This one is for the girl who is struggling with PCOS – the girl who’s fighting those dark hairs on her chin, cystic acne on her jaw, irregular and long periods, and when she does get her period, she’s met with crazy mood swings, anxiety, PMS, and cramps. She might even be trying to get pregnant but faced with false pregnancy tests month after month.
She is struggling to find anyone who can help her, she doesn’t feel feminine and she’s desperate to find out how to fix this naturally without having to get on the pill, metformin, or spironolactone. She’s tired of going to the dermatologist and getting put on every form of retinol cream available and may have even tried accutane in the past.
Does this girl sound like you? If so, welcome to the club. This is an exact description of me before I dove deep into the health of my hormones…
And let me tell you, it was a lonely road!
My passion as a coach is to make sure you’ll never have to go through the same hardships as I did all alone. So if you are in that position, consider reading this article and finding a trustworthy doctor to direct you in this journey. You deserve to feel like the woman you know you can be.
What is PCOS?
PCOS, or poly cystic ovarian syndrome, is a collection of symptoms. It is not one thing It is not a disease. It is a set of symptoms. However the KEY primary symptom is the failure to ovulate regularly.
Because of the variation of symptoms underneath the umbrella term ‘PCOS’, there a different categories underneath this umbrella that are recognized. These are: insulin-resistant PCOS, post-pill PCOS, inflammatory PCOS, and adrenal androgen excess. Lara Briden has an amazing article describing these 4 categories if you are curious as to which you fall under. You can read her article here.
Here are the steps that I took to reverse my PCOS
Step 1 – Remove Stress
Why are we so darn stressed? Imbalanced hormones and ultimately menstrual problems are likely linked to the prevalence of stress. If you think about it, you were probably
I know that I was stressed to achieve and be somebody from the time I went to school and have carried that with me ever since. Having this innate need to prove my worth to my parents (love you mom and dad!) allowed me to achieve some pretty great things like graduate with 2 engineering degrees and 4 internships in 5 years to name one example.
Do you resonate with my story? Consider these staggering statistics:
- 91% of college students feel overwhelmed
- 87% are chronically fatigued
- 56% suffer from anxiety
This is exacerbated by:
- poor eating and exercise habits (booze and hours on the elliptical – sign me up!)
- birth control pill use (took this all through high school and college)
- our need to please people around us (thanks mom and dad!)
- body image issues (suffered from eating disorders and over exercising for close to a decade)
- our tendency towards perfectionism (yep – straight A student!)
These imbalances get worse because we’re not looking at them from a root cause perspective. Instead, we’re just treating the symptoms with prescriptions. Of course, there’s a reason prescriptions exist, but they aren’t always used in the best way.
What are the consequences of stress on hormones?
- high levels of cortisol (adrenal fatigue or “HPA axis dysfunction”)
- increase in insulin resistance and testosterone (PCOS)
- lowered levels of estrogen and progesterone (PCOS)
- suppressed reproductive function (PCOS)
- resulted in spending more time alone, depressed, and fearful of socialization
Where is this stress coming from? Two forms of stress:
- External sources of stress – demanding job, demanding parents, relationship turmoil, or living in a fast-paced or polluted city over-exercising, chronic dieting, poor body image.
- Internal sources of stress – poor eating habits, skipping meals, reliance on caffeine, gut dysbiosis, insulin resistance, inflammation, infections, illnesses.
Skipped meals or foods like – sugar, caffeine, refined flour products – plus high levels of external stress may cause 2 things to happen:
- The adrenals overproduce cortisol and it’s levels rise in the body.
- Internal inflammation starts to develop, especially in the gut.
Both of these lead to: dysregulated cortisol AND gut problems like gas, bloating, microbiome imbalances, diarrhea, and constipation. Results in malabsorption of key nutrients, which may cause chronic hormonal and reproductive problems…
What’s a stressed out person to do? For me it was immediately quitting the need to ‘compete’. Competing not just with others (like in CrossFit), but with myself as well. Simply allowing myself to settle and enjoy the ride was a huge step in reducing the chronic physical and psychological stress rolling in.
With the decrease in competitive exercise and stress, I was able to reset my diet and focus LESS on eating cinnamon toast crunch before bed and more on high-quality meats, vegetables, fruits, and complex carbs. Eating 4 balanced meals per day consisting of an organic meat, couple handfuls of colorful fruits and veggies and a touch of healthy fats and starchy carbs kept me nourished.
