Examining Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
I had two girlfriends over on Tuesday for dinner and one of them has this issue, which made me think of writing this blog. This one is for Andy!
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is on the rise in women around the world. Originally called Stein-Leventhal syndrome, physicians first described the collective symptoms that characterize the syndrome in 1935. Since then, PCOS has become very prevalent, with about 5 to 10 percent of women of childbearing age displaying one or more symptoms of PCOS.
PCOS is a syndrome. Syndromes are characterized by a collection of clinically recognized symptoms, signs, and phenomena that occur in groups.
- Irregular menstruation
- Increased hair growth on face, hands, chest, and other areas
- Ovarian cysts
- Skin disorders such as acne or dandruff
- Obesity or unexplained weight gain, often around the middle
- Thinning hair or pattern baldness
- Thickening and darkening patches of skin
- Skin tags
- Pelvic region pain
- Depression or anxiety
- Sleep apnea
The current thinking about PCOS is that it is very likely a genetic disorder, because it often runs in families. One of the classic markers of PCOS is hormonal imbalance. While women produce a small amount of male hormones (androgens) such as testosterone, in women with PCOS these levels are often significantly elevated. In fact, the high levels of androgens can account for many of the symptoms associated with PCOS.
Another link that researchers are considering is the one between insulin production and PCOS. In women with PCOS, the levels of insulin in their bodies tend to be higher than normal. This may be because their body does not control insulin well, and an excess of circulating insulin may increase the levels of androgen in the body.
Hormones: A Delicate Balance
Hormones serve as chemical messengers in your body. They are an important part of many of your bodily functions including mood, development, reproduction, fat storage, and metabolism. Tiny changes in the amounts of hormones you have can result in huge changes throughout your body. While some fluctuations are natural and normal throughout your monthly cycle, your hormone levels remain fairly consistent in their cyclic nature. When your hormones become unbalanced, however, and remain that way, you may begin to notice many unpleasant symptoms and side effects.
PCOS is a good example of the changes that can occur in the body when your hormones become imbalanced.
PCOS and Your Diet
If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS or have many of the symptoms of the syndrome, what you eat can play a huge role in its management. You have power to help your own condition! Many foods, particularly chemicals, disrupt or unbalance hormones. For example, many dairy and meat products contain hormones used in the process of meat and dairy farming. Likewise, pesticides and fertilizers may contain chemicals that can further damage the delicate balance of your body’s hormonal system.
- Eliminate sugar and refined grains. Because PCOS has been linked to insulin circulation, sugar will only worsen its effects. Remove refined sugar, including agave, from your diet. Use stevia instead. Cut out refined grains and products, like crackers, pretzels, bagels, etc. that basically metabolize to sugar in the the body.
- Go natural and organic. In her book, The PCOS Diet Book, author Collette Harris suggests avoiding all synthetic organic substances in order to remove the toxic load on your system.
- Eliminate dairy and minimize animal proteins. Dairy and animal proteins may contain synthetic hormones. Since fat stores hormones, this may be especially true in high fat animal products. I don’t eat animal protein at all. But if you do, I suggest eating only lean white meat poultry (organic, free range) or wild caught fish once or twice per week.
- Eat mostly plant foods. Try out the green smoothie diet, a time saver on days when you have a full schedule.
- Cut out processed foods, including artificial sweeteners, sodas, fast food, and foods that come in bags, boxes, and cans.
- Minimize soy. Soy has phytoestrogens that can disrupt endocrine function and may have the potential to cause reduced fertility (6 Jefferson WN, Padilla-Banks E, Newbold RR. Disruption of the developing female reproductive system by phytoestrogens: genistein as an example. Mol Nutr Food Res.2007;51(7):832-44.) and to promote breast cancer in adult women. Fermented soy forms, such as tempeh, miso and tamari can be enjoyed in moderation. But because soy is so controversial and has so many potential major health issues, I advise avoiding tofu and soy milk, as well as packaged bars (Think Thin, etc.) that contain soy protein isolates.
- Cut out gluten grains. Gluten intolerance has also been linked to PCOS symptoms.iii Gluten is found in many foods, including wheat, rye, barley, and contaminated oats (those processed with other gluten grains). It is also in many other processed foods, giving you another good reason to eliminate them.
Non-Dietary PCOS Treatments
Currently, there is no known cure for PCOS. Instead, doctors treat the symptoms, typically using medication or surgical intervention. While some medical interventions may be necessary in severe cases, I strongly recommend pursuing a dietary approach first. The Beauty Detox System is a gluten-free, chemical free diet that promotes cleansing, minimizes toxic building, and seeks to balance hormones safely and naturally with the foods you eat.
Think of how to get energy from within: we heal ourselves through mind, body, and soul. The food that we eat may be the first gateway to finding a cure – inspiring new research and unlocking the mystery of our impurities.