Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: What You Need to Know
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can impact many aspects of a woman’s health, from her moods, her weight, to her chances of conception. This surprisingly common condition can be difficult to diagnose and treat. That’s partly because conventional medicine practices are often geared towards tackling the symptoms without truly getting to the underlying reasons. Functional/ Natural treatments for PCOS address this frustrating condition from all angles, addressing the whole system with a special focus on the root cause.
What Is PCOS?
Simply put, polycystic ovarian syndrome is a hormonal problem that can affect women during their reproductive years. It’s marked by irregular ovulation and higher than normal levels of the “male” hormones or androgens such as testosterone, in simplistic terms. The name refers to changes to the ovaries, which become filled with small cysts that lead to hormone imbalances.
Because PCOS can be difficult to diagnose it’s a bit uncertain how common it is, but about five to 10 percent of women may experience it during the reproductive years.
The Symptoms of PCOS
The symptoms of PCOS often start to appear slowly over time, and the changes they bring about are often easy to dismiss as normal.
If you experience the following symptoms, it may be time to talk with a healthcare practitioner:
● Weight Gain
Gaining weight without any particular change in lifestyle, especially around the belly. Women with PCOS often develop an “apple” shape in which their body fat collects in the torso area.
Facial and back acne and other skin conditions such as dark patches and skin tags often go hand in hand with PCOS.
Extra hair on the face and body, particularly on the upper lip, chest, and back as a result of hormonal imbalances.
● Mood Changes
PCOS can particularly bring on an increased risk of depression or anxiety
● Irregular Periods
Some women cease to menstruate at all. Others develop very heavy periods.
● Difficulty conceiving
Cystic ovaries, as well as the accompanying hormonal imbalances, can make conception difficult, potentially leading to the need for extra help to get pregnant.
What Are the Underlying Causes Of PCOS?
It is very often difficult to determine one precise cause for PCOS, since many factors can contribute to its development. Genetics do play a role however, so if your mother or sister has had PCOS, you are more likely to develop it.
Carrying extra weight can also contribute to PCOS. Of course, this creates a frustrating dynamic since PCOS makes you more likely to keep gaining weight. Hormonal imbalances also make it harder to lose that extra weight.
As well as the more measurable factors, some research suggests that high stress levels may play a role in the development of PCOS. That’s because stress can wreak havoc on your hormones, resulting in an overproduction of testosterone and insulin.
Insulin resistance may be a major factor in PCOS. About 70 percent of women with PCOS also have insulin resistance. Obesity, high blood sugar, inactivity, and stress can all lead to insulin resistance, however in PCOS insulin resistance seems to be both a symptom and a driver of the condition and affects all body types. One does not have to be overweight to have PCOS.
Why PCOS Can Be Frustrating: The Shortfalls of Conventional Medicine
Not only is it difficult to diagnose PCOS, but it can also be tricky to treat. Many conventional medical care providers seek to simply mask the symptoms by putting women with PCOS on birth control pills.
One clear flaw in this approach is that birth control pills won’t help women who are trying to reverse their PCOS in order to conceive. More importantly, this approach isn’t getting to the root of the problem, in fact it may exacerbate it. Birth control pills containing estrogen can affect blood sugar homeostasis in addition to carrying other health risks. The goal should be to restore overall health, not add the potential for more problems.
The Natural Approach To PCOS
A naturopathic approach considers the whole person in treating PCOS. That means addressing the underlying causes of hormonal imbalances. The goal is to improve all aspects of a patient’s health – and consequently, reduce PCOS symptoms.
Treatment starts with a thorough evaluation of your health history as well as thorough functional testing. Although the exact protocols will vary by patient, here are some proven tips for treating PCOS.
1. Weight Loss Plan
If you’re overweight, work with your healthcare provider to create a healthy weight-loss plan. Losing just small amounts of weight can make a big difference to PCOS symptoms. However, you want to approach weight loss in a way that doesn’t create more stress in your body as stress can have a negative effect on insulin levels. That’s why it’s important to work with your functional medicine healthcare practitioner.
2. Natural Whole Food Diet
Eating foods without preservatives or other endocrine disruptors is the best approach to fully nourishing your body’s intricate systems.
3. Balance Protein and Carbs
You don’t have to eliminate carbs altogether. Choose unprocessed, complex carbs and balance them with sources of lean protein. As well, keep your blood sugar stable by eating at regular intervals.
4. Improve Gut Health
By improving your gut health to reduce inflammation and improve elimination, probiotics can help regulate hormone levels.
5. Choose Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Essential Fatty Acids are the building blocks of many hormones, and a deficiency in EFAs is very common. Good sources include fatty fish such as salmon or sardines, as well as eggs, nuts and seeds.
6. Talk to your healthcare provider about supplementation
Depending on your personal profile, helpful supplements could include magnesium, vitamin D, and a natural B-complex vitamin. In particular, inositol (a B vitamin) has been proven effective for PCOS treatment. And chromium can help metabolize sugar and stabilize glucose levels. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. The right testing by your doctor can uncover any deficiencies you may have and help you come up with a targeted supplement protocol.
7. Get Enough Sleep
A good night’s sleep is an essential part of hormone regulation. Interestingly, studies have found that sleep problems are twice as common for women with PCOS. So be sure to pay attention to your sleep habits.
8. Get some healthy movement
Moderate exercise will help with weight loss. It will also relieve stress and balance your cortisol levels. One study found that a mix of high-intensity interval training and strength training helps women with PCOS. However, talk to your healthcare provider about the best approach for you as many women with PCOS do better with gentle exercise.
Take Control of Your Hormones
Yes, PCOS can be frustrating. However, much research has been done recently on functional testing and effective natural, holistic treatments for PCOS. By treating your body as an integrated set of systems, you can get to the bottom of your PCOS symptoms and get on the path towards true balance and wellbeing.
Ready to take control of your health and hormones? Start by taking our free Stress Assessment and learn more about the 4-Key Stressors HERE.