Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common metabolic-hormonal condition that affects millions of women. At the root of it is a predisposition to insulin resistance, the consequences of which are hormonal imbalances - including estrogen dominance, progesterone deficiency, and most notably an excess of androgens (“male” hormones).
Symptoms of PCOS vary among affected women but may include acne, excess facial hair, male-pattern hair loss, menstrual irregularities (such as absent, infrequent, or heavy periods and PMS), fertility challenges, and sometimes considerable difficulty managing weight – even with a woman’s best efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle with clean eating and exercise.
Mood imbalances are also common, as insulin resistance and hormonal imbalances in PCOS can predispose a woman to depression and anxiety. It’s important to actively address PCOS, as insulin resistance increases the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes and all the consequent cardiovascular risks of heart disease and stroke.
Thankfully, there are a great number of evidence-based treatment options and lifestyle factors that can help women with PCOS improve their insulin sensitivity and hormone balance.
How Do You Know If You Have PCOS?
Diagnosis may be made based on the presence of several symptoms and the results of diagnostic tests:
Conventional blood testing usually includes luteinizing hormone (LH), follicular stimulating hormone (FSH) and testosterone. However, these tests may or may not be abnormal in someone with PCOS, as their values depend on multiple factors.
Sometimes an ultrasound is performed to look for cysts on the ovaries, but again cysts may or may not be present.
Dry urine hormone testing is specialized testing available through naturopathic doctors, and offers a much broader analysis of a woman’s sex hormones and their metabolites, as well as adrenal function. This is a crucial and often overlooked element of testing as the adrenal glands produce pregnenolone (the precursor to sex-hormone and cortisol production) and regulate our cortisol (a stress hormone), which has significant implications for weight management and insulin sensitivity. For many women, adrenal care is an important factor in the management of PCOS.
Another often-overlooked assessment is vitamin D testing. Vitamin D is used in abundance by the ovaries, and adequate vitamin D is required to maintain good insulin sensitivity, and also affects mood.
So you have PCOS. Now what? The goal of treating PCOS is to correct underlying metabolic and hormone imbalances. Your naturopathic doctor will counsel you regarding treatment options such as diet and exercise modifications, nutritional supplements or herbs that could help to support your physiology. Thankfully, there’s loads of hope! There’s so much that can be done to help women to address PCOS. Here are the top 5 ways in which women with PCOS can start to reclaim their health: 1) Get active! Strength training improves insulin sensitivity to help optimize blood sugar regulation, which helps to correct hormone imbalance. Aim for 2 x20-minute strength training sessions per week, and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity 5 days per week. 2) Eat plenty of protein, healthy fats, non-starchy veggies. Whole grains and starchy root vegetables should make up no more than 25% of your meals. 3) Avoid refined flours and sugars as these spikes the blood sugar and lead to insulin insensitivity 4) Avoiding hormone-disrupting environmental toxins: avoiding eating and drinking out of plastics, eating organic foods, and using non-toxic cleaning products is a great way to start. 5) Find your Zen! Stress management is extremely important for our overall health, and even more so in women with PCOS, as stress can affect blood sugar regulation and adrenal hormone production. Some examples of helpful tools are counselling, the Emotional Freedom Technique, meditation, and acupuncture. If you’re ready to get to the root of your PCOS and find customized solutions for you, visit us at Main Street Naturopathic Clinic!