This article gives basic information about PCOS, and some hints on how to begin healing holistically using lifestyle, foods and supplements.
What is PCOS?
PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome is a hormonal and metabolic disturbance that affects insulin sensitivity and ovulation. May women with PCOS are given conventional type 2 diabetes medications such as metformin to help balance blood sugar and BCP’s (Birth Control Pills) to help regulate their menstrual cycle. There are also many natural solutions to help manage symptoms (read on for those!).
PCOS can begin right from childhood (even before puberty) and carry on through menopause. It is the most common hormonal imbalance in menstruating women (10-20%) and the leading cause of infertility. Most (but not all) women with PCOS have multiple cysts on their ovaries. Cysts are actually a very normal part of the menstrual cycle; the cysts contain maturing eggs. In PCOS, the eggs do not mature and release, and so a string of cysts build up. Without ripe eggs being released for ovulation, a woman cannot get pregnant.
The main hormones that become imbalanced in PCOS are insulin, estrogens and androgens (like testosterone). Doctors may diagnose PCOS by an ultrasound that looks for cysts on the ovaries, or lab testing for fasting insulin and glucose levels, progesterone, estrogen and androgen hormones (e.g. DHT and testosterone).
What are the major symptoms of PCOS
- Weight gain that is stubborn to shift
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Lowered insulin sensitivity, which can lead to pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes
- Anovulation (no ovulation) therefore trouble conceiving
- Mood changes (as for any hormonal imbalance)
- Male type hair growth or loss (excess hair on torso, limbs and face, whilst it falls out on your head!)
- Yellow skin in the armpits or groin
- Deepening voice
- Enlarged clitoris
Is there Some Good News?
Many women are told that PCOS is incurable, but I have witnessed numerous accounts of women halting the progress of PCOS, losing weight and even cysts disappearing! How do you do this?
1 – CROWD OUT THE TOXINS DAIRY AND SUGAR
Oh dairy! How we have loved our cold milk on cereals and hot lattes. Little did we know that conventionally produced milk contains the antibiotics and hormones that are used to keep the animals producing constant high yields of milk and free from disease. The hormones disrupt your own fine balance, and the antibiotics (also known by farmers to fatten up animals!) can disrupt your own friendly gut bacteria. It’s a whole other topic, but unbalanced gut bacteria is known to cause weight gain. Sugar of course comes in the form of sugar we add, high GI foods (white breads, candy, milk chocolate, grains, and any processed foods – even cans, sauces and savouries),plus store brought bread/cakes/pastries and even your beloved caramel latte!). The easiest way to say goodbye to these depleting toxins is to fill up on unprocessed whole foods that are natural and life-giving!
2 – EAT AND LIVE FOR DETOX
PCOS usually involves too much testosterone and estrogen circulating in the body. We often forget that as well as making hormones, we have to get them out once they are used up! Eat plenty of high fibre, high nutrition, low GI foods, that aid your body’s detoxification process in the liver and intestines. Cruciferous veggies (think cauli, broccoli, cabbage) are well-known helpers! In holistic health, you cannot go wrong with veggies and fruits that are either organic, spray free, home-grown OR (if store-bought) washed thoroughly to remove pesticides.
Let’s not forget that the daily elimination of hormones, pharmaceuticals, food waste and chemicals, also needs heaps of hydration. Are you getting enough clean water? That means either filtered tank water, or town supply that has been through a reverse osmosis or carbon filter. Some companies also deliver reverse osmosis water to your door. I use the Big Berkey retailing at £220 and up (if you get this then check if your water is fluoridated – if not, you can find a purchase option with only the black filters). I use it because it is endorsed by the military and aid agencies to clean water better then any other system. Of course the price may not be an option for you, so use at least a Brita Filter or put lemon in your water (this will help you to cleanse).
Most women don’t realise that their make-up, plastic containers, drink bottles, jandals (flip-flops), cleaners and shampoos also contain hormone disruptors. Start making the switch to natural eco-friendly products. If the product is earth-friendly, then it’s human friendly too!
3 – EAT FOR LOW GI!
GI stands for Glycemic Index. Low GI foods release energy slower in your body. They don’t cause blood sugar spikes and may help your body to become more sensitive to insulin in the long-term. All libraries have books on the Low GI way to health, and there are numerous resources on the internet. The added benefit is this will also stabilise energy levels and improve your sleep and mood. The easiest way to eat low GI is to crowd out sugar, alcohol and processed foods by filling up on salads, veggies, fruits, lean meats, eggs,nuts, seeds and unprocessed grains. Watch the video below for more on how to help avoid and reverse diabetes/insulin insensitivity.
4 – ADD CINNAMON!
Cinnamon is scientifically documented to support blood sugar stabilisation! Add cinnamon to hot drinks, smoothies, yoghurt…anywhere you can get it in!
Some of the many other foods to add in are:
- those high in vitamin C for detox and balancing stress hormones and progesterone – kiwi, red peppers, orange, strawberries
- foods high in chromium such as liver and unprocessed whole grains (also available as supplements)
- fresh, locally caught, low mercury fish (great source of anti-inflammatory fats)
5 – CULTIVATE CALMNESS
Stress hormones affect blood sugar directly. Stress comes in many forms – from over-exercise, over-scheduling, lack of sleep, high sugar and inflammatory fat diets, emotional roller-coasters, toxic people and environmental toxins. How can your detox stress from your life? Yoga, deep breathing, rest time, and saying ‘No!” to extra tasks are all great ways of soothing your nervous system to support hormonal balance.
6 – YOUR WEB OF SUPPORT!
Women have a completely different way of relating to stress than men. In fact, our first response IS NOT flight, fight or freeze – no, those studies were all about men! Women’s stress hormones compel us to seek positive connections. If we don’t get those, then stress hormones continue to rise! What can you do about this? Start building a supportive group of women. Do you know any other women with PCOS? Seek out those friends who you feel great with and detox the rest.
This article has covered some of the key healing paths for PCOS that you can get started on straight away. If it seems overwhelming then pick one that seems easiest to you and live that way for a week. The next week you can start to introduce another. As well as these basics, there are many other nutrition, lifestyle and supplementation options available. Don’t forget to find the support of a local group, integrative health coach, naturopath, on-line support group or integrative medicine doctor.
What’s your biggest challenge with PCOS? What do you need to know more about? What helpful tips can you share with women that have worked for you?