Did you know that 1 in 10 individuals with ovaries are affected by PCOS? Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can impact many aspects of a person’s health, from their moods, their weight, to their 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. Naturopathic 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 individuals with ovaries during their reproductive years. It’s marked by irregular ovulation and higher than normal levels of the “male” hormones or androgens such as testosterone. 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:
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, chin, chest, and back as a result of hormonal imbalances.
PCOS can bring on an increased risk of depression or anxiety
This means missed periods or very long cycles (longer than 30 days). Some cease to menstruate at all. Others develop very heavy periods. Heavy periods are categorized as soaking through 1 heavy tampon/pad in 1-2 hours.
Cystic ovaries, as well as the accompanying hormonal imbalances, can make conception difficult, potentially leading to the need for extra help to get pregnant.
Gaining weight without any particular change in lifestyle, especially around the belly. This is due to the hormonal imbalances, so do not blame or shame yourself if you are feeling down about gaining weight.
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.
Unexplained weight gain is often a symptom of PCOS. This weight gain can also contribute to PCOS. Of course, this creates a frustrating dynamic since PCOS also makes it harder to lose weight, if that is a personal goal. By no means does this mean that only those with weight gain have PCOS – individuals of ANY size can have PCOS.
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 those with PCOS also have insulin resistance. Chronically high blood sugar, altered gut microbiome, inactivity, stress and more 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. It is important to remember that even though insulin resistance and weight is talked about a lot with PCOS, it is definitely possible for individuals of any size to have PCOS. So, if you have these symptoms but are not gaining weight, this still can be a possible diagnosis for you.
What is insulin anyway?
Insulin is a hormone that is released by the pancreas. It takes glucose from your blood and allows it to enter your muscles, liver and fat cells for your body to use for energy.
Why testing blood glucose is not sufficient:
Often, your insulin will start to increase before your blood glucose. So, you can have well-balanced blood glucose levels but still have insulin resistance and all of the symptoms that come along with it.
Why treating your PCOS Can Be Frustrating:
Not only is it difficult to diagnose PCOS, it can also be tricky to treat. The tools that conventional medical care providers are taught to use are either the use of hormonal contraceptives (birth control pills) and/or metformin (a blood sugar regulating drug, often given to type 2 diabetics).
Although every doctor only has the best interests of their patients in mind, the problem in this approach is that these really just mask the symptoms of PCOS instead of getting to the root of the problem and fixing it. Another issue is that birth control pills containing estrogen can actually raise blood sugar levels in addition to carrying other health risks
A Naturopathic 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. Natural Whole Food Diet
Eating foods that are low in preservatives and other endocrine disruptors (things that can change mimic hormones in our bodies) is a great approach to nourishing those with PCOS well. Certain foods can increase inflammation in your body as well as increase your levels of insulin.
2. Balance Protein and Carbs
You don’t have to eliminate carbs altogether. Choose unprocessed, complex carbs and balance them with sources of protein. Your diet will vary based on your individual concerns, so it is best to work with a naturopathic doctor to figure out what is best indicated for you.
3. Optimizing Gut Health
Improving your gut health to reduce inflammation, improve elimination and regulate insulin. These will all help to reduce your symptoms of PCOS.
4. Talk to your healthcare provider about supplementation
Depending on your individual needs, helpful supplements could include vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, N-acetyl cysteine. In particular, inositol (a B vitamin) has been proven effective for PCOS treatment. The right testing by your doctor can uncover any deficiencies you may have and help you come up with a targeted supplement protocol.
5. 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.
6. Get some healthy movement
Moderate exercise will help with insulin resistance. 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.
7. Weight management
Those with PCOS struggle more than the average person with their weight. However, I do not focus on weight as a mainstay of treatment. Depending on your case, studies do show that losing small amounts of weight can make a big difference to PCOS symptoms. However, I prefer to focus on the other aspects of PCOS – balancing your sex hormones and blood sugar, and usually weight will decrease as a side effect of controlling these. Focusing on weight itself can create or perpetuate a negative self-image and we do not want that!
Take Control of Your Hormones
Yes, PCOS can be frustrating. However, lots of 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 hormones? Come into the office (or see me virtually) and we can get started!