As you may know, when you begin on your journey to reach your most vibrant health – the healthy lifestyle changes that you implement are some of the most gratifying commitments that you can make in your life.
However the journey to vibrant health is never linear, and your path will likely have many ups-and-downs. This can make for frustrating times, especially when it feels like you’re putting in the effort and good intention, but you’re still not seeing the results that you’ve anticipated and feel that you deserve.
Often times there are underlying reasons as to why we keep experiencing anxiety and depression, there are reasons why the weight won’t budge, why PMS is a nightmare every month, why your skin is prone to blemishes and breakouts, unwanted hair growth and why you’re having issues with fertility and your menstrual cycle.
It is possible for you to achieve a clear mind, glowing skin and effortless periods… If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above – are you missing these silent signs of PCOS?
WHAT IS PCOS
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine disorder in women, it represents a group of symptoms that result from a hormonal imbalance. A diagnosis can be received by women (and girls) at any age after puberty.
PCOS is said to affect up to one in five of us – that’s 20% of women ! Yet, there are so many of us who don’t even know we have it, many don’t know anything about PCOS, and worst of all – finding the information we deserve can be frustrating.
It Starts with Hormones
Hormones work like little chemical messengers in your body, they determine everything from your mood, to your energy levels, to your weight. Endocrine glands are those which produce hormones, in your body it’s the job of your brain, thyroid, parathyroid, pancreas, adrenal glands, gastrointestinal tract, and reproductive glands (ovaries and testes) to produce and regulate hormone levels.
Hormones affect and control so many aspects of your health, yet it can be so easy to overlook just how important they are to our well-being- until your balance is compromised.
HOW DO WE GET PCOS
The underlying cause for PCOS symptoms is an abnormally high level of male sex hormones like testosterone when compared to female sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. In a majority of PCOS cases, male sex hormones are high – this can prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg each month as they would when in a state of balance. This is a deep-rooted reason as to why irregular or skipped periods and issues with getting pregnant are common for women with polycystic ovary syndrome.
Female sex hormones need to be balanced with male sex hormones in the proper ratio. Sometimes testing may show that male sex hormones aren’t high enough to be considered as abnormal, however, if female sex hormones aren’t proportionate to the male sex hormones – an imbalance may be the result, and it’s actually the ratio of hormones that seems to be the determining factor in PCOS.
As research continues to reveal more information on the causes of polycystic ovarian syndrome and other hormonal imbalances, it should be known that PCOS is indeed a very complex disorder where genetic factors are involved in addition to lifestyle choices and environmental factors.
TOP 9 COMMON CAUSES OF PCOS
NO. 1: GENETIC PREDISPOSITION
PCOS is commonly regarded as a condition that runs in families, but this doesn’t mean you’re doomed to experience it if you’re genetically predisposed. Having a family history is a clear indication that you need to be on top of managing your stress levels, diet and lifestyle choices. Your genetic predisposition doesn’t have to be your fate!
NO.2: A NUTRITIONALLY POOR DIET
Eating too many high-glycemic foods, such as those with a high-sugar content and refined carbohydrates.
NO.3: CHRONIC STRESS
Is it time for a “Stress Detox”?
NO.4: INAPPROPRIATE LEVEL OF EXERCISE
Exercise needs to be balanced. It can be detrimenting to exercise both too little and too much.
NO.5: THYROID DISORDERS
This includes imbalances, such as Hypothyroidism.
NO.6: EXPOSURE TO ENDOCRINE-DISRUPTING CHEMICALS
This includes synthetic estrogens, BPH in plastics and packaging, phytoestrogens such as soy, phthalates and some pesticides .
NO.7: NOT BEING AT A HEALTHY WEIGHT
Reaching a high body fat percentage from being overweight or obese or having a low body fat percentage from following a heavily restricted diet are both common links to PCOS.
NO.8: HIGH INSULIN LEVELS
Excess insulin aka the hormone produced by your pancreas which allows cells to use glucose for energy – can cause the ovaries to increase male sex hormone production, which throws off the ovaries’ normal ability to ovulate.
NO.9: HIGH LEVELS OF INFLAMMATION
Low-grade chronic inflammation can also stimulate polycystic ovaries to produce more androgens .
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS OF PCOS
There is no one reason as to why women develop PCOS. It’s also not just one single disorder but instead, at least four or five independent disorders that are all characterized by an overlapping but inconsistent set of symptoms:
- High androgen, or male sex hormone levels
- Facial and body hair growth
- Hair loss or balding
- Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
- Excessive or heavy menstrual bleeding
- Ovarian cysts
- Darkening of the skin in the armpits, back of the neck, or groin
- Mood disorders
- Obesity and inability to lose weight with a healthy lifestyle
- Recurrent Miscarriages
THE 4 CLASSES OF PCOS
TYPE NO.1: ‘THE CLASSIC CASE’
High androgen levels, irregular or absent ovulation, and a polycystic ovary.
TYPE NO.2: HYPERANDROGENIC ANOVULATORY
Excess androgens with irregular or absent ovulation (but no polycystic ovary)
TYPE NO.3: OVULATORY PCOS
Excess androgens with a polycystic ovary (but without ovulatory dysfunction)
TYPE NO.4: NON-HYPERANDROGENIC PCOS
Irregular or absent ovulation and a polycystic ovary.
TYPE NO.5 THE UNOFFICIAL TYPE – OBESITY
Obesity with insulin resistance can lead to excess testosterone and estrogen production. This combination can result in acne, facial hair, and the irregular cycles as seen in PCOS.
Most women with a diagnosis of PCOS and additionally, many suspected cases that are characterized by irregular periods are told by their doctor to take the birth control pill.
Unfortunately, however, the pill does not actually fix or “stop” PCOS. It only potentially masks the symptoms at best, while the syndrome continues to manifest under the surface – the pill is a band-aid solution at best.
The birth control pill, which is a concoction of synthetic hormones (check back to cause NO.6 on COMMON CAUSES FOR PCOS) does nothing to prevent, cure, or fix PCOS or any other hormone disorder for that matter. While it can be helpful as a management tool for symptoms in some women, the biggest reason it is prescribed is because the medical field lacks other solutions.
In the holistic approach the goal is to lower inflammation and balance hormone levels through nutrition, supplementation, and lifestyle changes.
8 LIFESTYLE TIPS FOR PCOS
TIP NO.1: FOLLOW A WHOLE-FOOD DIET
Create a meal plan that utilizes whole, fresh and organic foods in their most natural form. Avoid the pre-made and packaged foods – instead focus on getting in a variety of vegetables, low-glycemic fruits, clean proteins, microgreens, raw nuts, seeds and healthy fat as the basis of your diet. TOP 4 FOODS TO AVOID FOR PCOS:
#1 CONVENTIONALLY RAISED ANIMAL PRODUCTS
- Source out local, organic or pasture-raised poultry, eggs and grass-fed beef that are raised without antibiotics and hormones.
- Switch to a local, organic or pasture-raised goat, sheep or buffalo dairy. Include the ‘Better Yogurt’ and choose cheeses which are made with raw milk (in moderation).
- Choose wild caught fish when available (low mercury options are wild salmon, arctic cod, Atlantic haddock, freshwater trout, pollock and Atlantic mackerel)
- Optionally, you may also follow a plant-based diet
#2 REFINED CARBOHYDRATES & WHEAT
- Refined carbohydrates are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, causing spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. This includes most breads, cereals, white rice, pastas and snack foods
- Use gluten-free grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, millet and oats in moderation
- Utilize sprouted ancient grains such as spelt, ezekiel and kamut
- Use 100% ancient grain sourdough breads in moderation, avoid products with added bakers yeasts as the overconsumption of the commercial yeast strain, saccharomyces cerevisiae is a one-way ticket for imbalanced gut flora!
#3 REFINED SUGARS & SWEETENERS
- This includes your classic white and brown sugar, artificial sweeteners and even some of the tooted ‘health’ sweeteners such as agave and the many forms of cane sugar.
- Use these Sweet Substitutions instead, in moderation!
#4 SOY PRODUCTS
- This top allergen has at least 75 alternate names, it’s hiding in almost every packaged and processed food, even in our ‘natural’ and organic versions. We are typically consuming far too much of this legume in its many forms as it is difficult to avoid, unless you are very aware.
- One of the biggest issues with soy is that this crop is genetically modified, heavily processed and over-sprayed with endocrine disrupting chemicals.
- Inflammatory soy products which are industrially processed such as soybean oil, soy flour, and soy protein powder should be avoided.
- Small amounts of traditionally fermented soy such as tempeh, miso, tamari and natto may be beneficial because they are a valuable source of vitamin K2.
- There are much better and more nutrient-dense foods such as pasture-raised animal products and vegetables which should replace the need for a high soy intake.
- Read more: Is This Bean Bullying Your Health?
A SIDE NOTE ON THE PHYTOESTROGENS IN SOY
Soy contains phytoestrogens or “plant-estrogens”. These foreign estrogens are also known as xenoestrogens, which are chemicals that are molecularly similar to estradiol (our main estrogen).
Toxic xenoestrogens such as those found in pesticides, plastics, and the birth control pill have been linked to many women’s health such as PCOS, thyroid disorders, endometriosis, infertility, and breast cancer.
Plant-estrogens on the other hand, are something that we’ve adapted to, as they have long been a part of our traditional diet and are naturally present in many foods from lentils, oats, peanuts, cashews, garlic, cabbage, fennel, apples, coffee, beer, dairy, and meat.
Phytoestrogens promote the healthy metabolism or detoxification of estrogen. They regulate and metabolize estradiol by protecting and buffering our estrogen receptors.
When estradiol levels are high in the body, phytoestrogens have an anti-estrogen effect. They can make periods lighter and improve estrogen-excess symptoms such as PMS and heavy periods. However, soy’s anti-estrogen effect is so strong that too much soy may stop periods and impair fertility. Drinking only two glasses on soy milk daily for one month could provide enough of phytoestrogens to alter your menstrual cycle. High soy intake is an example of hidden-cause for PCOS.
Since phytoestrogens have a pro-estrogen effect in the presence of low estradiol, men and children should avoid too much soy.
TIP NO.2: BALANCE OUT WITH ADAPTOGENS
Adaptogens are a class of plants that bring the potential to balance every system in the body. These plants must meet the requirements of being generally safe for everyone, helping to manage stress, and balance hormones in order to be classified. Adaptogens can be an essential tool for alleviatiating PCOS symptoms because they support the reduction of inflammation and help to recharge from stress.
TIP NO.3: IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP QUALITY
Sleep is precious you-time. You heal when you sleep and it decreases your cortisol and stress levels. You need your valuable sleepy-time to keep your energy levels up for the day. Get those eyes closed by 11:00 pm and aim for at least 8 hours. Track any improvements or areas of concern in your sleep patterns. Need some extra sleep assistance? Reishi Mushroom is one of my go-to’s, it’s like herbal yoga, Reishi may decrease the time it takes to fall asleep, increase total sleep time and promote your energy levels during the day (win-win!).
TIP NO.4: SPICE UP YOUR LIFE
Don’t skip on the natural and organic spices and herbs. These are a powerhouse for phytonutrients which work in many ways, from decreasing inflammation, supporting liver health and providing concentrated nutrients! TOP 5 SPICES FOR PCOS:
- TRUE CEYLON CINNAMON: Not to be confused with cassia cinnamon, which has little benefit. True Ceylon cinnamon is effective for balancing blood sugars – it helps to reduce insulin resistance and restore ovarian function in women with PCOS. Use ½ to 1 teaspoon per day.
- TURMERIC. This super spice is the most clinically studied herb for inflammation thanks to its active ingredient, curcumin, which has been linked to many health benefits.Turmeric’s natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties support not only liver health, but the health of every organ and system! Pair turmeric with a source of healthy fat and black pepper for maximum absorption. Use whole turmeric root (like you would ginger) or an organic powder. Find recipes with turmeric, such as this Turmeric Latte).
