PCOS: The Silent Disease
Chances are that you, or someone very close to you, suffers from this silent disease. The prevalence of PCOS is steadily on the rise as more and more women find themselves facing that glass wall of frustration and pain. As someone who has struggled with a very similar condition for a decade, take my word when I say that life with an endocrine disorder is far from normal.
Hormones are king. They rule the body. When some kind of dysfunction is present and throws them out of balance the body and all of its components suffer in a myriad of ways, sometimes in ways you'd never imagine. If you're reading this today and you know someone who suffers from PCOS or related conditions, consider opening your mind to the realities they are facing as a result of this disease. It's difficult to understand their struggle when from the outside they look "normal" and you yourself have never experienced a day in the life of someone experiencing a flare up of symptoms.
And if you're reading this and have a personal struggle with PCOS (or any hormonal imbalance) know that you can find relief. There is hope for managing and even erasing your symptoms (all of course depending on the severity of your case). This article will give you a good start, but if you want my full hormone balancing protocol my ebook will be released very soon. "Win at Hormoning: A Complete Guide to Finding Balance Naturally" will take a deep dive into the world of hormones and how to audit every aspect of your lifestyle and environment in order to find freedom from hormonal imbalances. I'm pouring my all into this one - you'll be getting all the research on hormonal balance plus an actual step-by-step guide to finding your balance. Keep reading for a link to get on the notification list so you can be the first to know when it becomes available!
Let's start by hashing out all the details of this disease.
What Is PCOS?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a condition caused by hormonal imbalance that affects 5% - 10% of women of childbearing age. Research is still largely inconclusive as to the exact cause of the hormonal imbalance that gives rise to the condition, but they have strong reason to believe that genetics and environmental factors are the two primary contributors to the development of the syndrome.
In other words, some women may be genetically predisposed to developing a hormonal imbalance which gives rise to PCOS, and certain environmental factors may act to drastically increase that risk in those women. Environmental factors may include nutrition habits, toxin and chemical exposure and stress management.
What Are The Symptoms?
PCOS can remain undiagnosed in women until their 20's and 30's, when they face the issue of infertility. While it is most often treatable, PCOS is the leading cause of infertility with 72% of women with the condition facing infertility compared to just 16% of women who do not have PCOS. Other symptoms include cystic acne, unmanageable weight gain or difficulty losing weight, insulin resistance and increased chance of developing type II diabetes, thinning hair or irregular hair growth, darkening of skin, chronic fatigue, mood swings, low libido, skin tags, and irregular menstrual cycles (although more symptoms may be present, these are the most common).
To put it in words you can relate with, living with hormonal dysfunction can at times be a nightmare. In the midst of a hormonal shift while the condition is in a flare up, it's common to experience drastic cases of systemic inflammation and sore, stiff joints and muscles, excessive fatigue that makes simple actions like walking up steps laborious, unexplainable mood shifts and brain fog and memory loss, extreme bloating, GI discomfort and often large shifts in water weight overnight, just to name some. And these are just the symptoms of a flare up. Normal, every day life with PCOS is often burdened with the pain of dealing with infertility and weight gain that seems impossible to lose no matter what you do.
How Do You Diagnose PCOS?
If you suspect you have PCOS, make an appointment with your physician as soon as possible. Receiving a diagnosis is not a life sentence, in fact understanding exactly what you're dealing with will empower you to take steps towards relief.
Proper diagnoses requires clinical evidence, such as irregular cycles, and a blood test showing high androgen (male sex hormone) levels. While some physicians may do an ultrasound, it is possible to miss a diagnosis if relying on these alone.
How Do You Treat PCOS?
There is no known clinically documented cure for PCOS, but symptoms can be managed through a number of lifestyle and environmental interventions, with healthy dietary habits and exercise as the first line of defense. Some women have even completely eradicated the disease through a holistic approach to hormonal balance. There are some conventional methods of treatment that include prescription medication. This article is not intended to replace the advice of an MD, but if you're looking for a holistic approach to changing your environment and nutrition, then this is a good place to begin.
