Over the years, I’ve been asked about the use of essential oils for PCOS a good number of times. I have never used essential oils myself and haven’t really known the answer.
Now, if you know me or have been following PCOS Diet Support for a while, you’ll know that I’m all about the science. I want to know that the things I do for my PCOS are actually working and have some kind of evidence behind them.
So, I hit the medical journals and did some homework to write this article and answer the question that I have been asked so many times.
Are essential oils helpful for PCOS?
Well, before we can get into the answer, we need to understand what essential oils actually are in the first place.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils form the basis of aromatherapy. They are made by crushing plants to release their essence (fragrance). When these essences are naturally extracted, they are called essential oils.
These essential oils can be distilled with steam or water and can be mechanically pressed. If the essence is removed from the plant chemically, it is not a true essential oil. (1)
So, basically we’re talking about the use of fragrant oils extracted from plants as a treatment for our PCOS.
Now, I do tend to be on the more sceptical side but I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak. So, let’s have a look at what the research says about using essential oils in general.
Problems with researching essential oils
There are a couple of problems in creating a robust study to look at the effects of essential oils. For example: it’s very difficult to create a placebo for a smell or fragrance. Also, it can be difficult to prove what actually caused the outcome. So, for example, if an oil is applied to the skin using massage, was it the massage or the oil that helped the person get better (2)?
So, when looking for research articles on the use of essential oils in women with PCOS, I came up with a blank. The research just isn’t there. But that doesn’t mean that essential oils are not effective for PCOS, does it?!
How essential oils work
There are a couple of different ways to use essential oils (3).
Applied on the skin
Essential oils can be applied on the skin by massage. The thinking is that massage will increase circulation to the area and help the oil to be more readily absorbed.
It makes sense if you think about something like natural progesterone cream. The hormone is applied topically and gets absorbed through the skin. Same thing with essential oils.
It is generally recommended to add a couple of drops of the essential oil to a carrier oil like coconut oil. Some oils can burn and irritate the skin and a carrier oil will help to prevent that.
The sense of smell has a powerful effect on our memory and emotions. There are times when I might walk past a bakery and the smell of the freshly made bread takes me straight back to lazy Saturday mornings spent baking with my grandmother. Or a whiff of a certain cologne reminds me of when I first started dating my husband.
But it also goes beyond memories and emotion. The sense of smell can also affect us physiologically. You see, the sense of smell is linked with the emotional centre of our brain which can also impact on breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, stress and hormone balance.
Although essential oils can be ingested, this can be dangerous so I would avoid this unless you are working under the guidance of someone trained in aromatherapy.
So, that brings us to the next question:
How can using essential oils help us with our PCOS and which ones should we be using?
Essential Oils for PCOS
Clary sage is supposed to be helpful in balancing estrogen levels. It also helps with PMS and menstrual cramping. There are a number of well-known wellness sites that make this claim but I have to say that I have found very little medical research to back this up. (4, 5)
Having said that, I did come across a study of 22 post menopausal women who were all in their 50’s. It was found that inhaling clary sage resulted in a 36% decrease in cortisol levels as well as a small improvement in thyroid hormone.
Clary sage seems to have calming properties to help with stress relief, as well as having the added benefit of boosting mood.
Now, as I’ve already mentioned, there is little research when it comes to using Clary Sage for PCOS. But, having read what research there is, I would suggest that Clary Sage would be helpful in improving the following symptoms of PCOS:
Stress and high cortisol levels
Dr Anna Garret suggests that Thyme oil is helpful in balancing and improving Progesterone levels. This could be helpful for women with PCOS because we tend to struggle with low progesterone. Progesterone is mainly produced by the corpus luteum once we have ovulated. If ovulation isn’t happening, we aren’t getting the progesterone that we should be getting.
Low progesterone levels can present with the following symptoms:
Lavender is a really common essential oil that can be used in a number of ways and to treat a number of conditions. Some of the symptoms lavender could be helpful with are:
Again, I can find little medical research but Sandalwood oil is supposed to be helpful in balancing out testosterone levels in both men and women (4). Obviously this would be helpful as we tend to have testosterone levels leading to symptoms like acne, male pattern baldness and hair where you don’t want it.
The Bottom Line
Having looked at all of the research and read a number of articles, it would seem that there may well be some benefit to using essential oils to manage some of the symptoms of PCOS.
Would I rely solely on essential oils? Absolutely not. I see essential oils as a helpful adjunct; something to try over and above the way you eat, your supplements and exercise.
It may have benefits for your symptoms but I don’t think it would be nearly as effective as food, supplements and exercise.
Now, I know that you may still have questions about which essential oils to use, how to use them and if you can blend oils. Well, I came across a really helpful article here that goes into a lot more detail and gives suggestions and recipes of oils to treat some specific symptoms of PCOS. If you’d like to know more, I highly recommend that you check it out.
If you have had any success with using essential oils for your PCOS, I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment below and let me know what worked and what didn’t!