Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is a condition in which the ovaries produce excess androgens. The name polycystic ovary describes the cysts that can develop on the ovaries as a result of the condition, however, many women with the disorder do not develop cysts. Women’s ovaries contain follicles, which are small sacs that contain an immature egg. Ovulation occurs when one follicle matures and is released from the follicle. If a woman doesn’t make enough hormones to ovulate properly then the ovaries can develop multiple, small cysts that can excrete androgens. The high level of androgens can cause more problems with the menstrual cycle, as well as other symptoms common of PCOS.
Rate of incidence:
- It is estimated that 5% and 10% of reproductive-aged females have PCOS.
- PCOS can develop at any age following puberty, however, women typically become aware of PCOS when they experience difficulties getting pregnant.
- Women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are susceptible to PCOS. If you are obese or have a family member with PCOS, your risk of developing the condition may be increased.
Our Services Include:
- PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
- GI disorders including bloating, reflux, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, IBS and inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis)
- Food sensitivity – diagnosis and treatment
- High blood pressure, high cholesterol, blood sugar dysregulation, insulin resistance (metabolic issues)
- Common skin disorders – acne, eczema, psoriasis
- Stress reduction
- Preconception care
- Autoimmune diseases including Hashimoto’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Nonhormonal treatment of perimenopause and natural menopause treatment including hot flashes and night sweats
- Environmental allergies
- Adrenal dysfunction
- Headaches and migraines
- Sleep disturbances
- Weight management
- PMS and PMDD
- Chronic vaginal infections including Bacterial Vaginitis (BV), yeast vulvovaginitis, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
- Chronic pelvic pain including endometriosis, adenomyosis, interstitial cystitis, fibroids and vulvodynia.
What are the causes of PCOS?
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown and there isn’t a single test that can diagnose the condition. It is believed that a number of elements, including genetics, are involved:
Elevated androgen levels
Even though women produce modest levels of androgens, they are commonly referred to as “male hormones” as they regulate more masculine characteristics. In women high androgens contribute to excessive hair growth, acne, and irregular cycles.
The hormone insulin, secreted from the pancreas, regulates the metabolism of food by promoting the absorption of glucose. When the body stops responding to insulin as it should, this is referred to as insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is common in women with PCOS and causes high blood sugar levels over time that can predispose you to cardiometabolic complications, such as diabetes. Insulin can also cause higher androgen levels.
What are common PCOS symptoms?
Common PCOS symptoms could include:
- Irregular periods
- Ovarian cysts
- Excessive body hair
- Weight gain
- Hair loss or thinning
- Skin tags
How is PCOS diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will review your medical history, symptoms, and perform a physical evaluation which may include a pelvic exam.
An abdominal ultrasound may be performed to check the lining of your uterus (endometrium) and your ovaries for cysts.
Blood tests can be helpful to determine if you have elevated androgens and to rule out other possible causes for symptoms, as well as to check cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
What is The Treatment For PCOS?
A variety of factors affect treatment options PCOS, such as your age, severity of symptoms, and desire to have children. Current conventional treatment options include:
Diet & Exercise:
Weight loss, healthy diet and regular exercise are encouraged. Increased physical activity can help regulate body weight and hormone levels. Exercise can aid in ovulation, decrease blood sugar levels, and improve insulin sensitivity especially when combined with dietary changes.
Hormonal contraception can help regulate menstrual periods, lower testosterone levels, and improve acne although it does not address the root cause.
Blood sugar medication:
Certain medications may be necessary to help regulate insulin and glucose levels.
If pregnancy is desired, certain medications can help stimulate the body to ovulate.
What problems might PCOS cause?
Women with PCOS are at a higher risk for the following:
- Uterine cancer
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Mood disorders
Here are some natural ways to manage PCOS:
PCOS is a complex condition and a functional medicine approach will address each of the root causes. Please consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new regimen or supplement.
Diet is one of the most important keys to healing PCOS and reversing insulin resistance. Keep your blood sugar balanced throughout the day and avoid letting yourself go hungry. Choose foods that are fresh, frozen, or dried. Limit sugar, processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine. Eat less meat and animal products. Consider eliminating dairy as it is inflammatory and often exacerbates acne. Aim for 8-10 servings of colorful vegetables per day to support nutrient diversity and a healthy gut microbiome. Limit fruit to 2 servings daily and pick low glycemic choices like dark berries. Choose organic foods as much as possible to limit exposure to herbicides, pesticides, and plastic compounds from store packaging.
Avoid endocrine disruptors
Endocrine disruptors confuse the body’s hormone communication pathways. Common offenders include BPA, phthalates, dioxin, perchlorate, and PFCs to name a new. Use less plastic. Avoid canned foods. Be very conscious of the ingredients in your cosmetics, personal care products, household cleaning items, etc. The Environmental Working Groups app “Healthy Living” can help guide your purchases. Consider investing in both a high quality water and air filter for your home.
Inositol is a non-negotiable for most of my women with PCOS. It also has the most research behind it. Inositol is a stereoisomer of glucose that helps improve cellular signaling and metabolism therefore reducing insulin resistance, improving ovarian function, and reducing androgen levels in women with PCOS.
NAC is the precursor to glutathione, the body’s main antioxidant. Studies have shown that in women with PCOS NAC was able to improve insulin resistance, lower testosterone levels, and improve menstrual regularity. In one study it was comparable to Metformin in regulating blood sugar.
In two small studies two cups of spearmint tea a day was shown to reduce testosterone levels.
Vitamin D can improve blood sugar control, ovarian reserves, and fertility outcomes. Please get your Vitamin D level tested and then dose accordingly.
Magnesium has a multitude of roles in the body, however research indicates that taking a magnesium supplement may enhance insulin sensitivity.
Saw palmetto is an herb with anti-androgenic properties that may be helpful in lowering testosterone levels.
Chromium is an essential mineral that aids in the regulation of insulin and blood sugar levels in the body. A recent study looked at the mineral’s role in women with PCOS. The study found that chromium reduced fasting blood sugar and insulin levels in subjects significant enough to be comparable to the pharmaceutical metformin.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Fish oils are anti-inflammatory, help regulate insulin, lower leptin levels, and can aid in weight loss. According to one study, women with PCOS who took fish oil had lower testosterone levels and more regular periods compared to placebo.
Looking for help with managing PCOS? Here at Wise Woman Wellness we have an integrative women’s health specialist that can help create a customized treatment plan for your unique body and needs.
Call today to book a free discovery call to learn more.
Schedule a FREE 15 minute discovery call with Dr. Burnham, Naturopathic Doctor at Wise Woman Wellness!
Functional medicine providers, in addition to being licensed medical doctors or nurse practitioners, have completed the Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice (AFMCP) training program through the Institute for Functional Medicine. The Institute for Functional Medicine is a non-profit organization that is accredited by the Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) and is dedicated to educating physicians and other healthcare practitioners in Functional Medicine. There are more than 1000 providers in the US who have completed the AFMCP training.
Functional Medicine is what medicine should look like today. It’s a different, innovative, comprehensive approach to healthcare, emphasizing prevention and discovery of the underlying causes of illness as opposed to only treating symptoms.