Today I’d like to take a break from all things fashion and write about a topic that has personally affected me. I’ll share my experience before and after the diagnosis as well as how I got my period back naturally. Let me stress that this post isn’t written especially for women who are suffering from PCOS, it’s also for teen girls, brothers, husbands, fathers and boyfriends. If you have knowledge in this area, you can offer help to those who need it.
What is PCOS?
- The cause remains unknown but it’s considered a hormonal issue.
- PCOS affects approximately 10 million women in the world and it’s a leading cause of female infertility.
- There’s no cure for PCOS yet but there are medicines and fertility treatments to help reduce symptoms and get women pregnant.
- The hormones involved in PCOS are:
- Androgens: Also referred to as “male hormones”, all females make androgens but higher levels are found in women with PCOS. Excess androgens cause acne, unwanted hair (hirsutism: excess hair growth on the face, arms, back, chest, thumbs, toes, or abdomen), thinning hair and irregular periods.
- Insulin: Allows the body to absorb glucose into the cells for energy but those with PCOS aren’t responsive to insulin. This can cause elevated blood glucose levels, causing the body to make more insulin, which in turn triggers an increased production of androgens.
- Progesterone: The lack of progesterone leads to irregular periods.
According to PCOS Awareness Association, symptoms may begin to show soon after puberty. But for some, it’ll develop during the later teen years and early adulthood. Women with PCOS usually have irregular or missed periods because of the absence of ovulation.
Besides the symptoms caused by excess androgens, women with PCOS may also experience weight gain, fatigue, infertility, mood changes (i.e. mood swings, depression and anxiety), pelvic pain (may occur with periods/heavy bleeding or when a woman isn’t bleeding), headaches and sleep problems.
What is an ovarian cyst?
- Cyst is basically a fluid-filled sac that can occur anywhere in the body.
- The most common ovarian cyst is called a functional cyst and there are two types:
- Follicular cysts: When an egg doesn’t get released, cysts develop due to the growth of follicle. Usually go away in 1 -3 months.
- Corpus luteum cysts: Forms when follicle ruptures and releases the egg. When the follicle reseals and fluid starts to buildup, they can enlarge and cause pain, bleeding, or twisting the ovary. Fertility medicines can help promote ovulation but it could increase the chances of developing these type of cysts.
Your doctor will ask questions to gather information about your health history (your family’s medical history), some of which include if you’ve experienced irregular/skipped periods, weight changes, hair changes and acne. Then a physical examination (weight and vitals), a number of lab tests (blood sugar and androgen levels) and a sonogram will be carried out to confirm the diagnosis.
Ladies, keep track of your menstrual cycle. The data can help you assess your health, plan your pregnancy and even help doctors with the diagnosis.
- If you’re not trying to get pregnant, the standard treatment would be birth control pills. They help regulate period, improve excess hair growth and acne (by lowering androgen levels).
- Metformin is not approved by the FDA but it’s commonly prescribed. It helps to lower elevated blood glucose levels, insulin levels and androgen levels. Women who use metformin may lose weight but it won’t help reduce unwanted excess hair.
- Clomiphene is another commonly prescribed oral medication used to induce ovulation. Letrozole and gonadotropins (hormonal injection) are other options used for the same purpose.
- Leading a healthy lifestyle can help overweight women regulate ovulation and periods. For some women it can be difficult because their bodies hold on to fat more easily than others, but achieving a weight loss of 5 – 10% is not impossible.
- If you suffer from excess hair growth (hirsutism), spironolactone is an anti-androgen drug that is most often used.
- Some women turn to vitamins, supplements and other complementary treatments. Popular ones include cinnamon, myo-inositol, vitamin D, B complex vitamins and acupuncture.
- Note that what works for others may not work for you. Try one treatment for a substantial amount of time (3 months at least) and move on if it doesn’t work.
- Don’t accept your doctor’s prescription without fully understanding the pros and cons. Ask your doctor why the prescribed drug is the best for you and what are the long term side effects. Do some research (please use trusted sites) to see what others have to say about the drug.
