PCOS: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
11 Jul 2016
By Sarah Nankervis, Naturopath & Nutritionist
1. What is PCOS and how is it different from PCO?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is characterised by multiple cystic growths on the ovaries (polycystic ovaries). You can also have PCOS without any cysts on your ovaries but have hormonal imbalances and display multiple symptoms. PCOS most likely develops when the ovaries are stimulated to produce excessive amounts of male hormones called androgens (particularly testosterone) either through the release of excessive luteinising hormone (LH) by the pituitary gland or through high levels of insulin in the blood and elevated or disordered oestrogen.
Some common signs and symptoms of PCOS include;
- Multiple cysts on your ovaries
- Irregular menstrual cycles or no period at all
- Unusual hair growth or more than normal – around nipples, between the chest and along the jaw line are the most common areas
- Central obesity – “apple-shaped” and/or difficulty losing weight
- Elevated testosterone, androstenedione and DHEAS levels (we measure this through blood or saliva)
- Jaw-line acne, oily skin and cystic acne
- PMS symptoms that feels like they are going on forever!
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Fluctuating blood sugar
2. What hormonal imbalances occur with PCOS?
- Testosterone – this is usually elevated in PCOS and can cause hirtuism (unusual hair growth on the body), acne specifically cystic and along the jaw line, back and chest.
- Insulin resistance – recent research shows that insulin resistance is a leading cause of PCOS. Insulin resistance occurs when the body produces insulin but does not use it effectively. When people have insulin resistance, glucose builds up in the blood instead of being absorbed by the cells, leading to type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. This can occur whether you are overweight or within a healthy weight range. Medically one of the combined treatments with the Oral Contraceptive for PCOS is a drug called Metformin which is used to decrease insulin resistance.
- Oestrogen dominance or excess – this can occur with low progesterone levels or elevated oestrogen. Oestrogen dominance can cause difficulty losing weight especially around the middle, headaches, acne and PMS. If you have PCOS and still have your periods, an imbalance of oestrogen can cause heavier periods or more painful periods.
- Every one is individual – it is also good to note that EVERY client I see with PCOS has very different symptoms and hormone profile so not one treatment strategy will be the same to help support healthy hormone balance.
3. How does gut health affect PCOS?
Hippocrates stated – “All Disease Begins In The Gut”. As Naturopath’s we have been working on gut health for years to help many health conditions but more and more in clinic I am seeing young women with PCOS or other hormonal imbalances who also have gut issues. Irritable bowel or food intolerances such as fructose malabsorption are commonly associated with PCOS and hormonal imbalances.
Supporting healthy digestion and gut bacterial balance is an important part of a Naturopathic protocol for PCOS and commonly I will work on gut health before working on hormonal imbalances as they may balance just by working on the gut or if you start working on hormonal health with an inflamed or “leaky gut” this can exacerbate PCOS symptoms.
There are so many things you can do at home to help your gut but these would be my top 4;
- Avoid processed foods and sugar
- Increase pre-biotics and good bacteria – fermented vegetables, chia seeds, psyllium husks, slippery elm, lentils, beans, miso soup, Kimchi
- Bone broth – provides anti-inflammatory support, gelatine for gut lining repair and high in nutrients for easy absorption
- Anti-inflammatory foods – ginger, turmeric, salmon, sardines, green leafy vegetables, berries
4. What are your top 4 wellness steps when supporting women with PCOS?
- Use pathology testing to assess your hormone levels in particular testosterone, DHEA and oestrogen. I also check your thyroid health and insulin and blood sugar levels.
- Gut healing support through diet and supplements to strengthen your gut lining and improve bacterial balance.
- Specific herbal and nutritional support for your individual symptoms and hormone profile.
- Stress Management – most women who have PCOS will have other symptoms such as anxiety, depression, high stress in their life so introducing stress management techniques, meditation and mindfulness, counselling or exercise.