In the rest of this article I'll be focusing on changes you can begin making today to start balancing your hormones naturally. But this article is only the start, as I mentioned I'll be releasing my ebook very soon. If you want on the list to be the first to know when this hits our online store, you can sign up through the button below:
Again, I can't overstate that this condition is one that may manifest itself in a variety of severities from woman to woman. And as such, the degree to which symptoms can be managed or relieved may also vary.
Quick Start Guide to Balancing Hormones Naturally
- Nutrition - eat to improve pH levels and reduce chemical intake.
- NEVER eat fake sugar. This is our one and only "never" when it comes to ingredients, and it's so important when eating to balance your hormones. The fewer chemicals and foreign substances you put into your body, the better able you will be to control inflammation, filter out toxins and balance your gut biome (all things that impact hormonal balance).
- Remove processed foods from your diet. If it comes in a box or a wrapper, stop before eating it and ask yourself, "Is this necessary? Is there a healthier alternative?" (I'll give you a hint ... the answers should be "no" and "yes," respectively). Packaged foods with greater than 3 ingredients are hard to trust. Even if you read the nutrition facts label, chances are the manufacturer has found a way to slide added and unreported ingredients in the food through one of many FDA loopholes. According to FDA regulations, calorie count and grams of macronutrients are allowed to deviate from actuality by up to 20%, and added sugars are not required to be reported under "grams of sugar" on the label. So if you don't know what exactly you're eating, you lose opportunity to heal your body nature's medicine: real, from-the-earth life supporting fuel.
- Fill your plate with lots of minimally processed, whole-food fuels. This piggybacks off of number 2 above. As you start to pass by the sea of packaged foods, you might feel your plate looks a little empty. Fill it instead with a rainbow of vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. Women with PCOS are also likely to be insulin resistant and therefore sensitive to starchy carbs. Keep your carbohydrate intake to mostly fibrous vegetables and limit things like butternut squash, potatoes, fruits and other starches. (Note: these things are not bad. There are no bad foods. They simply do not support the healing of the endocrine system, so for the sake of honoring the needs of your body look to fill your plate with other options).
- Assess your stress. Stress of all kinds is a major contributor to endocrine dysfunction. Your body naturally reacts to excess negative stress by releasing cortisol, which is a catabolic hormone. We need some stress to live, and positive stress can be an opportunity for growth. But when we live in a state of chronic negative stress we start to face major health issues as a result.
- Do a self-check. Examine the following: your professional life, your financial life, your relational life, your mental state, your emotional state. How stressed are you in each of those? Start by choosing the area you feel needs the most work and compose a plan of action to reduce the stressors present.
- Biohack the little in-between moments. I often use my time in the car to do a mental reset. I keep a roller bottle of an essential oil blend in my cupholder and I'll roll some on my pressure points. I'll loosen my grip on the steering wheel, keep my speed in check and focus on taking some deep, diaphragmatic breaths. (Did you know that breathing through your diaphragm stimulates the vagus nerve, triggering a parasympathetic response? The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for calming us down, reducing heart rate and increasing the activity of the digestive system). I'll also check my music; is what I'm listening to contributing to my tense mood? Or is it helping me to relax? Every little bit of sensory input matters.
- Use adaptogenic herbs to manage cortisol levels. Adaptogens are herbs that help your body adapt to stress in a healthy way. They are known to impart strength, energy, stamina, endurance, and improve mental clarity. My favorite adaptogen is ashwagandha, which you can find at Whole Foods or online. Other adaptogens are rhodiola, panax ginseng, holy basil, astragalus and licorice root.
Carol and I teach a slow, methodical approach to lifestyle modification that works. Adapting new habits one-by-one, allowing for two weeks to settle into each new habit, has been proven by research time and time again to be the way to achieve sustainable, lifelong change. Use this principle when approaching the above quick start guide. Yes, tackling something like PCOS can be overwhelming, especially when you are in the depths of an entanglement of symptoms. Rest assured, healing will happen if you make the commitment to yourself.