What You Need To Know About PCOS

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a syndrome, which is really just a cluster of symptoms that one may experience. It is characterised by cysts in the ovaries, and can result in hormonal issues.

Current statistics indicate that at least 1 in 10 females experience this condition and many remain undiagnosed.  Certainly we have noticed a rise here at the clinic.  We have seen an ever-steady growing number of PCOS clients who are asking for help... and it's no surprise why. 

PCOS is a multi-faceted condition, and because of this, it presents differently in different women. The short version is that, due to hormone imbalance, the egg that is normally released every month from the ovary either does not develop or is not released when it should be.  This can result in hormonal issues like irregular periods, weight gain or difficulty in losing weight (but not always), hair where women usually don’t get hair, acne across the back, face and chest, some darkening of skin areas and skin tags that are usually located in the armpits or the neck area. 

Often with PCOS comes insulin resistance or persistently high levels of insulin (this is one of the factors of weight gain). Insulin is a hormone that helps to regulate your blood sugar. Usually in PCOS, a vicious cycle exists between insulin and testosterone – higher levels of insulin drive higher levels of testosterone, and higher levels of testosterone drive higher levels of insulin.  The high testosterone then contributes to the irregular menstrual pattern. The high insulin results in insulin sensitivity and blood sugar problems. It's a dysfunctional merry-go-round.

The current medical approach is to put women on the contraceptive pill to regulate menstruation and, if there are insulin resistance issues, then put them on Metformin or any other diabetic drug.  Whilst this may help ease the symptoms of PCOS, it's actually like hitting a pause button in a movie.  As soon as you go off those medications the symptoms will start again. Not to mention the long-term effects that this sort of medication can have on the body (here's a blog about the dangers of the pill).

This way of treatment does not get to the cause of the problem or address the very fabric of what is going on in the body. We look at a different approach in Naturopathy - a long-term approach, not to just band-aid the symptoms but to make real changes in a holistic way.

There are so many factors that contribute to hormone imbalances; gut health, liver function, stress, sleep, inflammation, food choices and chemical exposure are just a few. 

These are the five most common things not being addressed when it comes to PCOS.

·       Movement and food are the two most powerful ways to make a change to your insulin and blood sugar levels.

Movement has been shown to reduce insulin sensitivity - and we all know that processed and high carbohydrate foods have a direct effect on our blood sugar and insulin activity. if you are not moving, and are eating foods that cause a literal sugar dump, the cycle of PCOS is being solidified.

·       Having sluggish bowels can affect your hormones. 

Bowel movements are the waste associated with your body carrying out its functions. If it hangs around too long it changes the bacterial terrain and this impacts hormone production.

·       Stress will alter your hormones.

Stress will chronic stress results in persistently high cortisol (an infamous stress hormone secreted from the adrenals) levels which feeds the whole insulin and blood sugar problem! This fuels increased testosterone, and the PCOS cycle continues.

·       As always, the gut has a role to play. 

Research has shown that women with PCOS tend to have lower diversity of gut bacteria.  Given that gut bacteria have a big role in hormone production and an even bigger role in the immune system and consequent inflammation, then its fair to say that focussing on gut health is important.

·       As always, you have to see the bigger picture to achieve sustainable change.

That’s what we do at Verve.  We look at the whole picture not just one part of it.  We search for the cause behind the cause. We look at you as an individual because you are unlike any other person, and your approach to health must reflect that.  Our advice to each of our clients is different.  With PCOS, we may even advise for you to stay on the pill until we can build the foundations and scaffolding of good health around you so that when you come off the pill the building (you) doesn’t collapse!  

If your looking for a drug free alternative that addresses your cause then come and have a chat.

Wendy Burke (Nutritionist, Naturopath, Personal Trainer)