balanced living with a hormone imbalance: PCOS edition
Being diagnosed with a hormone imbalance can be a scary, overwhelming thing.
The good news?
You don’t have to just deal with living a life filled with the symptoms of a hormone imbalance.
In fact, you can live harmoniously with your hormones … despite your hormone imbalance.
If you’re just tuning into this series, I’m discussing how to live a balanced life with a hormone imbalance. Today is all about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), but check back over the coming months where we’ll learn all about balanced living with: endometriosis, uterine fibroids, low progesterone, estrogen dominance, and blocked fallopian tubes.
PCOS has been recognized and diagnosed for over seventy-five years, but more than HALF of women who have PCOS have been undiagnosed. It has been estimated that approximately 1 in 10 women in their childbearing age are affected by PCOS, and half of those women don’t know it. Not only that, but PCOS is responsible for 70% of infertility issues in women who have difficulty ovulating. Those numbers are huge!
I am a strong believer in treating things naturally.
Yes, there are situations and circumstances when conventional medical care is necessary; however, I feel like natural remedies should always be the foundation, and can go hand in hand with medical treatments when necessary!
what is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?
Polycystic ovary syndrome, also known as Stein-Leventhal Syndrome, is one of the most common hormonal endocrine disorders among women of reproductive age. PCOS can be a complex condition to identify because there are several symptoms and you don’t have to have all of them to be diagnosed with PCOS. Very few women have the same set of symptoms.
Polycystic means “many cysts,” and refers to the many clusters of small, pearl-sized cysts that appear on the ovaries. Not all women who have PCOS have multiple ‘cysts’ and not all women who have multiple ‘cysts’ have PCOS. The cysts are actually not cysts but partially formed follicles which contain immature eggs.
signs and symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Many of the symptoms of PCOS are caused by high levels of androgens circulating in the body, causing ‘hyperandrogegism’. Androgens are also called ‘male’ hormones, and the main one is testosterone. All women produce small amounts of androgens in tissues including the ovaries and the adrenal glands, but women with PCOS produce higher amounts of these male hormones. Higher than normal androgen levels can prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation) during each menstrual cycle disrupting the menstrual cycle.
Symptoms of PCOS include, but are not limited to, the following:
no period or infrequent or long menstrual cycles,
excess hair growth in unexpected places (on your face, belly, inner thighs, back, and around your nipples),
weight gain (specifically around your stomach/abdomen),
thinning hair on your scalp,
what causes polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?
Unfortunately, the exact cause of PCOS is unknown; however, there do appear to be connections with family history, insulin resistance, and lifestyle or environment. Immediate female relatives (i.e. daughters or sisters) of women with PCOS have up to a 50% chance of having PCOS. Type 2 diabetes is also common in families of those with PCOS.
Insulin resistance is present in up to 80% of women with PCOS. One of the roles of insulin is to keep the levels of glucose in the blood from rising after eating. If you are insulin resistant, your body doesn’t use the available insulin effectively to help keep the glucose levels stable. Because the insulin is not working effectively, the body produces more insulin. These high levels can increase the production of androgens such as testosterone, in the ovaries, causing the many symptoms of PCOS.
A number of PCOS metabolic imbalances occur as a result of excessive insulin resistance:
Elevated insulin and glucose levels contribute to the development of metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels). The syndrome increases the risk for heart attack and stroke. PCOS patients advance into type II diabetes and gestational diabetes more often and faster than those without PCOS.
Excess insulin tends to up-regulate the 5-alpha reductase enzyme, which converts testosterone into its more active form, dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Elevated DHT is believed to be responsible for hirsutism (excess hair growth), alopecia (hair loss), and acne in PCOS.
Elevated androgens inhibit ovulation, thus impairing fertility and causing accumulations of cysts in the ovaries (polycystic ovaries).
polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and fertility
High levels of androgens and high insulin levels can affect the menstrual cycle and prevent ovulation (the release of a mature egg from the ovary). Ovulation can stop completely or it can occur irregularly. This can make it more difficult for women with PCOS to conceive naturally, and some women can also have a greater risk of miscarriage. However, this does not mean that all women with PCOS are infertile.
Many women with PCOS have children without the need for intervention (natural remedies or medical infertility treatment). Others may require assistance.
Women with PCOS are often overweight, as a result of the metabolic imbalances caused by PCOS. As being overweight can increase fertility problems, it is important to eat well, clean up your environment, and move your body regularly to maintain a healthy weight and/or prevent weight gain. For those that are overweight, even 5% weight loss will improve fertility.
natural remedies to help live a balanced life with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
The bad news: there is no “cure” for PCOS.
The good news: you have plenty of options when it comes to reducing excess insulin to manage and prevent further PCOS symptoms and related illnesses! Research into the nutritional approach to PCOS has revolutionized the treatment for this problem and, as such, lifestyle and nutrition changes should be the first steps in managing your symptoms.
