Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is the most common reproductive concern for women in Australia, impacting around 1 in 5 women.
This syndrome is categorised by a number of symptoms such as:
- irregular menstrual cycles
- absent periods
- light periods
- thinning hair of the head
- male pattern hair growth (chin, cheeks, neck)
- weight gain
When a number of these signs are present, it is important to have specific testing conducted to confirm if it is indeed PCOS. The main things we will want to look at are:
- female sex hormones (low progesterone)
- androgens (elevated)
- cholesterol (elevated)
- blood sugar markers, including insulin (elevated)
- ultrasound of the ovaries (more than 15 small under-developed follicles)
You cannot be diagnosed with PCOS using just one of these tests, there needs to be evidence of multiple signs and symptoms to classify you as having PCOS.
As you can see, there are a number of metabolic as well as hormonal factors contributing to the development of PCOS. Typically around 70% of women with PCOS will have insulin resistance and a large number will be overweight or have high cholesterol levels on blood testing.
If you have been diagnosed with PCOS here are a number of natural treatment options to explore:
1. Movement: exercising regularly is beneficial for improving insulin sensitivity, reducing cholesterol and maintaining a healthy weight. As the majority of women with PCOS are considered overweight, by focusing on movement as a way to bring your body into a healthy weight range, you can improve your PCOS symptoms. A combination of aerobic exercise such as jogging, cycling or swimming, with weight bearing exercise such as pilates or strength training.
2. Mediterranean diet: eating a balanced and healthy diet is another way to positively influence your PCOS symptoms. There are many different diets that can be effective if used short term for initial weight loss, however, to maintain a healthy lifestyle long term I recommend following a mediterranean whole food diet ethos:
- lots of colours: green leafy salads, vegetables, fruits
- good levels of healthy fats: fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds
- low in processed foods and sugar: breads, cakes, pastries
- small amounts of red meat: aim for side dish sized portions
- regular legume consumption: lentils, beans, chickpeas
- small amounts of full fat dairy: yoghurt, butter
3. Vitamin D: having low levels of Vitamin D is associated with elevated androgens, insulin resistance and carrying extra weight. The best way to get adequate Vitamin D levels is by spending time outside in the sun. Approximately 10-20 minutes per day without sunscreen or shelter is recommended (depending on your skin tone), which explains why many Australians are deficient. Taking a Vitamin D supplement may be helpful, however, having your serum levels tested is recommended to determine your required dosage.
4. Zinc: in the body, zinc is used to improve insulin receptivity, reduce androgen levels, and improve both glucose and lipid levels. Many Australians, particularly those consuming a plant-based diet or a diet that is lacking in micronutrients (the standard western diet), will not be consuming enough zinc from their food. Supplementing with zinc can be beneficial, however, it is essential this is done under the guidance of a naturopath or nutritionist to ensure you are getting the right dose and it is the right nutrient for you. Alternatively, eating foods high in zinc can be another (safe) way of supporting PCOS:
- oysters and muscles
- grass-fed beef
- pumpkin seeds
- lentils and chickpeas
- cashews and almonds
5. Spearmint tea: some research has found that spearmint can reduce androgen levels which is a major driver of PCOS and its associated symptoms. Having just two cups of spearmint tea per day can be a gentle therapeutic for supporting PCOS. While it is not expected to have a fast action on deep-rooted symptoms such as acne or male pattern hair growth, after just one month, scientific studies have seen a decrease in androgen hormones on blood tests. I recommend purchasing an organic loose leaf spearmint and either brewing it as a tea or making it into a herbal infusion. To do this:
1. Add one tablespoon of dried spearmint leaves in a large air-tight jar (500mL)
2. Top with boiling filtered water
3. Cover immediately to capture the volatile oils and let it brew overnight
4. Strain into a glass, mug or drink bottle in the morning
5. Enjoy sipping throughout the day!
Along with these five simple natural treatments that you can do from home, there are many wonderful herbal medicines and nutritionals that can target the hormonal and metabolic components of PCOS. You do not have to suffer with these symptoms forever, it is possible to experience relief.
For more specific treatments tailored to you or to find out if you have PCOS, please book in for a free 15 minute base chat or jump straight into an initial consultation and we can work together.