Living with PCOS
There’s around a 10% chance that you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), if you are a woman of reproductive age. In fact, some PCOS organisations estimate that around 50% of women who have PCOS are currently undiagnosed. For that reason, it may be more like a 20% chance. Here we cover the essential information you need to know about PCOS and what you can do about it.
Symptoms vary between individuals. Having PCOS can often mean irregular periods, excessive hair growth, weight gain, hair loss, oily skin and acne. PCOS sufferers often experience difficulty getting pregnant, because of irregular ovulation or failure to ovulate.
Diagnosis usually involves blood tests. Tests look for pituitary hormones like FSH and LH, as well as progesterone, oestrogen, testosterone, blood-sugar markers and thyroid hormones. You may also be offered an ultrasound to identify cysts on the ovaries. Cysts are caused by undeveloped follicles that haven’t matured enough at the time of ovulation to allow the egg to break through. Although PCOS is named after these cysts, they are not actually a prerequisite for a diagnosis.
Unfortunately there is a broad definition of PCOS, and it’s multiple symptoms. This often leads to misdiagnosis. The root cause of the condition (e.g. inflammation, or insulin resistance) is rarely investigated.
Standard medical treatment for PCOS includes the use of oral contraceptives, insulin sensitising medications (such as Metformin), and fertility drugs. But whilst these treatments might regulate your menstrual cycle to an extent, they rarely alleviate the symptoms. PCOS is significantly affected by lifestyle factors. This includes diet, exercise, environmental toxins, and stress. There are many natural ways to relieve your symptoms, depending on the root cause of your PCOS – which varies for each woman.
THE ROOT CAUSE
Too much sugar and too many refined carbs in your diet can cause the insulin receptors in your cells to shut down. This allows higher levels of insulin to be released by the pancreas. This is the most common cause of PCOS, as high levels of insulin can interfere with ovulation and stimulate excess androgens.
Fat tissue produces an enzyme called aromatase, which increases androgens,. The more overweight you are, the more testosterone and androgens you are likely to be producing.
When you are constantly in “fight or flight” mode, your body won’t prioritise your reproductive hormones. The last thing the body wants is to conceive in a stressful world!
Low thyroid hormone
When you don’t have enough active thyroid hormone, your ovaries might not have the energy they need to ovulate.
Inflammation (especially in your gut!)
Inflammation damages your hormone receptors and suppresses ovulation. Therefore, if you suffer from bloating, irregular bowel movements or other IBS symptoms, you will need to address the inflammation in your gut in order to balance your hormones.
Helpful foods for PCOS include:
1. Low Sugar: Replace your sugary snacks with protein rich ones. Include healthy fats, and complex carbs. See my Natural Alternatives To Refined Sugar for more information.
- Low GI carbs: Whole grains, brown rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice pasta, and soba noodles.
- Healthy Fats: Olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, and oily fish.
- Organic Protein: Meat, fish, seafood, full-fat dairy, pulses and legumes.
- Vegetables: all kinds, all colours, and organic where possible!
- Cinnamon: Works in the same way as metformin to balance your blood sugar.
- Overnight Fasting: A fast between dinner and breakfast of 12–16 hours has shown to help with insulin sensitivity and weight loss.
- Stress Management: Prioritise at least 10 minutes a day of stress management – try mindfulness, deep breathing, a relaxing bath, reading, or listening to music. I recommend Relax Me Happy.
3. Food intolerances: Eliminate intolerances such as gluten, or dairy – for at least four weeks. If you would like to know for sure which foods (if any) you are intolerant to, I strongly recommend food intolerance testing.
4. Vitamins: Take vitamin D3 with K2 throughout the winter, if you live in the northern hemisphere, or if you don’t get enough exposure to direct sunlight without sunscreen.
5. Toxins: Reduce exposure to environmental toxins, because they could be causing inflammation. Toxins are in foods such as processed foods, BPA in plastics, pesticides and synthetic chemicals in cleaning, laundry and personal care products.
I highly recommend, if you have IBS symptoms taking a stool test to check for underlying infections. Therefore, working with a qualified Nutritional Therapist to rebalance the gut and reduce inflammation is a good idea.
If you are overweight or have poor circulation, I recommend getting a proper thyroid test done (to check TSH, T4, T3 and TPO antibodies). Your GP may do this for you, or you can use a private company like Thriva or Medichecks.