Written by contributor Stephanie Langford of Keeper of the Home
Call me naive. I didn’t know that there was something terribly wrong about going 6 months without a cycle.
I was 20 years old and in my last year of university. My health was far from superb, but I certainly didn’t think that there was anything seriously wrong with me.
A friend suggested that I just get myself checked out, and I was surprised when my doctor referred me to an OB-GYN for further testing. A few blood tests and an examination later, I had an answer for what was going on in my body.
I had PCOS, or Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome.
A Quick Look at PCOS
It is estimated that between 5-10% of all North American women may have PCOS. It is the most common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age.
Common symptoms include:
- Absent or highly irregular menstrual cycles
- Weight gain, particularly around the middle
- Annovulation (lack of ovulation, regardless of whether you are having a “cycle” or not)
- Infertility and miscarriage
- Facial hair
- Ovarian cysts
- Blood sugar imbalances/Insulin issues
For many women, their struggle with weight is the telltale sign, along with an irregular cycle or difficulty conceiving. For some, like myself, weight may not be an issue but the hormone tests reveal the same irregularities, and they may experience some or many of the other symptoms.
To learn more about the symptoms of PCOS, see this quiz from PCOSupport.
Photo by gnarlsmonkey
Living life with a PCOS diagnosis
The day that she gave me the news, my OB-GYN oh-so-graciously informed me that I would be on medication for the rest of my life, and would most likely be unable to have children, or at least not without fertility treatments.
And oh yes, one more thing… there is nothing you can do about it.
I’m sure she had no idea, but she had just told me exactly what I needed to hear. At the tender age of 20, with a heart full of dreams for the rest of my life, those words only spurred me on to find out exactly what I could do about it after all.
As it turns out, there is so much that can be done to help women suffering from PCOS!
Please, ladies, do not let anyone take away the hope that you have for natural lifestyle changes that can bring about much healing and restoration to a broken-down body like mine, and yes, like yours.
Treating PCOS, Au Naturel
In my experience and based on the studies that I have done, there are 3 main things that can really make a difference for those with PCOS:
1. Break the vicious cycle of SUGAR!
Sugar is an incredibly addictive substance, and this is the cycle that it perpetuates: crave sugar, eat something sugary, feel great while on a sugar high, begin to crash as blood sugar levels drop, feel like garbage, crave sugar, eat something sugary, and on and on, ad nauseum.
This is a particularly big problem for the woman with PCOS and here’s why: Hormones are intricately related to blood sugar balance and insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone and all of our hormones work together in a very delicate little dance. When one oversteps its boundaries, the others fall out of line.
Additionally, sugar contributes greatly to weight gain and obesity. Being overweight contributes to hormonal imbalance, as fat stores are directly related to levels of some hormones. Many women with PCOS find that as soon as they are able to lose a bit of weight, their cycle begins to regulate itself.
Photo by clevercupcakes
2. Eat real food.
Those who knew me back in the day would get a good chuckle out of seeing the crunchy, granola-loving, health nut that I’ve become. My four food groups used to consist of coffee, things that are white (sugar, flour, potatoes, cheese, pasta), a few non-vegetable vegetables (like iceberg lettuce, baby corn and canned tomato sauce), and chocolate. Well-rounded, no?
What I learned as I began to study the way that my body worked and what it needed is this– my body was craving nutrients that it could not get from the processed foods I was eating. I needed to ditch the industrial convenience and comfort foods, and learn to eat whole, real foods full of nutrients that would nourish my body and ensure that it had what it needed to function well.
Here’s my basic philosophy of eating: Eat only foods that were created to be food (no chemicals, dyes, preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, modified ingredients, GMO, etc.) and eat them whole, complete and as close to the way that they were created as possible.
Also, be sure to consume a variety of good, old-fashioned fats. For me, these include extra virgin olive oil, organic coconut oil, grass-fed butter, lots of wild fish, avocados, nuts and seeds and more. Healthy fats are a crucial component to hormone balance.
3. Get your body moving.
Nothing helps to break the cycle of insulin resistance, which often leads to Type II diabetes down the road, like getting active and fit.
For many of the women that I’ve known who also have PCOS, regular exercise is a necessary ingredient for weight loss and maintenance, and to bring some regularity to their cycle.
It doesn’t have to be time-consuming or elaborate to be effective. Taking walks or jogs in the evening, doing a 20 minute exercise video a few mornings a week, or playing a game of soccer at the park with your kids. It all helps and it’s that consistent physical activity that does the most to balance things out.
:: Additionally, there are many natural treatments that can help as well, including detoxification, herbs, vitamin and mineral supplementation, homeopathics, to name a few. I have used many of these to add to what I am already doing and have often found them to be useful and effective.
It still needs to be said, though, that there is no magic pill, no one supplement or miracle food that will do the job. Living healthfully with PCOS requires a lifestyle change, but it is worth it every step of the way.
Photo by D Sharon Pruitt
The rest of my story
I began by slowly making these changes over the course of several years. It wasn’t overnight, and it wasn’t always easy, but I did begin to notice small improvements within a short period of time, and vast improvements over the course of several years.
My cycle returned to the closest semblance of regularity I have known since… well, ever. I began ovulating again. Mood swings and sugar cravings decrease, acne improved, and my blood sugar balanced out. The 20-25 extra pounds that I carried simply dropped off, never to come back.
I did get pregnant, all by myself (well, my husband might have played a role, but certainly no thanks to my OB-GYN). In fact, I went on to have 3 healthy babies, and I’m hoping for more.
Is my struggle over? No. I don’t have that perfect 28-day cycle, or that fertile myrtle quality so many other women have. When I allow stress and poor food choices to overcome the things I know I should do, I struggle from hormone fluctuations, mood shifts, tiredness, and a wonky cycle.
I may always struggle with the tendency towards out-of-whack hormones. I don’t really know.
But I do know this: Change is possible. There are simple, manageable steps that any woman can take to bring at least some level of relief and even recovery to her body.
Take heart, my friend. There is indeed something that you can do about it.
A Couple of Resources:
Naturally Knocked Up :: A blog dedicated to helping women achieve reproductive health and conceive naturally
Living with PCOS :: A series I wrote discussing health topics that pertain to PCOS on my personal blog, Keeper of the Home.
Do you have PCOS (or know someone who does)? What natural, lifestyle changes have you found to be effective?