Polycystic ovary syndrome, more commonly known as PCOS, may affect upwards of 20% of the female population in the western world. What's even crazier? It's estimated that 70% of those with it, don't know they have it.
Not sure what PCOS is? According to the Mayo Clinic, "Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age. Women with PCOS may have infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods or excess male hormone (androgen) levels. The ovaries may develop numerous small collections of fluid (follicles) and fail to regularly release eggs.
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown. Early diagnosis and treatment along with weight loss may reduce the risk of long-term complications such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease." I would argue that the exact cause is unknown because it varies for each person just like any other western, chronic disease. It's a combination of hormones and insulin resistance. How does this perfect storm develop? There are many factors including, but not limited to, hormonal birth control, diet, xenoestrogens in our environment, genetic predisposition and your mom's health during pregnancy. Hey. I've been there.
Here are the major factors you need to consider to prevent or reverse PCOS: Hormonal birth control: How long have you been on it? If your ovaries haven't had to work to produce hormones because you were taking them exogenously (through an outside source), you can't expect them to miraculously work after years of birth control. It's going to take time and effort for your body to normalize after hormonal birth control.
My personal experience: I was on hormonal birth control for around 2 months. I had to stop taking it because my mood swings were borderline manic-depressive. After being on hormonal birth control (NuvaRing, to be exact) for that short amount of time, my ovaries were done. I did not menstruate for two years post birth control. It was then that I was finally diagnosed with PCOS.
Diet: The majority of us are eating a SAD (Standard [North] American Diet) diet. The majority of our calories are from processed sugar and carbohydrates. We eat too many grains in the form of bread, cereal, pasta, cakes and cookies. We don't eat enough quality protein, fat and vegetables. We drink mocha-latte-frappachinos and Slurpies. Our diet is, more often than not, absolute garbage. How do you think your ovaries will be able to properly function when the fuel you are feeding them is so poor? Now your hormones (especially insulin) are messed up, too! It's time to clean it up and start eating real, whole foods - especially if you want to become pregnant. You need to manage your insulin levels for a healthy pregnancy. This can only be done through your diet.
My personal experience: I thought I ate fairly well, but I fell into the low fat craze like many of us did in the 90s and 00s. I gave up gluten in the late 90s and stopped drinking milk in my teens. Overall, I was doing okay. But, I was also a college student. It wasn't until my naturopath increased the foods that help me detox the excess hormones (flax, cruciferous veggies) and got me on the right supplements to support my hormones, that I finally normalized my menstrual cycle. I had to stay on that routine for a full year before my body finally normalized itself. Remember, it took me a FULL YEAR to recover from TWO MONTHS of birth control.
Xenoestrogens: What's in your makeup? What's in your shampoo and soap? What's in your cleaning supplies? What's in your perfume? What's in the candles you burn? How often are you consuming soy products? Do you use plastic products? There is no doubt that there are chemicals in your life that are negatively affecting your hormones every day. Many of them are called xenoestrogens. They bind to your estrogen receptors tighter than your natural estrogen and are messing up your hormones. They have also been linked to breast cancer, female characteristics in males and early puberty in females. It's probably time to clean up your beauty routine and cleaning routine if you want to have a healthy pregnancy and raise healthy children.
Genetic predisposition: Do you know other women in your family who have had fertility issues? Maybe they have had breast cancer. Maybe they have had more than one miscarriage. If someone else in your family has had some form of hormonal issue, chances are you are predisposed to it, too. But, here's the thing - this is just ONE piece of the puzzle. Just because you are predisposed to something, does NOT mean it will happen to you. That's where the rest of the stuff (hormones, diet, exposure to xenoestrogens) comes in.
My personal experience: After my mom had my youngest sister, they found a tumor on her ovary which caused it to enlarge to the size of a grapefruit. She also experienced multiple miscarriages. Now, miscarriages are fairly common and for good reason. Our bodies are pretty stellar in aborting something that will not be viable outside of the womb. But, this simple factor is a good indicator that I, too, could (and am) prone to hormonal issues like PCOS.
Your mom's health during pregnancy: If your mom was obese during pregnancy, many risks increase for both her and baby. If your mom was obese, your chances of being obese increase along with cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Your metabolism will be impacted by mom's health during pregnancy. If you are pregnant, please know that what you do now will impact baby's health for the rest of his or her life. So, what do you do if you suspect or have been diagnosed with PCOS?
Work with someone who can help you get your hormones back to normal, ideally, naturally. Chances are this will be a naturopath or a holistic nutritionist. Depending on which hormones are too low or too high, they can help support you and get you back on track. For me, my testosterone was too high and progesterone was too low. I worked on detoxing properly and utilized a progesterone cream. I also supported my ovaries by taking a supplement that contained bovine ovary extract.
Get your insulin under control by eating a real, whole foods diet. Lots of protein and veggies. Eliminate grains, sugar and processed foods.
Start weight training and interval training. It has been shown to improve insulin response.
As simple as the above are, know that progress is not linear, nor is it easy. Be patient and kind with yourself. Find a support team. Don't let anyone tell you that everything is "normal" if you don't feel "normal".
Want more awesome information on female hormones? Dr. Jolene Brighten is my favorite!