Written by naturopath Jessie Denmeade
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is very common, thought to effect 5-15% of women in Australia of reproductive age.
While Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is often thought of as a reproductive syndrome due to its impact on fertility and reproductive hormone production, it essentially is more of a metabolic syndrome. Half of all women with PCOS have insulin resistance and obesity. This difficulty in regulating blood sugar levels is a part of what drives the androgen production and hormone imbalances.
In order to be given a diagnosis of PCOS, a woman must be positive for at least two of the following three signs:
-Ultrasound evidence of polycystic ovaries
-Have evidence of hyperandrogenism (too much testosterone)
-Have an anovulatory cycle (not ovulating)
When we have an anovulatory cycle, we aren’t releasing an oocyte (egg) when we’re supposed to be ovulating, and this is why infertility is such a common problem for women with PCOS. It is also this immature egg (now follicle) that becomes a cyst in the ovaries (the follicle is retained by the ovary)Elevated androgens (like testosterone) often result in women with PCOS struggling with hormonal acne (especially on the jawline, chest and back/shoulders) and increased growth of body hair (especially on the jaw and upper lip).But the consequences of PCOS extend beyond infertility, acne and more than desired body hair. Due to its link with metabolic syndrome, PCOS has been associated with the development of Type 2 Diabetes, and cardiovascular risks such as elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood pressure and obesity.
On a brighter note, PCOS can be very effectively managed and addressed with natural medicine and a healthy lifestyle. Firstly, maintaining a healthy weight is critical, and if a woman with PCOS is overweight or obese, just reducing her weight can see a huge improvement in her symptoms and biochemical markers. Due to the nature of the condition, the excess body weight drives androgen production, increases inflammation and worsens insulin resistance. A diet rich in wholefoods, fibre, antioxidants and lean protein, and low in refined carbohydrates like sugars, white breads, pastas and saturated fats, is a great first step in the right direction to address PCOS and reduce all the unpleasant symptoms associated with it.
A naturopaths’ toolkit is also full of hormone modulating herbs to rectify hormone imbalances, and nutrients to support complete detoxification of hormones and metabolic wastes, and assist in healthy blood sugar control. Ovarian cysts can be reabsorbed by the body, hormones can return to balance and women with PCOS can have symptom free lives and healthy fertility levels.
If you would like to find out more about how a naturopath can help you address your PCOS, improve fertility, reduce acne and menstrual issues, feel free to reach out with your questions.