Polcystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common female hormonal imbalance in the world – thought to affect at least 1 in 10 women of childbearing age.  

In other words, chances are that you know someone (or several someones) who suffer from the condition

Female hormonal disorders can have a HUGE impact on quality of life – not only physically, but emotionally as well.  They can affect self-confidence, relationships, career opportunities and family planning, to name just a few areas.  Areas that play a key role in how a woman journeys through life, and the dreams and experiences she has along the way.

This is a key reason why I’m so passionate about women’s health – because healthy, balanced hormones play a central role in a healthy, balanced life.  Something I truly believe is every woman’s birthright.

Signs & Symptoms of PCOS

PCOS is a ‘syndrome’ – meaning that it is a collection of symptoms, and in particular those related to ovulation.  Not all of the signs and symptoms need to be present for a diagnosis to occur.  There are different criteria for an official diagnosis, however in most cases, diagnosis consists of the presence of polycystic ovaries (i.e. multiple underdeveloped eggs on an ovary, visible on ultrasound), plus several of the following:

  • Irregular periods.  The length of a cycle can vary from woman to woman, but a healthy cycle is generally accepted as being between 21 to 35 days, counted from the start of one period to the start of the next (ie day 1 is the first day of your period).  PCOS sufferers tend to experience longer intervals between periods, or even no periods at all for months on end.  This is because the underlying hormonal imbalance inhibits healthy ovulation.
  • Weight gain, and/or difficulty losing weight, even when eating well and exercising.  This is due to insulin resistance, which can make it easier for your body to store fat
  • Acne outbreaks, particularly around the lower part of the cheeks and chin.
  • Infertility can be a sign that of PCOS, due to the underlying hormonal imbalance impacting the ability of the ovaries to produce viable eggs.  The nature of the condition means that the eggs do not develop properly and release as they should. Understandably, this can be an incredibly stressful and heartbreaking aspect of the condition, that often results in conventional fertility treatments like IVF being recommended.
  • Excessive hair growth (known as hirsutism), particularly on your face, or abdomen.

It is important to note that period pain is not a symptom of PCOS.  If you are struggling with period pain as well as one or more of the above symptoms, there may be something else going on with your hormones, and further investigation is warranted.

What causes PCOS?

Research has shown that PCOS is a whole body disorder.  It’s not just about the hormones, but the incredible interplay that occurs between body systems and a case of ‘the perfect storm’ of genetics, hormones and lifestyle.  Gut health, blood sugar regulation and inflammation can also be crucial factors in the development and progression of the disorder.

Whilst period troubles like PCOS may be common, they are also providing us with vital clues about the overall health of the body.  Regular periods are a sign of good health.  Women’s hormone guru Lara Briden describes periods as being ‘your body’s monthly report card’. 

The trouble with the conventional approach…

Once a diagnosis of PCOS has been made, it’s understandable to want to know what treatment options are available.

In the case of most of the clients with PCOS that I have worked with, there have been 2 main options suggested.  #1 is the Pill – basically a synthetic medication to ‘regulate’ the hormones.  #2 is the diabetes drug metformin.

The thing that I believe is important to keep in mind with either of these approaches is that they are not taking into account the underlying drivers of the condition, and what perpetuates the hormonal imbalance of PCOS.  The Pill can never ‘regulate hormones’ as it essentially switches them off instead – meaning that you get the illusion of a healthy cycle…yet when you stop taking it, all the original hormonal issues will still be present (and possibly worsened due to nutrient depletions from the medication itself).  Metformin works by increasing the cells’ sensitivity to the hormone insulin – thereby assisting with blood sugar regulation – but is notorious for causing digestive discomfort and upsets, as well as contributing to nutrient deficiencies also (such as vitamin B12)

I’ve also noticed that in 99% of PCOS cases that I’ve worked with, there has been limited (if any!) advice given around what to eat to improve the condition.  I find that quite incredible, given that food can play a central role in hormonal health!

Natural options

It’s my belief that when we are aiming to improve hormonal balance, we want to make sure we are addressing all the contributing factors – not just the symptoms.  With that in mind, taking a natural approach to PCOS can be quite different…yet incredibly effective when we use the right strategy.  Here are the areas I focus on when working with this condition:

  • Food as medicine. With a little knowledge and foresight around how particular foods impact our blood sugar regulation, we have an opportunity to tweak what we eat on an everyday basis towards steadier blood sugar levels throughout the day.  Not only is this a great way to address this aspect of PCOS, our clients usually notice that they feel more energetic throughout the day, and can more easily keep hunger and cravings at bay
  • Targeted herbal medicines.  There are some lovely herbs available for PCOS support, and many of them have been scientifically researched for this condition.  A few of my favourites are Peonia (White Peony), Chaste Tree (Vitex) and Licorice, which can be used on their own or in a combination depending on each person’s individual need.  Peonia is a gentle herb that helps to regulate hormones but can also be useful where inflammation or muscle issues are present (for example, it’s one of my go-tos for menstrual migraines!).  Chaste Tree is particularly helpful when PMS and/or hormonal acne is present, and licorice is also useful to help support gut health in addition to its hormonal aspects.  As always, please get the advice of a qualified naturopath or herbalist before using ANY medicinal herbs, as there are scenarios when certain herbs are not safe to use.
  • Nutrient support.  Whilst my philosophy is always ‘food first’, it can be useful to supplement with a couple of key nutrients, especially at the beginning of a treatment plan.  I find magnesium particularly useful for most female hormonal imbalances, but it is particularly indicated in PCOS due to its bonus anti-inflammatory effects and the role it plays in blood sugar regulation.  Inositol is another potentially beneficial supplement, as it is naturally found in foods and has been shown in research to improve ovulation and fertility in PCOS sufferers.

To sum things up, it pays to be aware of the signs and symptoms of PCOS.  The importance of addressing the underlying cause(s) of the condition is something that all women have a right to know about, and have access to all available treatment options.

Linda

P.S. Did you know that our Metabolic Balance personalised nutrition program is our #1 treatment strategy for supporting hormonal imbalances, including PCOS?  It’s the perfect way to address the underlying drivers of the condition, whilst enjoying delicious, real food and learning how to keep on top of your health for the long-term.  Talk to us today about how this incredibly successful program can help YOU get your health on track.


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