Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is considered an important medical concern because it highlights the dangers and consequences of hormonal imbalances that are all too common these days. Women who have PCOS exhibit hormone imbalance and metabolism issues that can affect their overall health and appearance. Along with unpleasant side effects such as unwanted facial hair and female balding, PCOS also produces infertility for thousands of women, and can also lead to potentially dangerous complications. It also drives many women, often at the advice of their physicians, unfortunately, to use hazardous synthetic hormone treatments. Let’s talk a bit about the causes and effects of this condition, and some natural solutions to prevent it as well.
What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a somewhat common disorder involving abnormal operation of the female reproductive system. The term refers to the growth of multiple cysts on the ovaries of affected women, giving the ovaries an unusually large and “studded” appearance. In addition to the cysts, PCOS patients often exhibit abnormally high levels of androgens (so-called “male” hormones) irregular menstrual and reproductive cycles, excessive facial and body hair growth, and obesity.
PCOS is also known as Stein-Leventhal syndrome and is actually a family of symptoms that women with PCOS may or may not experience. Certain of these symptoms are more common than others, and most women will experience some but not all of them to varying degrees. There are many potential causes for PCOS, and some of the specifics of the illness are not precisely understood at this point. We do know that PCOS is the result of hormone imbalance and metabolic dysfunction, and that between five to 10 percent of women of childbearing age in the United States, or about 5 million, have PCOS. It is also known that it tends to run in families. PCOS may appear as early as adolescence, but is more common in middle-aged women, especially after weight-gain. PCOS is the number one cause of female infertility, and it also increases a woman’s risk for such debilitating illnesses as coronary disease and diabetes.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
Most women diagnosed with PCOS have at least one or more of the following symptoms. It is important to keep in mind that many of these symptoms can indicate medical issues other than PCOS, so they are not wholly definitive.
Irregular menstrual cycles
Irregular menstrual cycles are the most common sign of PCOS. Due to hormonal imbalances, the regularity of the menstrual cycle is often thrown off, sometimes to the point of experiencing missing or total lack of periods. This phenomenon is known as amenorrhea, and is sometimes the first sign of PCOS. Other women with PCOS find that their cycles will change and exhibit abnormal (for them) behavior. Technically, the definition of irregular menstruation is cycles that occur less than eight times per year or last longer than 35 days each occurrence.
Somewhat related to irregular menstrual cycles, spontaneous ovulation often afflicts PCOS women. This can pose concerns when it comes to birth control, as patients are not able to accurately predict ovulation.
Abnormal appearance of ovaries
Abnormal appearance of ovaries is another sign found in many PCOS patients. When viewed by ultrasound, affected ovaries are usually enlarged due to the presence of fluid-filled sacs known as cysts on the surface of the ovaries. PCOS is not the only condition that can lead to multiple cysts, and some patients with PCOS never develop cysts.
PCOS is usually triggered by obesity and cause women to gain weight and become obese. (Which came first, the chicken or the egg?). Approximately 50% of all PCOS patients are obese.
Hirsutism is a condition that occurs as a result of excess amounts of androgens in a woman’s body. It causes abnormal growth of long course body hair, often on the face, stomach, back, chest, or upper arms and legs.
Increased amounts of acne and other facial blemishes are common for PCOS patients.
Also known as male pattern baldness, alopecia is the result of too many androgens in the body. Alopecia typically results in hair thinning and loss on the top of the scalp.
Some PCOS patients experience unusually dark, velvety skin on certain areas of the body including the vulva, armpits, inner thighs, under the breasts, and on the nape of the neck.
Medically referred to as acrochordons, these small benign growths of skin typically appear on the neck, armpit, or other parts of the body due to hormonal changes associated with PCOS. They are also common for many women during pregnancy for the same reasons.
Altered blood chemistry
Many PCOS patients tend to have higher than normal levels of LDL (the “good cholesterol) and below normal amounts of HDL (the “bad” cholesterol). This is one reason why women with PCOS are at increased risk for heart disease.
This is the official term for increased levels of insulin in the blood, and is a contributing factor towards increased risk for diabetes. Higher amounts of both cholesterol and insulin are found more often in obese women with PCOS.
What Are the Major Causes of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
When it comes to PCOS, it’s all about hormones. The female reproductive system regulates itself with a complex network of checks and balances that are mostly controlled by hormones. The pituitary gland, located in the brain, produces and releases various amounts of these hormones as needed. The main hormones the pituitary gland is responsible for are luteinizing hormone (LH)and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).
