Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS for short, is a hormonal imbalance that is debiliating and somewhat perplexing and is an emotional diagnosis for young women. PCOS is the number one reason women of child-bearing age cannot get pregnant.
Women with PCOS are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, poor self esteem, disordered eating and psychosexual dysfunction. Many women with PCOS do not ovulate optimally and often there is excess testosterone and deficient progesterone, leading to estrogen dominance. Lack of ovulation is often caused by excessive testosterone as a result of high insulin levels from insulin resistance.
Symptoms of PCOS
Women often present with the following symptoms which may lead to the official diagnosis of PCOS:
- Hirsutism – excessive growth of dark or coarse hair in a male-like pattern (face, chest, back)
- Male pattern balding – thinning hair on head
- Subfertility or infertility
- Psychological symptoms – anxiety, depression, psychosexual dysfunction, eating disorders
- High cholesterol and triglycerides (dyslipidemia)
- Diabetes or prediabetes
- Weight gain; difficulty losing weight
- Cravings especially carbohydrates
- Skin disruption – acne
- Sleep disruption – insomnia
- Ovarian tumor (rare)
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (rare)
Root Causes of PCOS
Traditional medicine attempts to rebalance hormones through oral contraceptives. This however does not address the underlying causes and may cause futher health concerns later in life.
I approach PCOS by exploring the root causes first.
There is often a genetic predisposition of PCOS, which is triggered by environmental and lifestyle factors. Forty percent of women with PCOS have a sister with the same condition, and 35 percent have a mother with it. Risk can be inherited from your mother or your father. Other causes of PCOS include:
- Excessive weight, excess body fat
- Excessive testosterone
- Blood sugar dysregulation, insulin resistance
- Irregular sleep
- Hormone imbalance
- Inflammatory foods and high glycemic foods
- Environmental toxins and endocrine disrupters (i.e., personal care products)
- Excessive stress
- Insufficient Omega 3
A Lifestyle Approach to Healing
The main approaches to healing PCOS include:
- Resolving insulin resistance; the body is reading “too much blood sugar” and the pancreas releases more insulin which causes an increase in testosterone
- Restablish normal circadian rhythm; using your vision and eyes to establish normal circadian rhythm, limit use of computers, cell phones (especially at night and early morning)
- Whole food anti-inflammatory nutrition, protein at every meal; focus on minerals including zinc; avoidance of dairy, gluten, high phytic foods, sugar, carboyhdrates, processed foods, inflammatory oils
- Proper digestion and eating hygiene
- Stress management and support of HPA axis; meditation and breathing; reducing fight or flight
- Physical activity; yoga to reduce cortisol
Lifestyle Approaches to Healing
A functional medicine or lifestyle approach addresses healing and rebalancing the entire body. This includes:
Nutrition: Anti-Inflammatory Diet
An anti-inflammatory diet includes a diversity of vegetables and fruit of a rainbow of colors. Protein can include low mercury fish (salmon, cod, anchovies, Butterfish, Flounder, scallops, shrimp, tilapia, trout), lean meats that are hormone free, plus beans and lentils. There are many vegetables that contain protein such as broccoli, green peas, Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, asparagus. High protein grains include quinoa, amaranth, brown rice, rye and barley.
Good fats come from a variety of nuts including almonds, walnuts, cashews and Brazil nuts, plus pumpkin, sesame or sunflower seeds, and freshly ground flax. Avocado is an excellent source of good fat.
A great sweetener that also improves insulin resistance is stevia, used in small amounts. It is naturally high in chromium and provides satisfaction when you desire something sweet.
Instead of calling it exercise, I like to call it movement. 🙂
Physical activity and movement provides stress relief plus supports your body in staying strong, agile and maintaining a healthy weight. I recommend to all of my patients that they incorporate movement at least six (6) days a week. Movement can be fun and in the same way you have a diversity of foods, you can have a diversity of movement. The type of movement I recommend is based on you individually, however that said, I encourage movement which does not add additional stress to the body.
Well-being evolves from a daily practice to remember who we are and what we need. Recommend that each of us takes time to meditate, contemplate, walk mindfully and engage in a daily gratitude practice. Any of these activities remind us to notice the positive and joyful aspect of life.
Advanced specialty testing gives us further insights as to what is imbalanced in the body. Working together, we may explore the following tests:
- Blood Chemistry (HbA1C, fasting insulin)
- Full thyroid panel
- Complete blood count
- Comprehensive Metabolic Panel
- Liver Enzymes
- Iron panel; ferritin
- Antinuclear antibody (to determine if there is an autoimmune condition at play)
Certain supplements may be supportive in healing the body depending on what was learned by testing and through exploration of symptoms. These may include:
- Thyroid support (minerals) to support T4 to T3 conversion
- Blood sugar support
- Vitamin D3/K2
- Omega 3