientific research. White Peony has been shown to reduce elevated androgen levels by facilitating the conversion of testosterone into estrogen (5). Saw Palmetto is a well studied plant that can reduce the activity of 5-alpha-reductase, the enzyme that makes DHT, thus mitigating PCOS symptoms (6). Lastly, the ever-versatile and well-loved herb, Nettle, is fantastic in lowering testosterone levels. The root of the nettle plant decreases the amount of free testosterone, total testosterone and DHEA by inhibiting the testosterone-converting enzyme we mentioned above, 5-alpha-reductase (7, 8). All three of these powerhouse herbs are found in our hormone supporting formula, Ovarian Guard, coming 5.13.24.

Examples of Anti-Androgenic Herbs:

  • Saw Palmetto
  • Nettle
  • White Peony
  • Licorice  
  • Spearmint
  • Green Tea
  • Red reishi
  • Vitex
  • Black Cohosh

Insulin Sensitizing Herbs

Since metabolic dysfunction is such a major piece of the PCOS puzzle, it’s essential to focus on optimal metabolic health. It’s estimated that 65-70% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance, so using herbs that can re-sensitize your body to insulin can be extremely supportive (9). 

An unassuming but incredibly potent kitchen herb that we love for metabolic health is cinnamon. This spice has the unique ability to enhance insulin signaling and increase blood sugar uptake by upregulating the GLUT4 glucose transporter (10). Multiple studies gave participants cinnamon extract capsules daily and found that fasting blood sugar, insulin resistance, total cholesterol and glucose tolerance all decreased by the end of the study periods (11, 12). Additionally, one eye-opening clinical trial compared cinnamon to Metformin and discovered that cinnamon significantly lowered the levels of Anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH), a hormone tightly linked to PCOS and metabolic syndrome (13). When combined with ginger, cinnamon can also reduce BMI and total weight (14). 

Examples of Insulin Sensitizing Herbs:

  • Cinnamon
  • Turmeric 
  • Ginger
  • Fenugreek
  • Bitter melon
  • Gymnema 
  • Berberine

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *