Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a complex endocrine disorder that affects 5-10% of reproductive aged women. As surprising as the name is you can have PCOS without even having polycystic ovaries! In order to be diagnosed with PCOS you have to have 2 of the following 3 findings
1) Oligomenorrhea or anovulation (meaning long cycles, 35 days plus, or not ovulating)
2) Hirsutism and/or hyperandrogenism
3) Polycystic Ovaries
Another hallmark of PCOS, although not included in the diagnostic criteria, is insulin resistance. Insulin resistance happens when the cells of the body do not respond well to insulin, causing the body to have to produce even more of it. If the body is unable to utilize its insulin properly it can lead to high blood sugar, and if this goes on for a long period of time can lead to Type 2 diabetes.
PCOS is often undiagnosed, as there is not one lab test or imaging that can be done to either rule it in or out. One of the big misconceptions is that you have to be overweight to have PCOS. This is absolutely not true! There are many normal and underweight women who also suffer from PCOS. If you are having difficulties with infertility it would be good to get a throughout work up from your doctor and/or naturopathic doctor to rule out PCOS, as it is the leading cause of female “sub fertility”.
Signs and Symptoms of PCOS
-head hair loss (male pattern baldness)
-hypo or hyperglycemia
1) Birth Control Pills. If fertility is not desired at the moment, birth control pills are prescribed. Birth control pills act to cease ovulation, thus preventing the formation of ovarian cysts. However this is just masking the problem, not helping to correct, as when you stop taking the pill the cysts will return. They also give the body more estrogen, which helps to lower the relative effect of the excess testosterone that is typically seen with PCOS.
2) Spironolactone. This drug is an androgen receptor antagonist. It helps by blocking androgen receptors and in effect reduced hirsutism. Spiro cannot be taken by anyone with a chance of becoming pregnant, as it can cause birth defects.
Naturopathic and Lifestyle Treatment Options
1) Reduce intake of refined carbohydrates/high sugar foods. A paleo style diet, with a very high vegetable intake may be best for PCOS
2) Exercise!! Especially exercises that use your big muscle groups. Strength training is great for PCOS as when we strength train the muscles can use up excess glucose, by shunting it directly into the muscle. It is important to do resistance based training a minimum of 3 times a week to help regulate blood sugar levels
3) Cinnamon: can help balance blood sugar levels
4) Ground Flax Seeds: can help increase elimination of excess hormones
5) Inositol: a nutritional supplement that can help reduce testosterone levels
6) Herbs: There are plenty of herbs that can help balance testosterone levels, reduce luteinizing hormone, encourage ovulation and balance estrogen and progesterone. It is not wise to try and treat yourself with herbs as one herb can have many different actions/effects on the body. Speak to your naturopathic doctor.
I hope this gave you some good information on what PCOS is and what can be done about it. PCOS is quite common and can be successfully managed with the help of your naturopathic doctor
Dr Alexis practices at Living Science Wellness Centre in Stittsville. Call 613.836.7901 to schedule your appointment.
Naturopathic Medicine is covered by most extended health insurance benefits