Hormone disorders seem to be taking over our population, especially in females. Today, I wanted to discuss a common hormone issue that many women face that is often overlooked or not diagnosed: PCOS.
PCOS stands for polycystic ovarian syndrome, and it is a very complex female hormone disorder that can leave women infertile. When we look at PCOS, we typically see three different factors that are not only driving the disorder, but also need to be addressed:
1. Insulin resistance (blood sugar issues)
2. High testosterone
3. Low FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone)
Given the name PCOS, many people think that cysts must be present to have the disorder, but that is not true. You can still have PCOS without having cysts if you have other symptoms alongside.
The cause of PCOS is not known, but it can be traced back to insulin resistance from the overeating of foods like sugar, refined carbs, vegetable oils, and trans fats. Insulin resistance occurs when our cells are not receptive to insulin in the body or our body doesn’t produce insulin as it should. Let’s break this down a bit more.
When we eat any food that contains carbohydrates, our body senses that and releases insulin, a storage hormone, from the pancreas. Insulin’s job is to take the glucose (sugar) from the carbs that is in the blood stream and take it to a cell for storage. Insulin acts as a key to unlock the door of the cell so that glucose can be stored as glycogen (stored energy) in the cell for later use.
If insulin resistance occurs, we can see trouble with insulin unlocking the “door” of the cells, leaving glucose in the blood stream longer that in should be. Or, insulin is not released from the pancreas at all, again leaving glucose (sugar) in the blood stream longer than it should be.
Over time, this pattern of insulin resistance causes many issues in the body, especially related to hormones. Hence, the development of PCOS can occur.
The symptoms of PCOS include:
· Estrogen dominance
· Insulin resistance
· Cravings for sugar and sweets
· Weight gain
· Acne or oily skin
· Increased facial and body hair
· Cysts on the ovaries
· Irregular cycles
· Hot flashes
· Unexplained anxiety
· Severe mood swings
Because of the complexity of PCOS, it also puts women at a higher risk for developing a myriad of diseases, including hypothyroidism, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. Briefly, I’ll explain the connection to each of these disorders and how they relate to our hormones.
Hypothyroidism: our sex hormones and thyroid hormones act on the same axis, the HP (hypothalamus-pituitary) axis. The thyroid axis is the HPT axis, and the sex hormones act on the HPO axis (O for ovary). When there is dysfunction in one of the systems, over time there is bound to be issues in the other. This can also be true for adrenal issues as well, as they share the HP axis too.
Diabetes: this is straightforward, as type II diabetes is literally a result of insulin resistance built up over time.
Heart disease: contrary to popular belief, heart disease is mainly caused by dysregulated blood sugar built up over time, along with stress, lack of sleep, vegetable oil/sugar/processed foods intake, too much or too little exercise, and alcohol.
Hypertension: much like heart disease, blood sugar regulation plays a bit role in preventing high blood pressure. Also, like I mentioned before, the HPA (hypothalamus pituitary adrenal) axis with the adrenal glands sitting on top of the kidneys will also be impacted hormonally from PCOS, and therefore affect the kidneys as well. Lastly, overall inflammation in the body from PCOS can contribute to hypertension as well.
When it comes to addressing PCOS, we first want to assess the cycle. Whether a woman has irregular cycles or not, getting an accurate picture of what happens over the course of a whole month is critical to piecing it all together. A full cycling hormone panel done via saliva or urine is the most accurate way to see the fluctuations of your hormones over time. If you are interested in learning more, please contact me on the blog to learn more about those options!
Then, we MUST address blood sugar regulation. You can read more here.
Blood sugar regulation with a diet focused on real food protein, healthy fat, and vegetables for carbs will help keep PCOS symptoms from taking over the body.
Next, we want to make sure we are addressing fatty acid balance to keep inflammation down. Focusing on a high-quality fish oil (contact me for more on my favorite from Biotics Research), regular dietary fish intake, and avoiding toxic vegetable oils is CRITICAL. Oils and fats to avoid include:
· Canola oil
· Soybean oil
· Corn oil
· Sunflower oil
· Safflower oil
· Rice bran oil
· Grapeseed oil
· “Lite” butter
· Spray butter
· Cooking sprays
· Partially hydrogenated fats
Focusing on liver detoxification is extremely important. The liver is our major detoxification organ and must filter all the toxins, medications, and other items we ingest, smell, or use on our skin. Very simply put, phase I liver detoxification takes these substances and makes them water soluble. Phase II liver detoxification attaches the water-soluble molecule to another substance so it can be eliminated from the body. Avoid any detox products claiming to help with liver detoxification; most are a hoax! Our liver just needs gentle help most of the time.
To support the body in this process, I recommend the following:
· Dandelion root tea – daily (Traditional Medicinals)
· Milk Thistle tea – daily
· Dry brushing – before your shower
· Epsom salt baths or foot soaks – 10-15 minutes daily
· Avoid harsh chemicals, smells, or products
· Avoid sugar, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, vegetable oils, and processed foods
If there are any gut issues present, we also want to test and address those as gut imbalances create inflammation and poor nutrient absorption in the body.
For exercise, focusing on walking, yoga, and strength training is ideal. Avoid HIIT or other interval types of training. Rest at least 2 days per week.
Stress management is crucial as well. Finding what your major stressors are and working to address them is extremely important. My best tips include:
· Walk in nature
· Spend time with friends
· Take time for you
Finally, SLEEP! Sleep is critical to our overall health as it is the time when our body recovers from the day. Use these tips to optimize trouble FALLING asleep:
· Turn off electronics/bright lights 2 hours before bed
· Turn on night shift mode on devices
· Use blue light blocking glasses at night (Amazon, Blublox, or Felix Gray)
· Take an Epsom salt bath or soak feet
· Use/diffuse lavender essential oil
· Avoid caffeine after noon (or even 10am)
· Avoid exercising in the evening
· Eat PFC balanced meals throughout the day
· Avoid eating after dinner, especially sugar
· Read, journal, or listen to relaxing music before bed
· Drink chamomile tea
Use these tips to optimize STAYING asleep:
· Follow all the tips above
· Eat PFC balanced meals during the day, especially focusing on protein/healthy fat at breakfast and lunch
· When you wake up, make sure to get early exposure to natural sunlight
· Check in on adrenal, liver, and hormone health
If you have been diagnosed with PCOS or any other hormone imbalance, I am here to help you! Having dealt with major hormone imbalances personally and professionally, my goal is to help you find answers in a holistic way that works with, not against your body. As always, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to set up your free 15 minute nutrition consultation today!