This allowed for balanced blood sugar, balanced moods, and increased intake of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals. I was slowly replenishing the nutrient deficiencies that stress and yo-yo dieting created over all those years. For so long, there was a disconnect from the food I ate and the way I felt, when I started to eat better, I noticed a direct improvement in the quality of my life which encouraged me to continue.
I also practiced saying “No”. When someone asked me to do something that I knew would stress me out, I practice saying “no.” No guilt allowed! I even took it a step further and created a “yes and no list” for myself. I’d ask myself, ‘what are my absolute yes’s and no’s for this week?’
Then I made sure to get out in nature. There is scientific evidence that walking barefoot on the Earth, grass, or beach can help reset adrenal function and improve chronic fatigue. For me, I take my dogs for an hour long walk everyday – rain or shine (or sub zero windchill), you can find us out on the hills behind our house. This has absolutely saved me from the stress of normal, everyday life. And as a bonus, it’s decreased any feelings of depression that I usually feel in the winter.
Here are a couple go-to stress reductions I use for breathing, body scans, and journaling:
- Here is a 3 minute body scan meditation
- Here is a 5 minute breathing meditation
- And then here is a 5 minute journal you can buy that gets you in the habit of journaling every morning and night (takes a total of 5 minutes per day)
It’s literally my morning routine (after I eat breakfast and before I start work) to do these 3 things every morning! All of these small action steps added up to big results over time – feeling less overwhelm, less anxiety, more happiness and ultimately more hormonally balanced.
Step 2 – Address Inflammation
Fiona McCulloch, ND author of 8 Steps to Reverse Your PCOS has researched the way excess inflammation can lead to PCOS. In her book she says that someone with PCOS, may have an increased baseline of cytokines (the main marker of inflammation). So double checking that other processes in the body aren’t adding to this inflammation is key.
When looking at natural approaches to reducing inflammation, I first looked at WHAT I was putting into my body and whether or not that caused inflammation or not.
I started with a 10-Day Elimination Diet to rule out the foods that were reacting negatively with my body. I removed these foods for 10 days:
- Gluten (all forms)
- Food colorings (yellow #6, red #40, etc.), food additives, and preservatives
- Processed Sugar
- Genetically modified foods : corn, soy, sugar beets, canola oil, cottonseed oil, alfafa, zucchini and yellow squash and papaya (from China and Hawaii) by choosing organic.
- Artificial sweeteners, which are known to be neuro-excititory (i.e. making it difficult to sleep and creating anxiety). Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, Splenda (sucralose), Sweet-N-Low, and high fructose corn syrup disrupt healthy gut flora, allowing bad bacteria to take over. They can lead to serious digestive problems too)
After I spent 10 days removing these inflammatory foods, I felt AMAZING! No skin issues, no digestive issues, and my mood and energy were beaming! During a reintroduction phase, I was able to add back in corn and peanuts without issue. However, I realized that coffee, sugar, gluten, and eggs were causing uncomfortable digestive issues like bloating, cramps, and gas. Furthermore, my acne on my face would flare up almost immediately! So I kept those foods and drinks out as much as I could.
I also took a food sensitivity test (MKBMO fit test) to figure out what other imbalances I had. Turned out squash was another one that I needed to remove for a period of time until I healed my gut (more on that later).
Another form of inflammation is insulin resistance. There are many natural options available for women with PCOS and insulin issues that do not include taking metformin. Here are the foods that I focused on to improve my insulin sensitivity:
- Low Glycemic Foods – The goal with runaway insulin was to rein it back in so that I could lower excess androgens. The best way to do this was to start incorporating low glycemic foods immediately.
- Sugar – sugar increases insulin levels which can increase androgen production from the ovaries. So my goal was to keep added sugar to a minimal.
- Fiber – Fiber increases elimination of metabolized estrogen through the bowels. My goal was to get 35-45 grams of fiber a day by eating berries, flaxseed, and lots of veggies.
- Omega-3s – Women with more omega-3′s in their blood have lower androgens. I incorporated 4oz of grass fed beef 2-3 times a week, and add in walnuts, chia seeds and avocados. I also took a fish oil supplement with plenty of EPA and DHA.