- BLACK CUMIN: This anti-inflammatory spice is also a source of iron and works to regulate glucose levels and tolerance. Add black cumin seeds to your cooking or take black cumin seed oil daily (it’s also fabulous for firing your metabolism
- CORIANDER: This spice has anti-inflammatory and emmenagogue properties. It is the emmenagogue property that makes this a popular home remedy for regaining a menstrual cycle and relieving PMS pain and discomfort.
- GINGER: In the same family as turmeric, ginger root also has powerful antioxidant properties making it a great spice for women with PCOS who often suffer with stress and high cortisol levels. Ginger benefits the immune system, digestion and blood sugar balancing. Use ginger in it’s natural whole root form
Tip NO.5: USE APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
Apple cider vinegar has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity in several studies. For your best results, consume 1-2 tablespoons of diluted organic, raw and unfiltered apple cider vinegar per day. Dilute with water or a cold-pressed vegetable juice or add it to your salad dressings!
Tip NO.6 MAKE TIME FOR THE RIGHT MOVEMENT
Exercise is a part of every healthy lifestyle scenario. You don’t need a gym membership and a high-intensity workout class to be active. For most, we just need to spend more time walking through nature and taking time to stretch with gentle and restorative yoga poses. Aim to get in 10,000 steps per day, spend at least 15-minutes in the sunlight (weather permitted) and make time for movement!
Tip NO. 7 CHOOSE EARTH FRIENDLY PRODUCTS
This includes everything from eliminating plastic wherever possible and switching to glass, using biodegradable cleaning products, clean self-care products and beauty products. Many of the chemical ingredients in these listed item are potentially harmful and contain endocrine disrupting chemicals. Check out this post on how to Detox Your Personal Care Routine.
Tip NO. 8 MAKE TIME TO RECHARGE
Stress relates back to every aspect of our health and well-being, ensure that you take the time to Recharge so that you can thrive & be vibrant. Make time for practices like yoga, mindfulness and mediation, spend more time in nature, take a detox bath, make time to dry brush, get a massage, turn off Netflix and read a book or catch some extra Zzz’s.
HELPFUL SUPPLEMENTATION FOR PCOS
This hormone-vitamin plays many roles in the body, it’s well known for its responsibility in immunity, bone and teeth health – but it does much more than that, a vitamin D deficiency is linked with insulin resistance, ovulatory and menstrual irregularities, obesity and decreased fertility (PCOS in a nutshell!).
- 25-Hydroxy Vitamin D Blood Test: Your levels for should be above 50 ng/ml and no higher than 100 ng/ml. Being at the low end of this range may leave you feeling sub-optimal. Studies have shown that taking 4,000 IU of a vitamin D3 daily, to be a safe level for maintaining healthy levels. When the season permits, getting in 10-20 minutes of unprotected sunshine per day is ideal for natural production.
Everything is connected to gut health. Let’s get going on Better Digestion. Herbs which have a bitter taste, such as those in the Canadian Digestive Bitters formula by St. Francis work to naturally stimulate and promote enzyme production and healthy bile flow. Bitters work wonders for the liver, and the liver is your superstar detoxification organ! When your liver is feeling sluggish, it isn’t as efficient at balancing hormones, detoxifying the blood, and metabolizing fats. Unfortunately as far as ‘tastes’ go, we are more accustomed to sweet and salty flavours, and we lack a proper balance. We need all of the ‘tastes’ for better health: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent.
Use dandelion greens, arugula, kale, rapini and mustard greens in your cooking or try out the St. Francis Canadian Bitters Tincture which contains bitters such as globe artichoke, dandelion, burdock, ginger, black walnut and more.
DAILY TONIC -BIOSTRATH
This tincture made by A.Vogel is one of my favourite daily tonics – this product contains over 50 fermented herbs to support healthy intestinal flora, and it is the perfect daily booster; filled with natural B-Vitamins, amino acids, healthy yeasts, prebiotics, antioxidants, minerals and more!. Since this is a fermented product, it has excellent absorption potential and is much more bioavailable than many ‘multiple-vitamins’ many of which will typically be made up of man-made synthetic nutrients, with poor absorption and unwanted binders and fillers. The therapeutic blend in BioStrath pertains countless properties and noticeable results for your energy, balance and vibrancy.