It's not fun having to spend 30 minutes every morning, before you leave the front door, plastering your entire face with foundation to cover your acne.
"I'm in my thirties god dammit...this should have stopped in my teens!"
Or going months (even years) without getting your period.
"I don't feel feminine...why is my body letting me down?"
-Is this something you can relate to?...
Whether you were diagnosed many years ago or even last week, there are some important things you should know about this condition, that your doctor probably wouldn't have mentioned.
You may have been told that Polycystic Ovarian Sydrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine (hormone) disorder and affects 1 in 10 women.
That PCOS is driven by a condition known as insulin resistance which causes an elevation of male hormones (androgens) including testosterone and DHEA.
And you will need to take medication such as the oral contraceptive pill (OCP), metformin and spironolactone to control your symptoms. Oh, and Assisted Reproductive Technology when you want to get pregnant!
- This is the biggest myth I hear, in relation to PCOS -
Women are told there are no other options to eliminate their symptoms apart from eating less and exercising more to lose weight (don't even get me started!), using harsh creams, antibiotics or Roaccutane for acne, electrolysis for hair growth (hirsutism), weird smelling shampoos to combat hair loss and the birth control pill to 'regulate' your cycles.
All of these options can produce negative side effects and aren't actually dealing with the underlying imbalances and ROOT CAUSES of the hormonal problem!
Here are some things that you should know if you are a female dealing with PCOS:
Your PCOS Type
First thing I recommend is to find out your PCOS Type as this can determine your personal treatment plan. I really like Lara Briden's article on this subject. Depending where you source your information, there are 3-5 different types of PCOS, including the classic overweight/insulin resistance case, but also adrenal, inflammatory, thyroid and post-pill induced PCOS!
You can often get a sense of which category you best fall into through looking at your health history, current additional symptoms, undergoing specific lab tests and assessing physical appearance, however, as always, working with a practitioner can simplify this process. It is also quite common to fall into several categories due to the complexity of the condition.
This is a big reason why conventional medical treatment fails so many of us. Their standard PCOS treatment may work great for one person but can make someone else feel (and look) twice as bad! There just cannot be a one size fits all protocol. If your symptoms come back once you discontinue your medication then that means that you haven't addressed the underlying imbalance and still have work to do.
Food is massively important
You may have correlated the worsening/improvement of some of your symptoms to certain foods you eat. For example, a huge acne breakout after a weekend of partying and fast food, or managing to lose a few pounds when you cut out fizzy drinks. But you may not be aware that the quality, timing and macronutrient (protein/fat/carbs) balance of your meals play a huge part in the state of your hormonal health. This is determined, again, with your personal PCOS type.
For someone with classic insulin resistant PCOS, who weighs 250lbs, a low carbohydrate, high fat diet may work wonders, whereas an underweight woman with high stress and insomnia may need a higher intake of carbohydrates to manage her symptoms and PCOS type.
Both have a diagnosis and symptoms of PCOS, but have different requirements.
A commonality between all of the nutrition plans though is a high consumption of vegetables (7-10 portions per day) and healthy fats which include nuts, seeds, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, oily fish, eggs and coconut. Plus an elimination of processed foods, soy, refined sugar and more often than not, caffeine.
Check your environment
These days our bodies are bombarded with environmental toxins from the food that we eat, to the air that we breathe. One specific category of toxins are known as xeno-estrogens, which put simply, are hormone disrupting chemicals. The main source we are exposed to is plastic! Not only is plastic ruining our oceans, but it is messing with our physiology.
Us women with PCOS are like 'canaries in the coal mine' and I believe we are the ones who are more likely to physically expressing the harmful properties of these endocrine (hormone) disruptors. We need to avoid them as much as possible. We can't always control what we are exposed to in the big wide world but we DO have control over what we expose ourselves to in our homes.
These hormone mimicking compounds can also be found in conventional beauty products, skincare, shampoos, household cleaning products along with plastic Tupperware, cling film (seran wrap) and non-stick pans. To reduce your exposure use natural, organic personal care products, store your food in glass containers and throw out the Teflon pans and replace with stainless steel, ceramic, glass or cast iron.
Check out the Environmental Working Group's website for more info and download their smartphone app Think Dirty, which assesses your products and rates them based on their toxic load! Amazing.
Stress makes everything worse
By stress I don't just mean psychological - worrying about finances, getting stressed out by traffic, feeling ridiculed by your boss - even though they are often the most important to manage. A poor, low nutrient diet, not enough rest, too much exercise, too little exercise, chronic inflammation and poor sleep are also forms of stressors that can mess with our hormonal balance.
Sex hormones (oestrogen & progesterone) and stress hormones (cortisol & adrenaline) are created from the same building block known as Pregnenolone. If you keep pumping out cortisol because you are under stress, your body will divert its resources to produce cortisol to keep you 'safe from danger', rather than worry about your hormones and fertility.
Because who wants to care for a baby when your constantly running from a saber-tooth tiger?!
Women with PCOS often have elevated cortisol levels as part of their condition. Whether it is a driver or consequence of the condition, is not yet fully understood, but we definitely know that it makes the symptoms worse.
I recently wrote a blog post about some of my favourite ways to de-stress and reduce cortisol. You can check it out here.
You can get better!
Last, but not least, I want you to know that it is possible to restore your hormonal health.
It will take time, effort, food changes, trial and error, but let me tell you- the results are so worth it.
You are not stuck with this label and diagnosis for life. PCOS is not a prison sentence. You can start to make positive decisions, which point you in the right direction, at any moment.
Although it may not feel like it right now, I view PCOS as a blessing in disguise. Our bodies are asking us for help and we have a chance to overcome these symptoms through nutrition and lifestyle changes. I believe some women are just highly sensitive to the environment, stress and poor quality food.
Remember the canary in the coal mine analogy.
Although women with PCOS can have difficulty getting pregnant if their condition isnt well controlled, studies have actually shown that they often have extended fertility windows, meaning they have higher chances of conceiving in their late 30's and early 40's! So if you are currently reading this and feel like your chance of conceiving is like a ticking time bomb, remember that fact!
Rebalancing and paying attention to your hormones in your 20's and 30's can serious improve your quality of life and possibly prevent the development of other conditions later in life, such as hot flushes, night sweats, premature aging, weight gain, type 2 diabetes and hormone dependant cancers, such as breast and ovarian cancer!
If you would like help to determine your own PCOS type or work with me 1-on-1 to rebalance your hormones and eliminate your symptoms please get in touch today! I offer a free 20 minute 'Hormonal Harmony' phone call to any one who is interested.
I love helping women through this process.