- Zinc – High androgens, obesity and acne are associated with a zinc deficiency. I included food-based sources of zinc in my diet with sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds.
- Vitamin D – Nearly half of women with PCOS are lacking in the Vitamin D. I know that I was tested and only had 25 ng/mL – that’s crazy low! I started getting out in the sunshine every day for 30-60 min minutes between 10am-2pm to start building up my vitamin D levels. I am now trucking along at 75ng/mL.
- Chromium – Chromium is a mineral that promotes proper insulin utilization and helps with blood glucose management. I made sure my prenatal had adequate levels of this mineral.
- Cinnamon – Cinnamon has been shown to significantly reduce blood sugar levels. All I added was 1⁄2 a teaspoon a day of this amazing spice.
Although food was the main focus, I also added a few supplements to improve insulin sensitivity until I noticed that I no longer had issues handling my carbs.
- Vitamin D: 5,000 IU. We love: Zhou Vitamin D + K2
- Fish Oil: 0.25g of EPA/DHA per 10lbs body weight. We love: Rosita Cod Liver Oil
- Vitamin B Complex: 1,000 mcg. We love: Thorne Stress B Complex
- Inositol: One of the most crucial nutrients for promoting female hormonal health through its role in supporting optimal liver function. We love: Designs for Health Inositol
Step 3 – Heal the Gut
Inflammation in the gut does not allow for optimal absorption of nutrients or optimal synthesis of hormones. You’ve likely heard of leaky gut – it occurs when the barrier of the intestine becomes broken so that the immune system on the other side of the barrier is exposed to many foreign invaders entering the body (ie. inflammation). This may trigger an autoimmune reaction, which can lead to gastrointestinal problems such as bloating, excessive gas and cramps, fatigue, food sensitivities, joint pain, skin rashes, and autoimmune diseases.
Possible causes of leaky gut: chronic inflammation, food sensitivity and allergies, damage from taking NSAIDs (ibuprofen, midol, aspirin, advil, etc.), cytotoxic drugs, antibiotics, alcohol consumption, or compromised immunity.
Symptoms of leaky gut include: bloating, indigestion, food sensitivities, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune disease, thyroid disease, malabsorption of nutrients, inflamed skin, depression, and anxiety.
Here are the steps I took to heal my gut:
1. Eliminate inflammatory foods – I eliminated wheat, dairy, soy, corn and refined sugar – these are the most common allergenic and inflammatory foods (purpose of the elimination diet mentioned above). Conventionally raised meats are also associated with inflammation too because of their high omega 6 content and the use of antibiotics and other hormones in their production. So I chose Organic meats and produce only.
2. Reduce exposure to toxins – I reduced my exposure to alcohol, antibiotics, birth control pills and synthetic drugs. I put major emphasis on NSAIDS because they directly cause a weakened gut lining. If you want more information on cleaning up inflammatory toxins in your environmental toxins, click here.
3. Bone Broth – I started drinking more bone broth which is high in collage and L-glutamine. It is a digestive aid and helps rebuild the gut. We love Kettle & Fire.
4. Gelatin/Collagen – This is an ingredient in bone broth that can be consumed instead of bone broth or added to the bone broth for additional healing. I like Great Lakes Gelatin or Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides, which can be dissolved in cold drinks too like smoothies, smoothie breakfast bowls or green juices. I add a tablespoon to bone broth, a smoothie or green juice once a day.
5. L-Glutamine – This is an amino acid that feeds the cells of your gut lining. It is your gut’s favorite food and helps to heal gut permeability issues very well. It is also found in bone Broth. Dosage: Take L-Glutamine for 28 days. I started with 1g three times / day mixed in 4oz of water and drink on an empty stomach. I took that for 5 days. Increased to 2 g three times / day until day 10. From days 11-28 I took 3 g three times / day. This worked really well to heal and seal my gut. We love Integrative Therapeutics L-Glutamine Powder with Curcumin (which you’ll read about next).
6. Turmeric – Curcumin, an active ingredient in the spice turmeric, reduces overall inflammation and works wonders for pelvic pain, migraines and joint pain. I tried to get 1 g of turmeric / day plus I added a supplement of the active ingredient curcumin withOUT the added bioperine. Bioprene allows the curcumin to be absorbed into circulation, but I wanted the curcumin to stay IN the gut and reduce inflammation there.
