Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can present in a variety of different ways but the common underlying theme is that there is a hormonal imbalance going on.
For most, this hormonal imbalance is an excess of androgens including testosterone and DHEA. This causes symptoms like menstrual cycle irregularity, abnormal hair growth, weight gain, and insulin resistance.
PCOS is the result of a disruption in normal hormone regulation and metabolism. Androgen excess is caused by the combination of an increase in production and a decrease in sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which normally holds onto to androgens and prevents their negative effects.
Chronic stress and chronically high levels of blood sugar both increase production of androgens and decrease your levels of SHBG. Managing these is central to treating PCOS.
In conventional medicine, hormonal birth control methods are often used to “treat” PCOS. These medications take over your normal hormone metabolism and suppress androgen production. This is a band-aid solution as it does not treat the root causes. Once you discontinue these treatments, your symptoms will return.
Thankfully there are many other ways to treat PCOS that support your body in regulating your hormone metabolism so you can return to normal functioning.
5 Steps to PCOS Relief
1. Physical Activity
Before starting any medications or supplements, start with the basics.
Exercise ties into all of the next 4 steps. Physical activity lowers levels of cortisol while increasing mood-boosting neurotransmitters. It controls blood sugar independent of any diet changes. It helps support liver detoxification and supports daily bowel movements which is crucial for eliminating waste and excess hormones.
This does not need to be fancy or gym related. Get moving for at least 30 minutes a day – pick something you like to do and stick to it. It can be as simple as starting to walk daily.
2. Regulate Blood Sugar Levels
Modern diets tend to be filled with sugars, especially in the form of carbohydrates. A great place to start is by filling half your plate with non-starchy vegetables (i.e. not potatoes or sweet potatoes) and ensuring each meal has a protein and a healthy fat (see step 4).
Implementing a 12 hour over-night fast is also effective. If the last meal/food you ate was at 8 pm, don’t eat breakfast until 8 am.
There are also several supplements that can help regulate blood sugar.
Myo-inositol is a great option for PCOS that decreases blood sugars and improves insulin sensitivity
3. Support the liver
Your liver is a key player in hormone metabolism, especially eliminating excess androgens.
There are 2 awesome ways to support liver function.
First is to increase your vegetable consumption especially sulphur-containing vegetables. Vegetables are the best liver detoxifers and they support the production of glutathione, which is our main anti-oxidant. Think green when thinking liver friendly vegetables but there are tons of great options!
Another great liver supporter is N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC). This is also a precursor for glutathione and it has been shown to help regulate blood sugar, improve insulin sensitivity, and improve hormone levels.
4. Increase your fat consumption
This may sound counter-intuitive but it is the best way to help control blood sugars and it is absolutely essential for hormone production.
It is no surprise that since the “low-fat” diet revolution of the 90s, diabetes and hormone-related conditions are on the rise. Low-fat simply means high sugar. Eating fat will not make you fat. Instead it keeps your satiated longer and provides more steady daily energy.
Of course pick your healthy fats – nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil. Every meal you eat should include a healthy fat.
5. Stress Management & Adaptogen Support
Chronic stress and high levels of cortisol, our stress hormone, disrupts our overall metabolism including blood sugar regulation and reproductive hormone production.
I go over general stress management tips in a previous blog, so let’s focus on PCOS specific advice.
Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help your body manage the negative effects of cortisol. There are also a handful of adaptogens that are also hormone regulators which is a great combination for women with PCOS.
Great examples include Vitex Agnus-Castus (Chastetree), Angelica sinensis (Dong Quai), and Cimicifuga racemosa (Black Cohosh).