What is PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome? It is a hormonal disorder, which currently affects about 1 in 10 women, making it one of the most common hormonal disorders. As a hormone expert who has PCOS and is treating it naturally, I get really excited to share what I've learned here on the Clean blog.
A cleanse such as the 21-Day Clean Program can be extremely helpful for balancing hormones. We do recommend first checking with your doctor first to get to the bottom of any hormonal imbalances. It's always an option to adhere to a Clean diet for daily meals, shakes, and snacks to help relieve symptoms.
Diagnosing PCOS can be difficult, as you don’t actually have to have cysts on your ovaries to have the condition. I only had one very small cyst on my ovary at the time of diagnosis, and haven’t had any since. This is partly why it took over a year for my doctor to confirm the diagnosis, even though I suspected it from the start.
To be confirmed PCOS, you must have two of the following three features:
- Chronic Anovulation (lack of ovulation + irregular periods)
- Clinical (acne, excessive hair growth, hair loss, oily skin and hair) or biochemical signs of excess androgens (elevated blood levels of androgen hormones like testosterone and DHEA and the pituitary hormone LH)
- Cysts on the ovaries on ultrasound
Here are some of the symptoms for PCOS, which you might be experiencing (there is a long list of them):
- weight gain or obesity
- insulin resistance
- irregular or no periods
- painful periods
- heavy menstrual bleeding
- mood swings
- hair loss
- excess body hair growth
- infertility or inability to get pregnant
- waist bigger than 35 inches or waist bigger than your hips (apple shape)
- cystic acne, mostly in the chin, jawline and upper lip areas
- excess hair growth on the body (like chin, neck, upper lip and chest
While I didn’t go the conventional route, my gynocologist definitely tried to get me there. There are two typical options allopathic doctors may suggest if you’ve discovered PCOS:
- Hormonal Birth Control: Whether the pill, IUD or other form, this medication of course is there to balance hormones. Of course, the merits and downfalls to taking hormonal birth control is a conversation for another day, know that there are other options.
- Metformin: This is a prescription medication usually used for diabetics. As insulin resistance is a big part of PCOS, it is often prescribed to help with insulin sensitivity. Many women take this drug and experience some moderate weight loss, although side effects like GI complaints are extremely common.
I went from an acne-covered, overweight, thin-haired woman who only had a period every 3-4 months to someone who has reversed these issues in the majority through natural methods only. Because of this, I’m a HUGE advocate of natural healing! There are many options out there, including some that have been well researched. Here’s a short explanation of how to live a natural PCOS-balancing lifestyle.
The focus of any healthy PCOS diet should be one that promotes insulin sensitivity and blood sugar health, as well as one that reduces toxins like hormone-mucking endocrine disruptors.
Here are a few tips for a proper PCOS diet:
- Eat green vegetables (think 1-2 cups) with at least 2 meals per day to help balance blood sugar and detoxify excess estrogens
- Enjoy a low to moderate carbohydrate diet
- Choose non-starchy vegetables and starchy vegetables instead of grains and baked goods like bread and crackers
- Include at least 20g protein with every meal like chicken, fish, shellfish, some legumes, turkey
- Make healthy fats a good part of every meal and snack: think nuts/seeds, avocados, coconut oil, ghee, olive oil
- Drink lots of fresh, filtered water between meals, about half your body weight in ounces per day
- Enjoy a fermented vegetable like sauerkraut or kimchi with one or two meals per day
Exercise with PCOS can be tricky. On the one hand, super intense or long exercise could exacerbate symptoms at they stress out our adrenals and cause more cortisol to be produced. More cortisol generally means imbalanced sex hormones, as they share precursors which get re-routed to cortisol upon stress. Secondly, not enough movement can reduce insulin sensitivity, potentially exacerbating symptoms in that mechanism.
Here’s some suggestions:
- Yoga: Yoga has been shown to reduce cortisol - the stress hormone with potential negative effects in PCOS. Chronically elevated cortisol levels both prevent sex hormones from being produced correctly and elevate blood sugar, again coming back to that insulin resistance. I personally do yoga almost every single day - even if for only 10-15 minutes.
- HIIT: aka High Intensity Interval Training, this has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, potentially being very effective to balance blood sugar in women with PCOS, and clinically I’ve seen it be very helpful for weight release. I like the Seven App, which provides several different 7-minute HIIT workouts - super easy to fit into a busy life!
There are so many potential supplements, and for that reason I’m going to just list the main few that have either been studied or I’ve seen have great impact clinically.
- Inositol: for insulin sensitivity, reducing hyper-androgen symptoms and promoting ovulation
- Spearmint tea: potential anti-androgen herb
- Vitex: potential medicinal herb for regulating cycles and reducing PMS symptoms
- NAC: aka N-acetyl cysteine, helps to restore insulin sensitivity
- Fish oil: reduces inflammation, helps restore insulin sensitivity, potential mood regulator
All the organic food, exercise and supplements in the world won’t do any good if you aren't kind to yourself. Schedule in time to focus on YOU, by using various stress reducing activities. When I stopped focusing on treating my PCOS, and starting treating my stress, I saw the most results with my hormones, including finally getting my cycles to normalize.
Here’s a few to try:
- Coloring books
- Spending time in nature
- Herbal tea like chamomile or lavender
- Relaxing hot bath
- Comedic TV shows and movies
Remember - you always have a choice and you always have options. PCOS is not your controller.
Written by Robyn Srigley
If you enjoyed this article, you might want to check out Hormonal Acne: What Is It and How to Beat It