PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome is a tricky little beast that can crop us seemingly out of nowhere and completely turn your life upside down. Up to 1 in 4 woman are currently living with PCOS but exact numbers are hard to pin down due to the fact that many women spend years searching for a diagnosis, and some are never properly diagnosed.
In my own case it took five years of harassing doctors with a long list of questions before I got referred for an ultrasound where they found my cysts.
Pcos is an endocrine disorder that presents itself when elevated androgens (or male hormones) are excreted from the ovaries causing a whole smorgasbord of life altering symptoms. It is the number 1 cause of infertility in women and can lead to type 2 diabetes and heart attack if not properly diagnosed and treated. (Women with pcos face a risk of heart attack 4-7 times greater than the average woman!)
Symptoms appear slightly different in everyone affected and can include menstrual disorders, hair thinning/ loss, unexplained weight gain, excess fat storage in belly or hips, facial hair growth and infertitly among others. These are all particularly devastating symptoms for women as they not only affect a womans health and quality of life but her physical appearance as well.
No one knows for sure exactly what causes PCOS but there are a few suspected culprits that likely all coexist in to some degree to bring about the disorder. These are excess insulin, low grade chronic inflammation and genetics.
So if you have received a diagnosis of PCOS or are presenting with enough symptoms to assume you have it (official doctor diagnosis aren’t always easy to come by so its vital you listen to your body first and your doctor second) you are probably left wondering what to do next. There are heaps of information about PCOS that can sometimes be conflicting and always overwhelming so to get to the root of healing we must first examine the cause.
Because there is not much we can do about hereditary influences we must look closer into the other two possible culprits, excess insulin and low grade chronic inflammation. Both of these likely have a genetic component but can be mostly controlled by DIET!
First lets look at insulin resistance, IR occurs when insulin doesn’t do a proper job of getting your cells to open up and absorb the glucose secreted through the digestion of sugars and carbs. In turn your body secretes more insulin in an attempt to absorb all that extra glucose. Over time this results in far too much insulin in the blood stream which makes it super difficult for the body to use stored fat and it just keeps running on sugars. (This also leads to all those fierce carb/ sugar cravings!) All of this creates an environment of weight gain which in turn worsens insulin resistance. It is the great catch- 22, losing weight is the best way to reverse insulin resistance but weight loss with IR can seem downright impossible with all that sneaky insulin running free in your bloodstream.
So how do you stop your body from producing all that insulin? You buck up, grab those cravings by the balls and cut your intake of sugars and carbs drastically. (Because ALL carbs turn to glucose when digested)
Studies have shown a ketogenic diet is one of the best diets to manage and reverse PCOS symptoms. My only issue with the ketogenic diet is that if you are also dealing with adrenal fatigue, thyroid disorders or other autoimmune disorders, such a dramatic reduction in carbs can sometimes do more harm than good. Because I am a huge believer in the healing powers of fruits and veggies, and because fruits and veggies contain carbs, I just cant get fully on board with a lifetime of keto eating.
To ease into the low carb lifestyle in a healthy and sustainable way I suggest limiting your carb intake to between 50 and 100 g per day, don’t bother including the carbs you get from fruits and veggies but DO go super easy on the starchy ones like potatoes and bananas. After eating this way for at least six months, if you are still not at an ideal weight and experiencing symptoms you can always hop onboard the keto train to lose those last stubborn pounds.
I personally do not recommend anyone with thyroid or adrenal issues staying on the keto diet for any longer than a month at a time, but again, listen to your body and do what works for you.
There are also some great supplements for insulin resistance including, Berberine, Chromium, magnesium, cinnamon and green tea.
So now that you know what’s going on on the insulin side of things, we have to address that other sneaky little culprit, chronic inflammation.
Accute inflammation can actually be a good thing, it means your white blood cells are capable of addressing and fighting off infections. Without inflammation wounds would not heal and common colds would stick around forever. It is when the inflammation is chronic that things can get out of control.
Chronic inflammation occurs when your body sends your white blood cells to fight a foreign invader but this ‘invader’ ends up being a necessary part of your human anatomy (intestines, thyroid, ovaries etc) When there is a low grade viral, bacterial or fungal infection present in the body your inflammatory response will be heightened. Candida for example can be a harmless fungus that lives symbiotically with the flora in your intestinal tract, but if it is allowed to grow out of control (which can happen when it has a diet rich in glucose to feed on) it can spread throughout your body causing chronic inflammation wherever it goes.
Undiagnosed food sensitivities can also cause chronic inflammation. If you have a sensitivity to gluten or dairy (most people do) nightshades, saponins, and many other common irritants, particles of these foods can be mis-read by your body as foreign invaders and BAM- your white blood cells are at war leading to chronic inflammation and a body that is more susceptible to infections and disease.
To address chronic inflammation it is also super important to reduce/ remove exposures to other common allergens, pet dander, molds, and pollens that could be aggravating your bodies inflammatory response. I also highly recommend switching to all natural household and beauty products as well as being mindful of the fabrics you wear as your skin is your bodies largest organ and everything that touches it is absorbed into your bloodstream.
One major thing I did to set my body on track to healing was to follow a total healing protocol, the results have been nothing short of amazing for me and for anyone else who has tried it out. It takes time and commitment but it well worth the effort.
You CAN heal your body of PCOS symptoms, and with a solid game plan and the proper mindset you WILL. With so much doom and gloom around this disorder its easy to feel hopeless, that’s why hearing stories of other peoples success is so important. Here’s one story of a woman who put her pcos into remission, and if you look around there are many more out there.
Just remember it probably took years to reach the state of health you are currently experiencing, healing and transformation is not going to happen overnight. Be patient, be kind to yourself, and remember your health and wellness is worth the sacrifice. You only have this one body to live in for your entire lifetime, so love it, be good to it, and treat it with respect and kindness, it will return the favor.