Things started to change as I inch closer to young adulthood. My period was out of whack: sometimes it comes late, other times I have two periods in one month. I didn’t have cramps in the past but I was hit with the worst cramp on the day my family and I were supposed to fly to Europe for vacation. It was the worst day of my life. I couldn’t stand and I was getting cold sweats from the pain. My parents got me some Panadol and a few hours later, I was fine. There was still pain in my lower abdomen, but I got on the plane and made it to Europe.
Despite all of that, I didn’t go to the doctor. For the next few years, I continue to have really irregular periods and I would have really painful cramps once in a blue moon. And then, my period stopped coming in June 2016 and that went on for 6 months. I went to see a gynecologist at the beginning of 2017 and was diagnosed with PCOS. I was prescribed Yaz and was told to be on it for at least three months. Because I don’t want to rely on birth pills, I stopped taking Yaz after three months but my period didn’t come the next month. So I went back on Yaz but I was determined to find an alternative solution.
Based on my research, each woman adopt different set of habits to get their period back on track. However, the three main pillars that really helped are having a whole foods diet, incorporating a regular exercise routine and reducing stress on the body. I eat a whole foods diet during the weekdays but I find that I didn’t incorporate enough healthy fats into my diet. I also exercise 4 – 5 times per week, doing a combination of cardio and Pilates but none of those are low impact exercises. After a month on Yaz, I got off the pill again and decided to increase my intake of healthy fats and incorporate yoga into my exercise routine.
I stuck with the new routine but my period didn’t come for the next two months. So I decided to try herbal supplements. The staff at Green Earth recommended BioCeuticals FemmePlex and I immediately saw results. Although herbal pills aren’t harmful, I wanted to see if I could fix the problem purely through food. My diet is clean (have meat once or twice per week and no dairy) and I’ve increased my intake of healthy fats but the change wasn’t effective, so what am I missing? It turns out that the types of food you eat during your menstrual cycle play a huge role.
“How I Reversed My PCOS Symptoms With Holistic Practices In 4 Months” by Nicole Granato (Mind Body Green)
Natural Hormone Healing offers a range of recipes that helps balance the hormones.
I found a blogger who wrote a list of foods she ate at different phases of her menstrual cycle and I decided to give it a try. And guess what? I did get my period a month after following her list! Up until this day, my cycle is irregular but at least I got my period back without relying on birth pills or supplements. I couldn’t find the blog that provided me the list but I had it written down in my journal so I’ll share it here.
Menstrual Phase (3 – 4 days)
- Eat low GI foods, foods high in zinc
- Incorporate sea veggies (i.e. seaweed)
- Eat more soups and stews, beetroot, mushrooms, kidney beans, black beans
- Add miso to your diet
- Have berries and watermelon more often
Follicular Phase (7 – 10 days)
- Eat more steamed food
- Load up on broccoli, carrots, zucchini, beans
- Incorporate oats, rye, whole wheat and nuts into your breakfast
- Add vinegar, pickles and fermented foods
Ovulatory Phase (3 – 4 days)
- Load up on high fiber vegetables (have them steamed or raw)
- Decrease grains
- Eat more berries and nuts
- Have some dark chocolate (1 – 2 squares per day is best, not the whole bar)
Luteal Phase (10 – 14 days)
- Incorporate foods high in Vitamin B, calcium and magnesium
- High fiber vegetables are still on the menu
- Add ginger, sweet potatoes, squash and chickpeas to your diet
- Have apples and dates for snack
In terms of my exercise routine, I still do Pilates, HIIT workouts and yoga but I’ve switched running for more weight lifting sessions. I recently also started meditating and I really enjoy having a calmer mind and body.
I know this is a long post but hopefully some of you will find this useful. Before I go, I’d like to stress that it’s important to educate yourself on PCOS if you have it. Strive for natural remedies and even if it takes a lot of trial and error, it will be worth it. Trust me, your body will thank you. Until then, do your homework, ask questions and be patient.
Take good care of yourself ladies!