Have you been gaining weight, dealing with troublesome adult acne and wondering why your menstrual cycle has become irregular? Chances are you’ve got PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
PCOS is the most common endocrine abnormality of reproductive-aged women in the United States, according to statistics. It is a result of hormonal imbalance wherein the ovaries produce higher than normal levels of androgens (or male sex hormones), causing cysts on the ovaries that are accompanied by irregular menstrual cycles, problems with fertility and weight gain.
PCOS: It Boils Down to Insulin Resistance, Again
According to National Institutes of Health (NIH), PCOS affects between 5% and 10% of women aged 18 to 44 years. Medical experts are still unclear on the real cause behind PCOS, but most women who are diagnosed with PCOS develop insulin resistance, which then leads to the development of type 2 diabetes. Your metabolic health and insulin sensitivity can greatly influence your reproductive health, which is really what PCOS is all about.
Treating this underlying insulin resistance can greatly help manage or reverse PCOS symptoms.
The best part — this can be done naturally, without the use of prescription drugs. Changing your diet and making sure you exercise will improve insulin sensitivity and can reverse PCOS.
Don’t take PCOS lightly; it negatively impacts your quality of life, and also makes you more susceptible to diabetes type 2 and heart disease, as proven by a Dutch study that followed up on 346 PCOS patients with a mean age of 38.7 years to check on their health 12 years after they were first diagnosed with PCOS.
As the name suggests, PCOS is a “syndrome” and there’s a wide variety of symptoms a patient might be exhibiting, making diagnosis a little tricky at first.
Some symptoms of PCOS include:
- Weight Gain, especially around the abdomen
- Facial Hair
- Missed Periods
- Heavier than normal Menstrual Flow
- Ovarian Cysts
- Insulin Resistance
- Difficulty Losing Weight
However, some women don’t display any of these symptoms, which is why quite a few women may go years without realizing they have PCOS because they don’t have the textbook symptoms.
There are no specific tests to diagnose PCOS, which is why your doctor will need to consider all existing symptoms and run a variety of tests to exclude other possible medical disorders. If you are showing some of the classic signs of PCOS, like menstrual irregularities or unexplained weight gain, your doctor will perform some tests to definitively diagnose polycystic ovary syndrome.
1. A complete Physical Exam will be done to check your height, weight, BMI, body-fat percentage and blood pressure. The doctor may also look for signs of excess androgen in your body by asking you about recent acne flare ups and sudden facial hair growth. He/She will also discuss menstrual irregularities, such as missed periods.
2. A Pelvic Exam will help your doctor look for further signs of PCOS, such as swollen ovaries or a swollen clitoris. Your doctor may also look for signs of masses, growths or other abnormalities.
3. A battery of Blood Tests is done next, to check for fasting and postprandial blood glucose levels as well as to measure sex hormone levels. These tests will give your doctor a clearer idea about the levels of androgens, cholesterol, and sugar in your blood. Sometimes, your doctor may also do additional thyroid function tests to rule out other problems.
4. A vaginal Ultrasound is done to create real-time images of your reproductive organs. If the doctor can find small growths or cysts on the ovaries, this gives a positive diagnosis for PCOS. Your doctor may take a small tissue sample for biopsy for further examination.
Not all women diagnosed with PCOS have cysts on their ovaries. This is why blood tests are important.
Conventional PCOS Treatment Isn’t Always The Best Choice
Once your doctor gives you a positive diagnosis of PCOS, the next step is to chart out the right treatment plan. Conventional treatment focuses on regulating your menstrual cycle through birth control pills. If you’re trying to become pregnant, your doctor may also prescribe medication to help you ovulate, like an oral anti-estrogen medication during the first part of your menstrual cycle. Anti-androgen drugs are prescribed to reduce acne and excess hair growth. If your blood sugar tests reveal that you have insulin resistance, diabetes medications like Metformin may also be prescribed to lower blood glucose and testosterone levels.
Unfortunately, there is no medical cure for PCOS. So the idea behind this medication cocktail is to get a handle on the symptoms and improve your overall quality of life. However, all these medicines come with unwarranted side effects.
While birth control pills will regulate menstrual cycle, they simply mask your symptoms without actually addressing the underlying problem —- which is insulin resistance, in most cases. Some women don’t feel good when they’re on The Pill as it can lead to weight gain, cause mood changes and interfere with libido. In fact, contraceptives deteriorate insulin sensitivity, as proven by research. According to a study conducted at Athens University School of Medicine, treatment of adolescent girls with PCOS with oral contraceptives resulted in unfavorable changes of insulin sensitivity. Oral contraceptives have also been linked to increased risk of stroke. The pill can also lead to depression, mood changes and fluid retention. Metformin comes with its own set of side-effects too.
Why Natural Treatment For PCOS Really Works
PCOS is often a warning sign that your body is no longer as sensitive to insulin as it should be. And while medication may help this, these come with unwanted side effects and don’t really address the root cause – an unhealthy lifestyle causing insulin resistance.
Lifestyle changes are the key to reversing PCOS. Losing weight will not only reduce insulin and androgen levels, it will also restore normal ovulation. Leading a healthy lifestyle that depends on eating a clean, healthy LCHF diet and focuses on getting regular exercise to improve insulin-sensitivity is a long-term fix that will also improve your odds of getting pregnant. A healthy lifestyle will not only fix insulin resistance, it also improves quality of life, making you feel stronger, fitter, happier and more at peace.
