I have decided to write this Blog on PCOS which is short for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, because it is one of the most common female hormonal disorders that I am seeing in my clinic. Whether my girls are presenting due to absent or infrequent irregular periods, or for infertility, weight problems or acne, it continues to be a condition that interests me as well as challenges me as a natural therapist. Read on for an insight to this condition.
What Is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
PCOS is a very common condition affecting women of reproductive age; it affects about 12% of Australian women. It is a condition that involves both hormonal as well as metabolic issues, which can make it both difficult to diagnose as well as manage. There is substantial evidence now that PCOS should no longer be considered purely a gynaecological disorder, but rather a complex endocrine disorder.
How is PCOS diagnosed and what are the Symptoms?
There is a long diagnostic criterion for PCOS but women diagnosed will typically present with the following:
Irregular or absent periods from an early age, or no period at all.
History of ovarian cysts and greater than 12 follicles present on your ovaries, which is determined by ultrasound.
The change in the amount of body hair especially on the face. Presence of acne particularly cystic acne.
Elevated levels of androgen hormones detected on blood test.
Insulin resistance, difficulty in losing weight, poor regulation of blood sugar and possible diabetes.
With polycystic ovaries, the cysts themselves can be very small; you just have a lot of them. The cysts are a result of eggs that have failed to fully mature and release from the ovary. This is a cause of your irregular or absent periods.
The latest research is now being focused on the relationship between PCOS and the body’s ability to produce too much insulin. There appears to be a strong correlation between this elevated insulin and the ovaries producing more androgens (male like hormones) that interfere with the balance between your normal reproductive hormones.
What are my Treatment Options?
There are several treatment options available for PCOS and often a combination approach between these will be necessary.
Treatment from conventional and natural approaches is aimed at hormonal balance, reducing symptoms and regulating your cycle and improving insulin resistance. Doctors will approach the condition with medication such as the contraceptive pill, to normalize the period and balance hormones and treat acne. This approach is not addressing the underlying issues and is really only effective whilst you remain on the pill. Metformin is a drug used to treat type 2 Diabetes by reducing insulin resistance.
Natural therapies have a very important role in managing PCOS, by using a combination of Nutrition, Herbal Medicine, Diet, and Stress Management.
Natural Treatments Available Include:
1. Diet is the most important consideration when managing PCOS. To improve the symptoms of PCOS and insulin resistance, a low GI diet is recommended. This type of diet is very good at slowing the insulin response and preventing spikes in blood sugar levels. By doing this it is possible to reduce excessive hormone release from the ovaries and allows the body to burn excess fat. If excess weight is part of your PCOS pattern a weight loss of only 5% can be enough to normalise your period.
A diet that includes 3 serving of protein and at least 9 serving s of vegetables will help to normalize blood sugar and aid in healthy weight, as well as stabilise blood sugars. They also provide vital vitamins and minerals necessary for healthy hormone balance.
Including essential fatty acids such as fish, nuts and avocados play an important part in managing PCOS symptoms. These foods have powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can assist in the healing of PCOS.
2. Some foods need to be completely avoided as they aggravate PCOS and can make the condition worse, these include:
Fruit juices, which are high in sugar, low in fibre and can make your blood sugars soar. All sweets and sugar foods.
White refined grain products, especially white bread.
Non organic chicken, these have enhanced hormones and can interfere with your own hormonal balance.
Dairy products as they can stimulate insulin production.
Saturated fats and deep fried foods.
3. Herbal Medicine is a natural way of improving all aspects of PCOS. They can assist in improving the balance of all hormones affected with this condition, and help normalise your cycle. They can improve insulin resistance, and help stabilise blood sugar levels, support liver detoxification and assist the body deal with excess stress which all impact on PCOS. Herbal formulas are determined on an individual basis after a detailed history and assessment is taken by your natural therapist, and not generally available over the counter.
4. Nutritional support is used to help with all symptoms of PCOS , nutrients such as Vitamin B, chromium, Fish oils, Magnesium, alpha lipoic acid and zinc are critical in helping balance your body. Determining what is required is part of your natural therapist specialty
5. Lifestyle Recommendations that can assist are:
Reducing the symptoms is of PCOS is critical if you have or suspect that you have this condition, today’s discussion is only to give you an overview of your options that are available to you. It is important that you seek professional help if your suspect that you may have PCOS and please remember that a natural approach can really help this often difficult condition.