PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) sucks.
And to be quite frank, so does the medical system’s way of handling it. Talk to any woman who has been diagnosed with PCOS and you can be certain that they have tried several types of birth control, Metformin to stabilize blood sugars, Accutane to control the acne or Clomid to promote fertility; or they have been sent for a variety of tests with no definitive answer and have not had the opportunity to even attempt a course of treatment. Medically, there is no cure and this is defeating for women who face a diagnosis.
In terms of natural health, we have a few ways of coping with (I’m not going to say curing) PCOS, but first we need to address some of the logic behind our recommendations. PCOS is multi-factorial and therefore we need to attack every angle to promote better health.
1) Genetics and obesity
There is a strong correlation between PCOS and one’s genetic predisposition, though the exact genes involved have not been identified.
When it comes to genetics there’s not a whole lot we can do, but still hope for managing your symptoms. Read on!
While PCOS can contribute to weight gain, obesity seems to be a contributing factor to its development. Though difficult, obesity is always important to get a handle on before it contributes to the development of not only PCOS, but also hypertension or heart problems, and other metabolic conditions.
2) Blood Sugar Dysregulation/Development of Insulin Resistance
Do you ever wonder why Metformin, a drug for diabetics is recommended for those with PCOS? Well, here's your answer. PCOS occurs because the body is producing too many androgens (think male hormones/testosterone) resulting in irregular periods, multiple cysts (though that is not always present in all females with PCOS), acne, weight gain, depression or anxiety, skin tags, excessive body hair and sometimes infertility. The overproduction of androgens can be caused by excessive insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas after a meal to lower blood sugars) in the blood stream, which occurs in a condition insulin resistance. This basically means that your cells are no longer responding to the action of insulin. So, insulin is secreted, but not taken up by the cells, and therefore remains in the blood and consequently blood sugars remain high. Ultimately, this explains not only why Metformin, a drug used to treat Type 2 diabetes is prescribed but also, why balancing blood sugars is so critical.
3) History of Poor diet and Lack of Physical Activity
This sort of relates to blood sugar stability but I’m going to reiterate my points here. Exercise helps your body to utilize extra sugar in the blood stream, thereby lowering blood sugar.
A diet high in refined carbohydrates and low in protein, healthy fats, and fiber, as well going too long between meals, or skipping meals altogether will cause constant fluctuations in your blood sugars which is what causes insulin resistance.
4) History of High Stress
When our bodies are stressed we produce cortisol. The manufacture of cortisol takes away from the production of progesterone, and those with PCOS are already low in progesterone. If you are trying to conceive, remember you need progesterone to sustain pregnancy!
I’ll mention this in every post where I tell someone to manage stress: I am well aware that you can’t make it disappear, trust me. Stress is a normal part of life, but it should not be normal to the point that it becomes debilitating, and it is astonishing how many individuals allow this to happen. But this is the time where you need to recognize that you are not Jim Carrey in Yes Man!, and you can say no to things. Don’t continually add on to your pile of stress. Take up effective ways to manage stress like scheduling coffee with a friend, exercise or reading a book. It is incredibly important that you take time for you. If stress has been an aggravating factor for a number of months, or like many, a number of years and you are really feeling the effects, consider a supplement like an adaptogenic herb or formula that can help your body cope with stress.
So, let’s say you have a history of going too long between meals, a diet comprised of mostly high glycemic carbohydrates, high stress and inactivity and now you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS. What can you do? There’s a few things you can do to get started, but it may also be worthwhile meeting with a naturopath (try 360 Wellness:)) or an open-minded medical doctor to elevate your progress and monitor your condition.
Here’s a few recommendations to get you started:
1) Modify your diet:
It’s beneficial to look into a low glycemic diet to regulate blood sugars. Eat lots of green leafy vegetables, have some form of protein with each meal, and don’t go longer than four hours without eating. Additionally, monitor your portion sizes to maintain an appropriate weight. This may mean you need to be more proactive about packing snacks when you travel to make sure you don’t go too long without eating something.
Hilary, a holistic nutritionist who operates out of the 360 Wellness in Spruce Grove would be a very valuable resource if you need help orchestrating your meals! You can check out her Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/lettuceeatandnourish/?fref=ts
2) Make it a goal to commit to whatever level of physical fitness you can:
If you enjoy exercise you can also throw this into your stress management category: schedule some form of exercise whether it be yoga, going for a walk or jog, or hitting up the gym. I personally love my workout DVD’s and I really only commit to 20 minutes per day which sounds like I’m being lazy but it’s high intensity and that’s what works well for me. You’ll find what works well for you!
If you hate exercise, there are apps on your phone that are literally SEVEN minutes. Start there! Or, go for a walk. I’ll tell you, sometimes when I don’t feel like doing anything I force myself to do 30 seconds of jumping jacks and even that encourages me. Learn what tricks you into moving forward, your biggest obstacle is usually yourself.
3) Manage your stress levels:
I’m not asking you to just “stop feeling stressed out”. I know that isn’t something that can just happen overnight, especially when there are external forces beyond your control. But generally speaking, there are things we can do to make our stressful situations easier on our bodies. Go to bed 15 minutes or half an hour earlier, take some time to read a book if that’s what you enjoy doing or, schedule in exercise. Help your body out. Sometimes you may need supplements to help quiet your mind or reduce some of the negative reactions associated with stress. It is best for you to pop by the store to chat with an associate about your options, but some of my personal favorites are:
Symptoms: Anxiety/Poor Sleep/Overactive Mind
Fatigue/Poor Immunity Due To Stress
B-Complex Vitamins (I love AOR)
Any Adrenal Formula (but especially ones with astragalus)
Muscle Pain/Headaches/Constipation Due to Stress
Magnesium (which also helps with increasing cell sensitivity to insulin!)
*do not combine with medications without consulting a pharmacist
4) Basic Supplement Protocol (meet with a practitioner to get a more advanced approach, and additionally, ALWAYS consult a pharmacist if you are currently on medications)
Until recently, there have been very few products specifically for PCOS.
Advanced PCOS Relief AOR
This is one of the first formulas that is developed, and marketed specific to PCOS. It combines two forms of inositol in a synergistic ratio to reduce insulin resistance and improve embryo quality and function of the ovaries. Inositol has positive effects on the mood. This product has folic acid in it, in an activated form that requires no conversions by the body to be utilized. This is important for preventing neural tube defects and improving heart health-and of course, very, very important if you conceive!
Omega-3’s are beneficial in two ways:
They can work to reduce inflammation that is a common symptom of PCOS
They may also reduce serum testosterone AND regulate the menstrual cycle
So far, there is not a lot of science to support the use of probiotics specific to PCOS, but sometimes natural health jumps on the bandwagon before the verification from scientists. So, attached is an interesting podcast that provides a very good rationale behind addressing gut health when it comes to our endocrine hormones.
DIM Plus/Vitex/or another estrogen detoxifying formula
Again, another concept derived from alternative health that has a lot of merit.
Those with PCOS often have low progesterone, and the principle behind these products is to manage estrogen levels to increase progesterone. This can be done in a number of ways, and there are no shortage of formulas. Consider speaking with a practitioner to decide which is best for you:)
Overall, the takeaway message is this: if you have PCOS please do not feel limited by your condition. There are a number of things you can do to improve your health, and my suggestions are far from complete. Visit a practitioner (we have some great ones at 360 Wellness) and communicate openly, and honestly with your doctor to ensure you get the best care possible. Finally: eat well, manage your stress and exercise. Regardless of circumstances those are guidelines EVERYONE should be following, and can make a world of difference before you even investigate supplements!!