Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a really common condition in women that actually covers a whole range of symptoms, with the most prevalent one being irregular periods and ovulation.
When you don’t ovulate, it can lead to higher levels of androgens including testosterone, which can produce many physical symptoms.
Whilst it’s commonly believed that an ultrasound alone can diagnose PCOS, in actual fact, comprehensive blood tests are needed too.
Symptoms of PCOS
- Heavy or irregular periods
- Acne, oily skin or dandruff
- Excess body hair (hirsutism) usually on the chest, face, back or bottom
- Hair loss or thinning hair on the head
- Fertility issues
- Weight gain
- Pelvic pain
- Skin tags
- Mood imbalances
Medically speaking, there’s no one cure for PCOS and conventional treatment involves things like birth control, metformin to balance blood sugar, or clomid to stimulate ovulation. Yet these all come with their own side effects and are not really long-term solutions.
What Can We Do Naturally?
In the majority of cases, blood sugar issues are definitely at the root of this condition, so it’s a great place to start. When blood sugar is high, insulin levels are raised, leading to higher unbound testosterone, disrupted ovulation, and greater level of androgens.
To help combat this issue, the diet needs to focus on whole, unprocessed carbohydrates, whilst removing sugar and refined foods like breads, pastas and cakes. Even too much fruit can sometimes be a bad thing, especially if it’s in the form of juices, so I usually tell people to stick to 1 cup of berries a day! Eating all meals with a form of protein and healthy fat is important too, as these macronutrients can help slow down the release of blood sugar.
Additionally, smoking, stress and lack of sleep can negatively affect blood sugar levels so this needs to be taken into account too!
In terms of supplements, my favourite for helping blood sugar are omega 3 and myo-inositol, but doses can vary depending on the individual.
Inflammation is at the heart of most hormonal issues as it can affect hormone receptors as well as ovulation. Insulin and inflammation are very closely linked, yet other factors involved in this process are an accumulation of toxins and heavy metals, poor dietary choices, food intolerances/ allergies, and digestive issues including a gut flora imbalance or presence of parasites.
Other symptoms of inflammation to be aware of come in the form of skin conditions, headaches, and joint pains. If you’re periods are all over the place and you’re aching a lot, this may be an area you want to strongly consider!
To help combat inflammation, it can be useful to pull out anything that could be causing an issue to the body, from synthetic home and skincare products (yes, these are a MASSIVE source of toxins), to potential food allergens like dairy and gluten. Look at supporting the main organ of detoxification with liver cleansing herbs like milk thistle and glutathione or NAC, and cut out high mercury fish like tuna or swordfish. Adding in smaller oily fish like wild salmon, sardines and mackerel are great though as they’re rich in the anti-inflammatory omega
Balance your hormones
Whenever I see clients with PCOS or suspected PCOS I’ll nearly always run a hormone panel to see exactly what their hormones are doing, from oestrogen and progesterone, to the androgens and even stress hormones. Depending on what pathways are dominant and what the ratios of hormones are, we can then look at supplementing accordingly with herbs and nutrients to help get things back on track.
Interestingly, herbs that can help with androgen balance are the same that can help with prostate health. Things like nettle and saw palmetto can work wonders.
The great news is that PCOS doesn’t have to be a diagnosis for life, and the symptoms can definitely be supported and managed. Just with a few tweaks here and there and maybe some functional testing, you can get to the route of what’s going on and feel a million times better!