So you’ve been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS.) Welcome to the club, you are not alone.
When I was first diagnosed with PCOS at the age of 17, in 1992 (I’m showing my age!), it was rare that any health professional had even heard of this syndrome. I found myself explaining what little I knew to the doctors I saw. As time has passed, the only real difference in the mainstream seems to be an awareness of the label and a passing idea of what it touted as treatment.
But without a real understanding of what causes PCOS, is it possible to treat this syndrome effectively?
I don’t believe it is.
See, the oral contraceptive pill is the current mainstay treatment. And while it is important to regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle to reduce her risk of endometrial cancer, for example, the pill has been shown to cause insulin resistance. And does it really regulate the menstrual cycle? We’ll talk about this in a little while.
Insulin resistance is very common in women with PCOS. Estimates vary, but researcher Dr Andrea Dunaif found women with:
1) “PCOS have significant insulin resistance that is independent of obesity, changes in body composition, and impairment of glucose tolerance.
2) PCOS and obesity have a synergistic deleterious effect on glucose tolerance.
3) Hyperinsulinemia in PCOS is not the result of decreased insulin clearance, and
4) PCOS is associated with a unique disorder of insulin action.”
This means that our hormone insulin isn’t working as well as it should. And this can lead to issues with fertility, weight gain, thyroid dysfunction, and the other signs and symptoms so common in PCOS, including acne, excessive hair growth and trouble losing excess fat.
You may think of inflammation as what happens with an infected ingrown toenail; red, painful and swollen. And you’d be right. Inflammation is, generally speaking, how the body’s immune system responds to a stimulus. In the case of an ingrown nail, your body responses to try and rid the nail from the place it ought not be, and heal the tissue in this area. This is acute inflammation; a short-term and appropriate response. There is also a state of chronic inflammation or inflammation that is ongoing over a longer time.
Chronic inflammation is an underlying cause of the disease that is finally beginning to receive more attention. Yet it is not commonly assessed or addressed appropriately. This is no different in women with PCOS.
Women with PCOS have been found to have elevated markers for inflammation. There are tests your integrative doctor or health professional can order to assess this. These tests include CRP, homocysteine, CRP, IL-6, and TNF-α. Don’t worry. Their names are not important as your integrative doctor knows what they are looking for; the tests are indispensable.
Let’s dive into what I believe is one of the most important areas of health, and it is in direct contrast to what we’ve been taught. Understanding this is critical in understanding why we’ve been told what we have about PCOS, and why integrative and holistic approaches are imperative and powerful in conquering your signs and symptoms.
You may have heard that genes cause disease? That’s why most mainstream approaches include medications and surgery; if this is true, you need to alter the genes by using something akin to a sword.
There certainly are genetic disorders; think Downs Syndrome, where there are actual genetic reasons. However, this is not the case in the diseases of modern day civilization. Why?
Think of genes like the blueprint of a home. The blueprint is just a set of instructions. It is important; after all, you don’t want your toilet set up in the middle of your kitchen. However, the quality of the materials, the skills of the tradesmen, the environment the house is built in and on, all matter.
What research has shown and common sense dictates is that genes turn on and off, like the lights in your house, depending on when and if they are needed. See our genes provide the code, the instructions, to create the recipe for a specific protein. These proteins act as a messenger and communicate what your body needs. When we cut ourselves, our body tells a specific gene ‘hay, we have a cut here!’ and our gene sets about producing the protein needed to clot the area. Then our body chats to another gene and say ‘hay, we need some new tissue here!’ and we produce the specific protein to do this. But while we are healing and repairing every moment of every day we are alive, we do not need the genes switched on that heal that cut all of the time.
Dr. Bruce Lipton is an incredible researcher with a curiosity for the truth I admire greatly. His work on gene expression is wonderful news for women with PCOS. What did he find? There is something else that controls gene expression, and the exciting part is that this something else is under our control. Just like the cells in Dr. Lipton’s experiment, our genes and cells respond to the environment we provide them. If we have a healthy lifestyle, we promote healthy gene expression and therefore wellbeing. If our lifestyle is not that which we are designed for, we promote adaptive gene expression. Our body continues to try to adapt to the suboptimal environment we are providing it, leading to cell fatigue and eventually death.
That what you eat, how you move, what you think, which supplements you take, what therapies you choose, greatly determine how well your body works.
Let’s look at our hormone, insulin, as an example.
Insulin has many functions, but for simplicity, we’ll look here at only one. This hormone is produced in response to the foods we eat. The more sugar we eat, the more insulin we need to produce to help us guide an excess of this sticky substance into our cells. As we eat more sugar, we produce more insulin, and eventually, our cells stop listening. They essentially get sick of answering the insulin door knocker and we become insulin resistant. Our cells are resistant to the effects of insulin in our body. This causes many of the PCOS signs and symptoms.
The same holds true for our genes. The genetic expression is altered by our consumption of a substance. Another way of thinking about it is this. How do you stop a hangover? Stop drinking alcohol. Voila!
Your choices affect your gene expression. This is great news, because it means you are in control, not your genes! By adopting the right lifestyle approaches, you can control your genes.
And you’re on your way to a whole new genetic expression and better health to boot!