During my 6 months over seas my period never arrived, I knew I wasn’t pregnant so I put it to the back of my mind and told my self I would deal with it when I arrived home.
After various tests I was told by my childhood GP that I had a condition called Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). She said that all I could do was go back on the pill and my ‘period’ would return. My lovely mum and I were not happy with the advice we were given so we went straight to the library (obviously didn’t have the internet back then) and took out all the books we could find on the condition.
“A ‘period’ while on the pill is not proper menstruation, it is caused by a break in the synthetic hormones you are taking”
I spent years reading into PCOS and my interest and passion into natural health and nutrition was born. I then went on to study personal training and nutrition and years later gained my Naturopathic qualification, specialising in reproductive health.
PCOS is a condition where your endocrine system, which contains glands, organs and hormones that basically controls your body, doesn’t communicate properly. BUT the main underlying cause of the condition is INSULIN RESISTANCE, insulin is like the key that allows glucose to move from your blood into your cells, a very important process! My GP never mentioned this to me at the time but I soon realised this condition had nothing to do with cysts, the cysts are just a symptom of PCOS along with excess hair growth, weight gain, acne and amenorrhea.
Symptoms of PCOS are quite varied but typically include menstrual cycle irregularities, infertility, signs of androgen (male hormones) excess, and weight gain.
It is estimated that between 50-75% of women with PCOS have some degree of insulin resistance, it was originally thought that only obese women with PCOS would develop insulin resistance but it is now accepted that women in a healthy weight can still be insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance causes an increase in insulin in an attempt to move the glucose into the cells. Elevated insulin levels increase the storage of adipose (fat) tissue while inhibiting the release of fat for energy production. (Not ideal, right). Increased Insulin also increases ovarian and adrenal androgen production, this means your body makes more testosterone than it should, which leads to the symptoms mentioned and PCOS. On top of this an increase in Luteinising hormone, as seen in PCOS, also stimulates the ovaries to make more androgens.
Elevated androgens disrupt normal follicle development, which leads to the cysts on the ovaries and no ovulation. When there is no ovulation there is no corpus luteum so there is no progesterone produced. No ovulation means infertility and irregular menstrual cycles.
When I stopped taking the contraceptive pill once and for all, it took 11 months for my menstrual cycle to return. I have altered my diet and lifestyle to manage this condition, which has lead to a regular cycle and minimal symptoms!
So to stop this vicious cycle you need to reduce your chance of developing insulin resistance and here is how you can do that. But first of all I want you to know any changes are a lifestyle change, something that you need to be able to maintain for ever and not some fad diet that confuses you and your body and leads to disappointment. My motto is to find a way of eating, moving and thinking that works for you and serves you well for the rest of your life.
Key nutrients that assist in the regulation of blood glucose levels:
Food sources – Cacao powder, brazil nuts, eggs, kelp, legumes, tahini, almonds, oat bran, pine nuts, hazelnuts, spinach, banana.
Supplementation – 400-600mg per day.
Food sources – Asparagus, brewers yeast, egg yolk, raw parsley, potato, olives, spinach, cheese, apple
Supplementation – 200-400mcg per day
Food sources – Salmon, sardines, mackerel, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts.
Supplementation – 1-3g per day
Herbs to support blood glucose regulation:
There are many other treatment considerations with PCOS so I recommend getting individual advice as here I have focused on the underlying driver of PCOS.