High Levels of Androgens
The ovaries are also involved in the act, and they mainly produce the “female” hormones known as estrogen and progesterone. They also, to a lesser degree, make and release the so-called “male” hormones. These androgens include testosterone, androstenedione, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
For reasons that are not known for certain, women who develop PCOS begin to produce excessively high amounts of androgens, and the ratio of LH to FSH is often elevated as well. It is these hormonal imbalances that trigger many of the symptoms commonly associated with PCOS. The process of ovulation is particularly hard hit. One of the phenomena that often occurs is oligo-ovulation. This is the term for ovulation that happens more frequently than normal. Anovulation indicates a total lack of ovulation, meaning the ovaries do not release any eggs at all.
High Levels of Insulin
In a related side effect of PCOS, the amount of insulin in the body is also elevated. The pancreas manufactures the hormone insulin. Insulin plays a critical role in how the body processes glucose to produce energy. The presence of excess insulin (insulin resistance) is usually a factor in the production of abnormally high amounts of androgens. Many women with polycystic ovary syndrome are overweight or obese, have unhealthy eating habits, do not get enough physical activity, and have a family history of diabetes (usually type 2 diabetes). If not addressed, insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes.
What Complications Can Occur Due to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
PCOS exposes women to many related risks. Major risks include:
- Type 2 diabetes: This is due to abnormal amounts of insulin in the body of PCOS sufferers.
- Higher than normal cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood: Both of these factors may cause an increased risk for heart disease.
- Metabolic syndrome: This cluster of symptoms is a conglomeration of the effects from hypertension, obesity, resistance to insulin, and elevated blood cholesterol.
- Dangerous side effects of synthetic hormone therapy: This is usually not listed in the “complication section” of most medical text books, but in reality, it is probably the most significant danger associated with PCOS. Unfortunately, in an attempt to correct PCOS, many practitioners will prescribe the use of various synthetic hormones. The hazards of these drugs are well-established, including increasing risks for several types of cancer, coronary disease, strokes, and other debilitating illnesses. Instead of addressing issues such as diet, exercise, and safely losing weight, the conventional response to PCOS is to throw pharmaceuticals at the concern. This only increases health risks rather than alleviating them. This pretzel logic also applies to the use of statin drugs in PCOS patients with the goal of lowering cholesterol. Doctors give out statin drugs like candy, with no regard for the dangers to their patients. Is it any wonder they are one of the biggest sellers in the drug industry?
- Endometrial cancer: PCOS patients often have higher than normal levels of estrogen. This reduces the ability of the endometrial tissue that lines the uterus to shed, and excess amounts of this tissue can lead to cancer.
- Infertility: As mentioned above, PCOS is the largest factor in female infertility. The main reason for this is the irregularity or lack of ovulation.
How Does PCOS Affect Pregnancy?
PCOS can cause definite concerns during pregnancy for both mother and baby. Women with PCOS tend to experience higher rates of:
- Gestational diabetes
- Cesarean section (C-section)
- Baby has a higher risk of being heavy (macrosomia) and of spending more time in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
How Can Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Be Treated or Prevented?
The most effective natural solutions for PCOS are noninvasive therapies. Of course, as with most medical concerns, there are conventional treatments that focus on drugs and surgeries. However, rather than tossing more chemicals into the mix or resorting to dangerous, expensive surgeries that may or may not be effective, doesn’t it make more sense to try to correct the hormonal imbalances behind PCOS in natural ways? Here are a few suggested ideas:
For many women this a very good place to begin. In the past studies have shown that even losing 5% of body weight can turn PCOS around for many women. Presently, clinicians seem to agree, based on recent research, that while losing weight is one major way to naturally treat polycystic ovarian syndrome, the weight itself may not be a direct cause. It may bring on symptoms faster, though. A high percentage of those with PCOS deal with weight gain, but we now know that there are plenty of women who are at a healthy weight, or even underweight, who also develop hormone disruptions that lead to polycystic ovary syndrome. PCOS patients come in all shapes and sizes, and their health histories are usually very different, which makes treating this condition even more difficult. I highly recommend a plant-based diet with as many organic, raw veggies and fruits as possible.
Change your diet.
Switching to a diet loaded with real, nutrient dense foods will combat some of the side effects of PCOS such as elevated insulin, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. A healthy diet is foundational in addressing any health concern. I highly recommend a plant-based diet with as many organic, raw veggies and fruits as possible. Other helpful foods to consume are almonds, Brussels sprouts, chia seeds, chick peas, dark leafy greens, flax seeds and oily fish. A daily glass of fresh raw veggie juicing always a great idea. Liver Detox Juice Recipe – Carrot, Beet, Apple, Celery – drink one 8oz glass every day.
Fiber can also help decrease insulin resistance. In addition to choosing foods high in fiber, taking a fiber supplement can help you reach proper fiber intake.
Regular physical activity is proven to help regulate hormones and lower blood sugar. In addition, it will help with weight loss.
Boost liver health.