Step 4 – Remove Toxins
The increased incidence of hormonal imbalances coincide with industrialization and the introduction of a wide variety of chemicals into our environment. Unfortunately, there is not much available data on the health effects of chronic low-dose exposure to many of these compounds, yet new ones are introduced every week.
Because certain industrial and agricultural chemicals disrupt the very way that our endocrine system functions, they are commonly known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC). EDCs can change how hormones are produced, the way that they attach to receptors, and the way that they interact with each other. EDCs can accumulate and wreak havoc in our tissues, as well as the environment, over a lifetime.
Unfortunately, doctors rarely ever recognize the potential effects that pharmaceuticals, stress, and toxins have on our bodies. Not only that, but they rarely consider that these environmental toxic exposures have anything to do with their patient’s hormonal imbalances and symptoms!
You’ve likely read articles or perhaps heard on the news about the importance of cleaning up your environmental exposure. However, it can be overwhelming to decipher what chemicals to avoid, what products to buy, and trust that the new products will live up to your expectations.
We have also created a course on identifying and eliminating environmental toxins lurking in your home. The course helps educate on what we are being exposed to daily, how our body processes these toxins, how to reduce the load of exposure, and how to increase the innate detoxification pathways. Click here for the course.
Step 5 – Improve Detoxification
If you read through those article and have taken that course, you’ll find that it’s scary to think about all the things we are exposed to in a day! But the beautiful thing is that our bodies actually know what to do. Detoxification is different than the word detox, which you’ll find out soon enough, is just a popular term for a shortchange in eating habits with the goal of reducing body burden and enhancing, what we are actually focused on talking about today, and that is metabolic detoxification.
A detox, or cleanse, is a short term, 1-30 day, program that involves restriction and elimination of certain foods, while supplementing with others, in order to upregulate your body’s detoxification pathways. Historically, people have been doing ‘spring cleanses’ for centuries. Although this idea has some benefit for health, it would essentially be like taking a 3 day shower every 6 months, rather than taking a 5 min shower every day. As you can see, that logic just doesn’t work, not for cleaning the body in a shower, nor for cleansing the liver. Furthering the point, many of these cleanses and detoxes on the market have no evidence to support them, while some may actually cause harm!
Detoxification, on the other hand, is the body’s own innate capacity to process chemical toxins and eliminate them from the body. The organs responsible for detoxifying environmental compounds include the kidneys, liver,sweat glands, lymph nodes, gastrointestinal tract, and immune system. They are typically capable of tagging, packaging, and removing pollutants, drugs, and many other chemicals that affect our health. The human body is constantly in some state of detox, which is crucial to our survival.
The liver hosts a series of enzymatic reactions that neutralize and dissolve toxins. Meaning, the liver turns toxic substances into less toxic substances and then dissolves them in water to be eliminated from the kidneys and/or gut. The goal of detoxification is to breakdown hormones, metabolize vitamins, inflammatory molecules, signalling compounds, environmental toxins, prescriptions drugs, and even plant compounds that we are exposed to in our daily fruit and veggies and any herbal medicines.
The problem arises because the amount of these things that bombard our body on a daily basis is so great, that our detoxification processes become overwhelmed and can’t keep up. Plus, we are lacking nutritional requirements from phytochemicals in our everyday diets. As a result, our detoxifying systems are hit with a double whammy when it comes to trying to keep the body safe.
Again, we’ve created a course on this concept because it is such an important components of health and hormonal imbalance. This was the last step I too to really make sure I was reversing my PCOS. Click here for the course.
Here’s what you can do to reverse your own version of PCOS
I know that was a lot to take in. But as I worked through each step I started to feel more energy, better productivity, better digestion, less skin issues, and started to look and feel like myself again. I grew upon each step and it became easier to live this new lifestyle that supported better health and hormones.
Dealing with PCOS and all it’s symptoms is lonely and I don’t wish it upon anyone! But the thing is, it’s very common, and many women before you have conquered it without the use of prescription drugs and their side-effects, so there’s hope!
If you are a bit overwhelmed with where to start, consider grabbing a copy of Fiona’s book 8 Steps to Reverse Your PCOS and talk with your trusted healthcare professional.