One of the most common reproductive health issues is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS, which affects roughly 5 million women in the U.S. alone.
As defined by the CDC, PCOS happens when a woman’s ovaries or adrenal glands produce more male hormones than normal, often resulting in cysts on the ovaries. Common symptoms of PCOS include:
- pelvic pain
- excess hair growth on the body
- baldness or thinning hair
- oily skin
- patches of thickened dark brown or black skin
So, how does one develop PCOS? While the exact cause is unknown, it's closely associated with diet. I see PCOS as a nutritional problem first, hormone imbalance issue second. Women with PCOS are at increased risk of developing diabetes, and are much more likely to have metabolic syndrome.
So one of the keys to correcting PCOS is to treat the metabolic syndrome first. Once you correct the blood sugar and insulin imbalance, the hormone imbalance can follow suit. I've seen it many times in my practice, where a woman with PCOS goes on a low-carb diet, her periods become regular, and her metabolic syndrome improves.
Here’s what I recommend to patients who come to me with PCOS:
Step One: Change Your Diet to Manage PCOS
To start, cut back on sugars and starchy foods. A good low-glycemic diet has been shown to improve fasting blood sugar and insulin and hemoglobin A1c levels in patients with metabolic syndrome. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: sugar is the downfall to a healthy body.
Swap your sugary, frothy latte in the morning for black coffee or tea, your pastry for oatmeal and your white-bread sandwich at lunch for a salad. Focus on more lean proteins and greens, and less starchy and sugary foods.
To prevent blood sugar spikes, feed your body low sugar, high protein and healthy fat more frequently throughout the day. I recommend eating five to six small meals a day.
Step Two: Consider Prescription Drugs and Natural Supplements
Once you tackle getting rid of certain foods from your diet, I may recommend adding a prescription drug, Metformin, as a short-term course of treatment. (As a holistic doctor, I try to keep my patients off medicine as much as possible.)
In addition, I recommend adding supplements such as chromium, cinnamon, gymnema, and berberine, an herb that a recent study suggests can be as effective as metformin in treating hyperinsulinemia. This should help clear up the issue while subsequently cleaning up your diet.
But as with anything, there's no "one size fits all" treatment plan, and some individuals are harder to treat than others. So for those patients, I may add an androgen (male hormone) blocker such as spironolactone for those with high testosterone levels, especially at the beginning while the blood sugar is getting balanced.
I would also consider adding the natural supplements N-acetylcysteine at 1200mg/day and L-arginine at 1600/mg a day, both in divided doses. A recent study found the supplements to be effective in restoring hormonal function.
Finally, I believe acupuncture is a great adjunct in the treatment of PCOS. While I'm not an acupuncturist, I have seen over and over again that acupuncture can help hormonal issues in general.
After adjusting your diet and taking the prescription or natural supplements as recommended, you can expect to see significant improvements in about six months.
As a holistic doctor, I suspect a large portion of root causes begin in the gut, so I also recommend detoxing as a great way to heal. I’m not talking about a three-day juice cleanse here, but a liver detox, to help expel excess hormones. A good liver detox includes a clean, whole food, organic diet. We live in a toxic world and liver cleanses help rid your body of hormone disruptors that we're exposed to every day.
When it comes to PCOS, it's important to discuss with your doctor the best treatment plan for you. But treat your body with love and respect and it’ll do the same back for you.
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