I’ve been told that I have ovarian cysts. I don’t like to take over-the-counter or prescription painkillers. Are there any natural therapies I could take to ease the pain and other symptoms?
Yes! Ovarian cysts are fairly common among women of childbearing age, but most are small and harmless. If symptoms, such as pelvic pain or bloating, occur, they tend to be subtle…but not always, depending on the type of cysts that you have. Cysts generally fall into one of two categories—both of which are related to a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle. A follicular cyst occurs when a woman’s egg is not released from the follicle and continues to grow…and a corpus luteum cyst develops when a follicle releases an egg, as normally occurs during ovulation, but the follicle accumulates fluid that turns into a cyst. Both of these types of cysts typically disappear on their own within a few months. Other, less common types of ovarian cysts, such as the multiple small cysts (often called a “string of pearls”) that are symptomatic of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), may require a different form of treatment than the “watchful waiting” approach often used for follicular and corpus luteum cysts. Regardless of the type of cyst you have, you’ll want relief if you’re experiencing pelvic pain, painful intercourse or uncomfortable bloating. Fortunately, there are natural therapies available to both ease discomfort and promote hormonal balance—this, in turn, will also help reduce bloating associated with ovarian cysts. Your hormones play an important role in the smooth transition of follicle development, the release of a healthy egg and the production of progesterone. Most cysts are caused by an imbalance in the orchestration of a woman’s hormones. If there is too much estrogen, cysts can form…if a woman doesn’t ovulate (which results in low progesterone), a cyst can form…and if she has too much testosterone, as is the case in PCOS, she can form small cysts. Large cysts will most likely need to be treated surgically (these typically fall in the greater than 5-centimeter category). Smaller cysts can often be helped with natural therapies. Because the majority of cysts disappear on their own, I often recommend to my patients that they get through any associated discomfort by using castor oil packs each night for up to two weeks, which can ease pain by increasing circulation and moving lymph through the pelvis. Whenever there is stagnation of blood, body fluids or lymph—or what we call qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)—there can be pain. The castor oil pack increases circulation and blood flow through the area, decreasing stagnation. To make a castor oil pack: Rub a teaspoon of castor oil onto your lower abdomen, then place a piece of clean flannel or cotton on the area. Cover this with a heating pad or hot-water bottle. The heat itself—with a heating pad or hot bath (preferably with Epsom salts)—may alleviate pelvic pain. Important: If you experience sudden, sharp pain in your lower belly with vaginal bleeding—especially if it’s accompanied by fever or vomiting—get to an emergency room or call your doctor. This could signal a ruptured cyst that requires prompt treatment including ultrasound to monitor internal bleeding and, in rare cases, surgery to remove the cyst. To improve your overall ovarian health, which will also help ease your symptoms, I urge you to discuss the classic herbal tonic known as Turska’s formula, which can effectively treat ovarian cysts, with your naturopathic physician. (To find a naturopathic physician near you, check the website of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.) A number of other herbal remedies can also be taken to promote hormonal balance, increase circulation to your reproductive organs, and—importantly—reduce ovarian pain. These include maca…milk thistle…black cohosh…and, my favorite herbal supplement for hormonal balance, chaste tree berry (also known as Vitex). Chaste tree berry has a long history of supporting fertility by promoting healthy ovulation. Diet can also make a big difference. Organic vegetables, wild-caught salmon, flaxseed and quality fats (such as avocado) support hormonal equilibrium and may reduce your symptoms, while magnesium-rich almonds may help ease pain. Chamomile tea may diminish the dull ache that can accompany ovarian cysts. And even though you may be tempted to stay in bed due to your discomfort, exercise can provide enormous relief. Yoga, in particular, may offer the very release from tension that you might need. Last but not least, strive to stay relaxed. In TCM, ovarian issues are due to liver imbalances and qi stagnation driven by stress.