Leann Clink BSN, RN
What is PCOS?
PCOS is PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome, it is a hormonal imbalance fairly common in women of reproductive age where there are many cysts on the ovaries. This causes the ovaries to produce more androgen (a male sex hormone) than estrogen or progesterone (female sex hormone). It is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic environmental factors.
What are some of the symptoms of PCOS? Symptoms may include: missed, irregular periods, or very light periods; ovaries that are large or have many cysts (can only be seen by ultrasound); excess body hair (especially face); weight gain more often around your belly; acne or oily skin; infertility; skin tags. These don’t include everything but are the most common.
While a person cannot change their genes, a person can do some things to change their environment. So, what environmental things can a person change? There are actually quite a few but trying them all at once would be a little overwhelming. For example, how would a person eat an elephant? A person would eat an elephant one bite at a time, using this idea, let’s look at a few things that can support you with this concern.
PCOS AND THE USE OF MEDICINES:
Often time women who have been diagnosed with PCOS are heavier, sometimes overweight or very overweight. This may mean that a woman is more insulin resistant. A person may notice insulin resistance if they have more of their weight around their middle. Some doctors may choose to have you start taking medication for that insulin resistance. That medication may include oral diabetic medications like metformin. Taking metformin can assist in regulating a person’s blood sugar level. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the sugar in the body by moving it into the cells from a person’s blood so that the body can use it for energy. Without insulin or with low insulin, cells are unable to use glucose as fuel and they will start to malfunction. Extra glucose that is not used by the cell will be converted and stored as fat so it can be used to provide energy when glucose levels are too low. When a person is insulin resistant their body is not using the insulin, they do have correctly so the energy stored in the cells stays there as fat. By taking metformin or a medication like it the body can use the sugar in the cell correctly and not be as likely to store it as fat. So, medicine can help manage the insulin resistance caused by PCOS.
PCOS will often cause irregular periods as well as other symptoms for women. To combat these symptoms, doctors will often prescribe combination birth control pill which have estrogen and progesterone in them. This is often done if the woman doesn’t want to have children right away or doctors want to regulate menstrual cycles. The combination birth control pills are thought to increase the estrogen and progesterone hormone levels over time and decrease the androgen and testosterone levels in a woman system. The decreases of the male hormone levels and the increases of female hormone should help to decrease or get rid of the symptoms of PCOS.
There are other medications that doctors may use to decrease symptoms of excess of facial hair or acne but they are not as commonly used and would be up to your doctor depending on how severe symptoms are.
PCOS AND THE ENVIRONMENT:
Many women ask if there are ways to manage PCOS without using medications. That answer is yes. It does however, mean that a woman may need to make personal lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes are not always hard but they would be changes are life long not short term. Being long term is sometimes the hardest part of the change. Even with that, every day is a new day and a person can just start over the next day making those changes that will be helpful not tearing down the progress a person has already made. All is not lost!
Many doctors will often suggest a woman start by losing up to 10% of her body weight. An example of this would be if she weighs 200 pounds, she would start by loosing 20 pounds. Depending on how a woman does with that and what symptoms she still has, many doctors will proceed from there. Safe weight loss is always important! Fad or crash diets, starvations, vomiting or laxatives as a means of weight loss could be harmful or cause permanent side effects so we are not suggesting using those choices for weight loss. One way to start would be to increase water intake so a person is drinking ½ or their body weight in ounces of water (i.e., a 200-pound person would drink 100 ounces of water). Doing this decreases a person’s intake of coffee, soda pops and alcoholic beverages. Drink water also helps a person to feel full and flushes out harmful toxins.
Increasing a person’s intake of fresh fruits and veggies and decreasing processed breads, sugars, and baked goods. This decreases carbohydrates and increases fiber, which is a tip for PCOS. This also goes back to insulin resistance, if there is less sugar in the diet then insulin will be better regulated as will other hormones. Swapping out brownies or cookies for a bowl of fresh or frozen berries with whipped cream on top would be an example of this kind of alternative.
Adding healthy fats like nuts or avocadoes instead of eating breads or desserts would be another example. Making this kind of change decreases sugar intake as well and the healthy fats help a person to feel full longer so she won’t want to eat as much. That will naturally decrease calories.
Remember to not skip the protein! Protein is just as important as fruits, veggies and healthy fats. Proteins are made up of amino acids. Carnitine is an amino acid that plays a part in helping to combat PCOS symptoms.
Eating fermented foods like yogurt or sauerkraut are also helpful. Beer or wine would not be included in the fermented food option. Fermented foods help to restore the good bacteria in your digestive system. This will also assist decreasing insulin resistance, stay healthy while you make healthy life changes and improve overall eating habits.
Other lifestyle changes would be to increase your exercise level. This could be a simple as walking around the block one time 2-3 times a week and sticking to it. Doing this has multiple benefits, it can help to increase your sugar usage in your body, decrease your fat stores, increase your energy level, improve sleep and decrease stress. High level of stress can also affect your PCOS symptoms.
As mentioned earlier, improving sleep is important. People who get at least 6-8 hours of sleep a day. That is easier said than done with most current lifestyles. Making an effort to turn off electronic devices earlier and making margins in life help improve sleep. When margins are made in life there will be down time so that our body and mind can unwind and stop racing to the next thing.
Changing what is used around our house can be looked at to assist our bodies to self-regulate hormones. Sometimes products can be expensive but not always so let’s take a look. Reducing the amount of BPA’s or phthalates in the house. BPA’s (Bisphenol A) and phthalates, they are found in plastics since 1950’s but one of the great things about these, recently many companies are eliminating them from their products so they are easy to find and buy. BPA’s mimic estrogen so using high amounts of plastic can elevate your estrogens. Phthalates, contribute to obesity, diabetes and thyroid irregularities as well as other hormonal irregularities. Another option, would be to change to use, store or microwave in glass or metal containers instead.
Using products that have less additives in general has many benefits. If you can pronounce the name, it’s more likely you will know what it does. Using cleaning products with vinegar, baking soda, water or citrus will frequently be safer than products where you can’t pronounce names. Common household cleaners and health and beauty aids with vinegar, baking soda, water or citrus are safer if you have little ones in the house, safer for the environment and less likely to cause hormone irregularities as well. This possibility of change is actually cheaper than the fancy store bought chemical cleaners that are on store shelves and you can make them at home with ingredients that are probably in the cupboard.
If PCOS is a concern for you or someone you know, there are options to try and consider. Trying one or more will probably produce a better result but even if only one thing is tried the net result will probably be a healthier person or family overall. That is always a plus. PCOS can be attacked using medications and adjusting a person’s environment. Results will vary based on the individual. Please remember this is not to be considered medical advice or medical information and always consider discussing this and any other change considered with a trusted licensed medical provider.