PCOS And High-Fat Diet: Eat Right
While many nutritionists advocate the need for cutting back on fats, reduce portion sizes and cut back on caloric intake, such an extreme step towards weight loss is neither sustainable nor always possible. A conventional weight loss diet that encourages cutting back on fats will NOT WORK. Who wants to lose weight by starving themselves? And even if you manage to drop a few pounds, can you really sustain such a strict diet for the rest of your life? Chances are – you can’t. And that means that as soon as you go back to eating “normally” (by which I mean, enough to feel full), you’ll gain back all that weight and have to deal with insulin resistance all over again. What’s worse, when you cut back on all fats, you subsequently make up for that caloric deficit by eating more carbs, which truly is a disaster for PCOS.
This is why, changing your approach to “dieting” is crucial here. Most women are no strangers to “dieting” to lose weight, which is why we want to steer you towards a diet that will not only help you lose weight, it is possible to stay on this diet and reap several health benefits from it for life!!!
We’re talking about the LCHF or Low Carb High Fat diet. And this has been proven by research conducted at Duke University Medical Center to study the effects of a low-carbohydrate, high fat diet on polycystic ovary syndrome. Researchers found that such a diet led to significant improvement in weight, percent free testosterone, LH/FSH ratio, and fasting insulin in women with obesity and PCOS over a 24 week period.
The best explanation of why a low carb, high fat diet works wonders for PCOS is simple biology. Carbohydrates break down into sugars. The body needs to produce insulin to be able to push these sugars into cells where they’re used for energy. When the body gets excess carbohydrate that converts into excess blood glucose levels (or excess sugars), more and more insulin is produced to address the excess. Extra sugar gets stored as fat. This is a vicious cycle, and over a period of time, the body becomes less sensitive to insulin, resulting in insulin resistance.
Low carbohydrate intake results in lower insulin levels, which reverses insulin resistance in PCOS and helps to balance the hormonal system. As a result, your LCHF diet supports normal ovulation and a normal menstrual cycle, while reducing other symptoms of PCOS naturally. It addresses acne and extra facial hair growth too, and getting pregnant also becomes easier when you nourish your body with the right diet.
As the name suggests, LCHF or Low Carb-High Fat diet focuses on low carbohydrate, moderate protein & high fat combination. Get your daily quota of carbs by eating lots of vegetables and fruits. Cook vegetables and meats in natural healthy fats like grass-fed butter, coconut oil and extra-virgin olive oil. Cooking with these heart-healthy fats helps with satiety and keeps appetite in check too. Also add other healthy sources of fat like avocados, nuts, coconut milk and fatty fish to your diet.
Workout Regularly to Beat PCOS
Exercise improves insulin resistance. Any kind of exercise helps, but muscle and weight training workouts are particularly helpful as these build lean muscle mass and help the body become more sensitive to insulin. However, cardio workouts are the key to losing weight, so these cannot be ignored either.
Going to a gym and working with a certified personal trainer is definitely the easiest way to chart out the right cardio and weight training routine for your specific needs. However, if you don’t enjoy the gym, don’t force yourself. We are huge believers in staying active by doing activities or workouts that you actually enjoy. Because that’s the only way you will do them, right?! What’s the point of going to the gym if you hate it and can’t wait to get out?
If you find high-intensity, stress-inducing workouts at the gym too overwhelming, choose a low-impact workout that suits your needs. Some women enjoy group classes, like Zumba, Pilates, Barre Yoga or Aqua Aerobics to help them stay fit. You can also go for a 30-45 minute brisk walk outdoors every day if that’s what you prefer. Walking, jogging, riding a bike and swimming are perfectly good cardio workouts that can be enjoyed in the fresh outdoor air and won’t cost you a dime extra! For weight training, park your car further away at the grocery store and carry your groceries back to your car and all the way up the stairs to your apartment! Yoga is an excellent choice as it uses your own body weight to tone the body, aid flexibility and workout all muscles. There are specific yoga asanas that also help boost fertility, if you’re trying to get pregnant.
In the end, what we want to stress on is this —- the right workout to beat PCOS is one that you will stick to. Enjoy your workout so that you look forward to it, and it becomes an intrinsic part of your routine. Be it exercising at the gym, jogging, swimming or cycling, the key is to get moving and stay active! A holistic workout plan that focuses on some cardio workout accompanied by weight training and yoga plus meditation helps to not just encourage weight loss but also improve mood and fight stress.
Effective Dietary Supplements For PCOS
When trying to reverse PCOS through diet and exercises, some supplements can be especially helpful in giving your body the extra nourishment it needs. When chosen correctly, the right dietary supplements increase your intake of nutrients that support your body’s ability to use insulin and can help keep your blood sugar stable. We highly recommend adding Vitamin B Complex, Vitamin D3, Magnesium, Cinnamon, Chromium, ALA, Berberine and Pomegranate Extract to your diet. Supplementing with Omega 3s or Fish Cod Liver Oil helps optimize your Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio. We also highly recommend D-Chiro Inositol, an excellent supplement to alleviate symptoms of PCOS. Research has found that inositol exert beneficial effects at metabolic, hormonal and ovarian level for women. Talk to your health care practitioner about what supplements you should consider.