Although there does not seem to be any hard and fast rules about PCOS, there seem to be some commonalities. In the majority of women diagnosed with PCOS, there is a combination of high androgens and high insulin. Often obesity is a factor, although not always. PCOS is a very complex condition and hard to diagnose. Symptoms are varied and change from time to time.
It’s challenging to diagnose because some women have all of the symptoms of PCOS except they do not have polycystic ovaries. Some women have hirsuitism (increased hair where it doesn’t belong) but not all do. Some women are obese; others are lean. Many women have thyroid issues especially Hashimoto’s Disease, an automimmune disease which traces back to leaky gut.
Common causes of PCOS
- Difficulty losing weight. The majority of women with PCOS are overweight. We know that most women have a tough time losing weight, but those with PCOS have a tougher time because of high insulin. High insulin levels signal the body to store fat at all costs, increase hunger and carbohydrate cravings. And so the cycle continues.
- Rogue hairs. High levels of androgens circulating in your bloodstream can stimulate hair follicles to thicken and grow. The result can be increased hair growth on the upper lip, chin, on or between the breasts, back, belly, arms and thighs. This excessive hair growth in a male pattern is present in the majority of women with excess androgens and PCOS.
- Women with PCOS have chronic, low-grade inflammation, which can lead to a variety of health issues other than PCOS such as heart disease and cancer.
Dangers of PCOS
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome is one of the leading causes of infertility in women.
- Heart disease. Since PCOS is measured by belly fat, high blood pressure, inflammation, insulation resistance, abnormal glucose metabolism and a sevenfold increase in diabetes, it puts you at a much higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Hormone-dependent cancers such as breast, endometrial and ovarian may be more likely in women with PCOS because their hormonal levels are unbalanced.
- Mood problems. Regardless of body type, women with PCOS may experience a higher occurrence of anxiety, depression, withheld anger, diminished sexual satisfaction and lower health-related quality of life. Anxiety is associated with androgen levels and insulin resistance, not body mass index or age.
- Abnormal liver enzymes. A large percentage of women with PCOS have high levels of liver enzymes which indicates inflammation in the liver and possible scarring.
By making specific, consistent lifestyle changes and taking the appropriate nutraceuticals, PCOS can be well managed. It does take a commitment of 12-24 weeks but by then you’ll have a new lifestyle, feel great and never look back.
- Lose weight and exercise. Although this might be challenging, persistence will win out when combined with the rest of the suggestions below
- Incorporate a low glycemic index diet. In a nutshell, restrict or eliminate your consumption of anything that contains sugars. This includes fruit juice, simple carbohydrates such as bread and other bakery items, pasta and white rice. It’s a good idea to restrict the amount of fruit you eat and when you do eat it, make sure it’s whole, raw fruit which contains more fibre and will help balance the natural sugars. Honey and maple syrup used sparingly are fine and stevia is acceptable but please stay away from all artificial sweeteners, including Splenda. They are full of chemicals, which your body does not know how to absorb.
- Increase fibre intake. Fresh fruits, vegetables and beans are your best bets. I recommend 35 to 45 grams of fiber each day, which may seem like a lot. But consider that 1 cup of raspberries contains 8 grams and 1 cup of adzuki beans contains 17 grams and it’s really not that difficult.
- Eat foods rich in zinc. Zinc plays an important role in sexual development, menstruation and ovulation. Zinc deficiency is associated with higher androgens and acne. Green beans, sesame and pumpkin seeds are all good course of zinc but I do not recommend a supplement unless you have your levels checked. Zinc and copper must stay in balance of each other.
- Avoid dairy including milk and cheese which are inflammatory, leading to higher androgens. If you’re not convinced that this will make any difference, eliminate it for 6 weeks to see if there is an improvement in symptoms.
- Eat more protein, preferably organic chicken and turkey, low-mercury fish and grass-fed beef. Most women don’t eat enough protein to lower androgen levels.
- Omega 3 or fish oil. The typical modern diet is far too high in Omega 6, which is inflammatory. Our bodies need a balance between Omegas 3 and 6. Omega 3 is anti-inflammatory and helps to lower androgens in the blood and results in a better cholesterol profile.
- Take up yoga. Yoga has been shown to be more effective than other forms of exercise at improving insulin resistance in PCOS. Yoga also helps reduce stress levels. I would recommend including meditation at the end of your yoga session.
Recommended Nutraceuticals and Herbal Therapies
- Probiotics are the number one nutraceuticals for more health issues. They help to balance the gut bacteria, boost the immune system and heal leaky gut. Just be sure that you buy a good quality probiotic, preferably one that is made from human strain and not dairy. Unfortunately yogurt does not contain sufficient probiotics to make a difference with unbalanced gut bacteria.
- Chromium will help reverse insulin resistance and lower insulin and glucose levels when they are high.
- Inositol is a naturally occurring B-complex vitamin known to improve insulin sensitivity and lower free testosterone.
- Vitamin D deficiency has emerged as a factor in the metabolic disturbance of PCOS.
- Cinnamon is a natural insulin-sensitizer, stimulating glucose uptake by fat cells which lowers both glucose and insulin levels and even helps lower blood pressure.
PCOS is a complex, multilayered condition. If you have trouble losing fat, have irregular periods, have excess hair in odd places and experience pain, please have your bloodwork checked and an ultrasound done. Ultrasound by itself may or may not provide a definitive diagnosis but combined with bloodwork and symptomology, should provide you with enough information for your doctor.
If you are diagnosed with PCOS, I highly recommend that you find a naturopath or nutritionist with experience in treating PCOS, especially if you want to have children.
Until next time,