Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) contains a complex series of metabolic and hormonal conditions affecting between 5-10% of Australian women. Symptoms include insulin resistance, infertility, irregular periods, acne and excess body hair.
There is an increase in the prevalence of PCOS in women with a body mass index in excess of 35. Obesity contributes to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, and leads to elevated testosterone levels in women. There is also the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in women with PCOS.
However, it is possible to help women suffering from acne, excess body hair and menstrual irregularities using herbs and nutritional supplements, as well as diet and exercise modifications.
A client came to see me 3 years ago, suffering from PCOS. Let us call her Jane. Jane had one daughter and was trying to conceive a second child. However, Jane was only having one period every 3 months, and after going to her G.P. due to her conception issues, Jane was diagnosed with PCOS.
Jane’s diet was high in carbohydrates and sugar. Breakfast was usually toast or cereal. Lunch was sushi rolls, pasta salads or sandwiches from the local food court near her place of work. Dinner was a protein dish (i.e. chicken, beef or fish) with a carbohydrate such as potato or rice, and vegetables or salad. Snacks during the day at work included fruit, but also hot chocolate and sweets. Jayne admitted to having a weakness for sweet treats. Due to her full-time work and 2 year old daughter, Jane found no time to exercise, aside from walking her dog 5 minutes a day.
Jane did have mild acne and also excess facial hair underneath her chin that would be removed via waxing once a month. She was 30 years old and weighed 120kg. Jane conceived her first child through working with a naturopath, to increase her frequency of ovulation by reducing her weight. However Jane admitted that since the birth of her daughter, her weight had crept up through a lack of exercise and poor food choices. Jane had tried to diet, but found it hard to stay focussed when her husband wasn’t following a low calorie regime too. Jane did not drink alcohol, which was good, but would drink fizzy drinks on her rare visits to pubs.
My first priority was to reduce Jane’s weight by at least 10%, as that generally improves all the symptoms of PCOS. I explained to Jane that she was probably addicted to sugar, hence her high carbohydrate diet. Carbohydrates lift mood by increasing serotonin, hence it is easy to fall into a cycle of addiction. My solution was for Jane to eliminate carbohydrates, aside from low sugar fruits (such as berries, grapefruit and kiwi fruits) and low GI grains such as quinoa and millet. As Jane tended to have breakfast at work, I encouraged her to bring from home a slice of frittata, or low GI fruits with a full fat organic yogurt for her breakfast. Lunch was variations on the following themes: salad with pulses or grilled beef/chicken, sashimi or a avocado or bean dip with raw vegetables. Dinner would be a protein with roasted veggies (not just pumpkin/potatoes!!) or salad or steamed veggies. Occasionally quinoa or millet was allowed. For snacks I recommended nuts, fruit or cheese on cucumber slices (to avoid Jane eating crackers).
After 4 months Jane’s weight reduced to 105kg and her monthly periods returned. Jane was full of energy, not missing sugar and carbohydrates, and had started walking the dog before work and in the evenings for her exercise.
With the return of her periods, we could work on improving fertility with a variety of liquid herbs mixed specifically for Jane as well as nutritional supplements. For example, liquorice is good for reducing androgens (male hormones) that cause acne, poor ovulation and excess facial hair in women with PCOS. Chromium is beneficial for people with insulin resistance.
After spending 3 months working on improving her fertility via herbs and nutritional supplements, Jane conceived and 9 months later delivered a healthy baby boy!
There are many natural herbs and nutritional supplements that can help alleviate the symptoms of PCOS. If you are struggling with PCOS, it may be of benefit for you to visit your local Naturopath, or email me directly at [email protected]