It should be noted that it takes at least 6-12 months of consistent lifestyle and diet changes, along with natural therapies to bring about real change in the body when living with PCOS. So don’t give up when things get tough, I promise that these changes will be worth it in the long run!
diet and nutrition
What you eat directly affects not only your well-being, but also your hormones.
To start with, restrict or completely eliminate the following from your diet to optimize insulin levels and therefore hormonal balance:
sugar, sweeteners, and artificial sweeteners
non-organic animal products
processed and refined foods
cigarettes and alcohol
Instead, focus on eating real, whole, fresh food that you cook yourself. Stay away from anything coming in a box, bag or package. You want to eat lots of clean proteins, healthy fats, and tons of vegetables. Be sure to incorporate the following into your daily diet:
wild-caught fish and seafood: salmon, mackerel, herring, halibut, shellfish, oysters, cod, tuna, flounder, sardines, hake, skate, trout, red snapper.
100% grass-fed and grass-finished meat: beef, wild game, bison, lamb, pork, pasture-raised: duck, goose, Cornish game hen, pasture-raised, organic chicken and turkey.
fats and oils: grassfed butter or ghee, egg yolks from pastured chickens, animal fats from clean animals (lard, tallow, duck fat, bacon grease, etc), wild caught fatty fish and seafood, raw & unrefined coconut oil.
fruits: focus on the low-sugar fruits including all kinds of berries, nectarines, plums, apricots, cantaloupe, grapefruit, lemons and limes.
vegetables: kale, spinach, Swiss chard, lettuces, broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnips, arugula, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, etc.
The most important dietary change for women with PCOS is the complete avoidance of sugar or anything that turns into sugar in the body (bread products, cereals, granola, energy bars, baked goods, pasta, crackers, chips, chocolate, sweets, etc.) This will decrease excess insulin levels, helping to prevent the many symptoms of PCOS.
There is a wide range of nutrients that may help you alleviate the symptoms of PCOS, but hereare my top 6 absolute must-haves:
Sensitol: a unique formulation comprised of two naturally occurring isomers of inositol: myo-inositol (MI) and D-chiro-inositol (DCI) – along with alpha lipoic acid, designed to support normal insulin function and cellular metabolism. Inositol restores ovulation, improves insulin and glucose signalling and helps with other aspects of PCOS. Inositol also improves egg quality.
N-Acetyl Cysteine: excessive levels of oxidative stress impede normal ovarian function and new research suggest that women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) have higher levels of oxidative stress which may exacerbate havoc wreaking symptoms on the ovaries. By replenishing glutathione stores and neutralizing the effects of oxidants, NAC has been proven to significantly reduce hirsutism, improve insulin sensitivity, balance hormonal parameters (hyperandrogegism) and improve ovulation rates.
Chromium Synergy: a synergistic formula of nutrients for optimal insulin function and blood sugar control. It combines the best chelated minerals from Albion Advanced Nutrition in a base of cinnamon powder to assist insulin receptor function and cellular glucose uptake. Chromium is an extremely important mineral if you have PCOS. It helps to encourage the formation of glucose tolerance factor (GTF) which is a substance released by the liver and required to make insulin more efficient.
Magnesium: Many women with PCOS exhibit symptoms of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, risk factors that raise the risk for heart disease and other problems like diabetes and stroke. Low magnesium levels are often associated with diabetes, and some research indicates that a dietary supplement of the mineral may improve insulin sensitivity, a factor in the development of type 2 diabetes and PCOS.
Vitamin D: Vitamins D and K are essential for optimal bone and arterial health and for maintaining the immune system in proper balance. Studies have shown that women with PCOS that supplement with Vitamin D saw improvements in BMI, menstrual abnormalities, and other symptoms related to PCOS.
GlucoSupreme: ideal for supporting healthy insulin and glucose levels. This unique, synergistic formula combines standardized herbs and other botanicals that are shown to support healthy blood sugar through various mechanisms, including cinnamon, corosolic acid from banaba, isoflavones from kudzu, and ginsenosides from ginseng. It also contains berberine (Berberis aristata), a compound highly regarded for its efficacy in supporting healthy blood glucose regulation and insulin sensitivity.
A major problem associated with PCOS is a rise in high muscle sympathetic nerve activity. This constricts the body’s blood vessels, which can increase a woman’s chances of developing diabetes and high blood pressure, two key contributors to heart attack or stroke. To increase blood flow in your body follow these suggestions:
Drink at least ½ your bodyweight in ounces of clean, filtered water per day. Do not drink out of plastic water bottles. Purchase a water filter for your home, and then use glass or stainless steel refillable water bottles.