A sluggish liver is unable to regulate the hormones correctly, thus leading to hormone imbalance. Hormone elimination is a major responsibility of the liver via the sulphation and glucoronidation pathways. Just as this organ filters and removes many toxins and impurities from the body, it also sees that unneeded hormones are expelled from the body, mostly via the urine or bile. These secretion and elimination duties together compromise the hormonal regulatory function of the liver. Suggestions include fruits and vegetables such as lemons, carrots, and beets.
Supplements and Natural Solutions for PCOS
Cleanse and support your liver. I recommend performing three-four back-to-back liver cleanses and then at least three times yearly. Support and maintain liver health with organic/wild-crafted herbs. I highly recommend Livatrex®.
Saliva test your hormones and work on creating hormonal balance. Contrary to what conventional medicine says saliva testing is one of the best ways to find out the amount of usable hormones available. Serum testing almost never matches hormone imbalance symptoms resulting in women being told there is nothing wrong and sent home with a prescription for an anti-depressant.
Iodine – I recommend Detoxidine as it is the only certified organic iodine available. Iodine is also great for those who may have thyroid issues. Every cell in your body requires iodine. In fact, you can’t make a single hormone without it, yet too many people don’t get enough. If you have ovarian cysts and have not had thyroid testing done, I highly recommend doing so.
Dr. Ray Peat, PhD says that ovarian cysts are usually associated with a low thyroid condition, and that administration of thyroid hormone can get rid of them by lowering estrogen levels and making the ovaries produce more progesterone.
“Animal experiments show that lack of thyroid hormone can cause cystic ovaries.” -Ray Peat, PhD in “Nutrition for Women”
“Animals which are artificially made hypothyroid develop cystic ovaries, so it is reasonable to consider hypothyroidism as an important factor when women have cystic ovaries.” -Ray Peat, PhD
Selenium – Selenium helps to detoxify and helps to creates thyroid hormone. Selenium should always be taken when using iodine.
Bioidentical Progesterone Cream – When there is excess estrogen in the body, there is almost always a progesterone deficiency. Balancing your estrogen and progesterone levels by using bioidentical progesterone cream (I highly recommend Oasis Serene) can help reduce the ovarian cysts and the chance of them occurring in the future. Use of natural progesterone cream helps to increase progesterone levels to healthy levels.
DIM – Diindolylmethane, or DIM, is a phytochemical produced during the digestion of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. Besides eating these vegetables, you can obtain DIM through supplements. DIM helps to clear the body of excess estrogens which can aid in reducing the promotion of ovarian cyst growth. DIM should be taken daily for at least three months along with lifestyle changes which include avoiding xenoestrogens found in products, foods and the environment.
Inositol is a compound that occurs naturally in the body. Studies have found that two of the nine variations—myo-inositol and d-chiro-inositol—are beneficial for women with PCOS. Myo-inositol decreases insulin and insulin resistance, decreases testosterone, and can help promote regular ovulation. It is found naturally in a variety of foods such as cantaloupe and oranges and is also available in supplement form. Inositol has the ability to promote ovulation, which may then support fertility. In one study, only 6 percent of control group participants experienced menstrual cycles versus 86 percent in the inositol group, results supported by follow-up research. (R)
Systemic Enzyme Therapy: The body contains a variety of enzymes. Enzymes are catalysts for chemical reactions necessary to the innumerable actions that maintain the function of the body. A subclass of enzymes known as Systemic Enzymes work to help the body breakdown excess foreign tissues and reduce inflammation. The enzymes most likely to help control ovarian cysts are bromelain, chymotrypsin, pancreatin, papain, and trypsin. Supplementation with a high quality systemic enzyme blend such as Univase Forte may help the body to reduce the size of the cysts or eliminate them over time.
Vitamin B-Complex – B-complex vitamins help your liver convert excess oestrogen into weaker and less dangerous forms. B vitamins are essential, when you are working to balance your hormone levels.
Vitamin D-3 – Get Vitamin D3 levels checked BEFORE taking Vitamin D3. Low levels of vitamin D are connected both to endometriosis onset and to its severity, researchers said in a study that found women with the lowest blood concentrations of the vitamin also had the largest ovarian endometrioma, or ovarian cysts.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a classic example of an illness that is fostered by poor lifestyle and dietary patterns that are deeply ingrained into our culture. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, as the “cure” for POCS and many other modern maladies is a return to sanity when it comes to our health and wellness. Not only will such steps reverse the effects of most diseases, but they can also help us to feel refreshed and alive – as we were originally created to be. Polycystic ovary syndrome is complex and because we are all different, not every woman will respond the same to every type of treatment. As with any new supplement, dietary or exercise regimen, be sure to get the advice of a trusted and knowledgeable healthcare practitioner. And please don’t try to take yourself off of medications you currently take without knowledgeable supervision.
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