Exercise, exercise, exercise! Seriously. I can’t say that enough. Because weight gain is a common symptom of PCOS, shedding those excess pounds is incredibly important in managing your symptoms. As women with (PCOS) lose weight, hormone levels start to return to normal.
Find something that you love – whether it be hiking, yoga, cycling, tennis, whatever! – get out and do it, and do it often.
Along with the weight loss comes a remarkable change in ovarian function. In one study, 82% of the women who were not previously ovulating showed improvements, with a number of successful pregnancies during the study, even though many of these women had a long-standing history of infertility.
In treating PCOS with acupuncture, needles are placed along the acupuncture meridians related to the reproductive system. This helps stimulate the organs, improve blood flow, normalizes hormone levels and promotes the proper functioning of the reproductive system.
Studies have shown that regular electro-acupuncture treatments lead to more regular menstrual cycles, reduced testosterone levels, and reduced waist circumference.
castor oil packs
A Castor Oil Pack is a cloth soaked in castor oil which is placed on the skin to enhance circulation and promote healing of the tissues and organs underneath the skin. To support hormone health, I recommend clients place the cloth soaked in castor oil on your lower abdomen, where your ovaries and uterus live. You can also place the cloth over your liver to support optimal hormone detoxification as well.
To make a castor oil pack, you’ll need: unrefined castor oil, plastic wrap (piece large enough to cover your entire abdomen), an old white cotton t-shirt, pillowcase or piece of flannel fabric (preferably organic and large enough to cover abdomen), a heating pad (not electric) or hot water bottle, and an old sheet or towel.
Here’s what to do:
Fold flannel or cotton t-shirt into 3 thickness’ to fit over your entire abdomen. Ideally use organic cloth.
Soak cloth with enough castor oil to fully saturate the cloth.
On the surface you will be lying on, lay down an old sheet or an old towel.
Lie on your back placing the oil soaked flannel over your abdomen. Place the piece of plastic wrap over the soaked cloth and then place a heating pad or hot water bottle on top of the plastic. You can wrap the old sheet or towel around you for warmth.
Leave pack on for 60-90 minutes. During this time rest quietly, read a book or watch a movie.
After finishing, if the oil bothers you, wash with a solution of 3 tablespoons of baking soda to 1 quart water. Or just rub the oil into your skin.
Store the pack in your fridge in a large zip lock bag. Reuse the oil and pack several times. Add more oil as needed to keep the pack well saturated. Replace the pack after it begins to change color. This may occur in days, weeks, or months.
The castor oil pack will be most effective when left on for 60-90 minutes and done for 4 or 5 consecutive days per week. Don’t do while menstruating, and if you’re actively trying to conceive – don’t do after ovulation.
One common symptom of PCOS is irregular menstrual cycles. Lunaception can help to regulate your cycles, and bring some hormonal balance back to your body. This practice focuses on sleeping in complete darkness except for 3 nights out of your cycle/month. This is what our bodies are traditionally used to when we would only be exposed to light at nighttime during the 3 nights around the full moon. Darkness is closely tied to optimal hormone production and when we sleep in a room with light pollution from street lamps, nightlight, and alarm clocks, it can disrupt the natural production of hormones while we sleep.
To practice lunaception, you need to sleep in complete* darkness from the beginning of your cycle until day 13. Starting on day 13, and then on days 14 and 15, use a dim night-light to sleep, or even better google the moon cycles and base your “nightlight” nights on the day before, the day of, and the day after the full moon. The rest of the time you sleep in total darkness. After awhile, you should find that you ovulate at the full moon and experience menstruation at the new moon.
* to ensure complete darkness, I recommend blacking out your room entirely – that means no LED lights from alarm clocks, fire alarms, TV’s, etc! You can get blackout curtains or, even just a sleeping mask to keep all light out.
The present world is filled with stress, that’s non-negotiable. But how you respond and react to stress is entirely in your control.
Practice managing your daily stressors with ease. My favorite tools for this are: restorative yoga, long slow walks in nature, biofeedback, a hot bath, a massage, or whatever else brings your unique soul pleasure!
This may be one of the most important things you can do to manage PCOS symptoms!
in a nutshell
Polycystic ovary syndrome, also known as Stein-Leventhal Syndrome, is one of the most common hormonal endocrine disorders among women of reproductive age.
It takes at least 6-12 months of consistent lifestyle and diet changes, along with natural therapies to bring about real change in the body when living with PCOS.
You CAN live a balanced life with a hormone imbalance – it’s possible to manage PCOS symptoms naturally through diet and lifestyle changes.
Spread some balanced living with a hormone imbalance: PCOS edition lovin’! Sharing is caring, and I bet you have some friends who would love to read this too :).
Looking to have a more in-depth conversation about how to live harmoniously with PCOS? Schedule a one on one consultation with me!
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