Polycystic ovarian syndrome (or polycystic ovarian disease), also known as PCOS, is a common reproductive problem for premenopausal women. The ovaries enlarge and develop small cysts, which cause women to stop ovulating and become infertile. Those with PCOS may also have excess testosterone (male hormone).
Typically, women with PCOS have it from adolescence, and the hormonal imbalance can cause other symptoms and problems in addition to infertility:
- Irregular or absent periods, or heavy periods lasting longer than normal
- Weight problems, including sudden weight gain
- Problems sleeping
- Low libido
- Insulin resistance (the cells cannot use insulin, so the pancreas secretes more and more as time goes by)
- Overgrowth of hair on the face and chest
- Type 2 diabetes
- High cholesterol and triglycerides, elevated blood pressure, and heart problems
When you come in to see us for a consultation, we’ll take a medical history and perform a physical exam. We may need to do blood work to confirm PCOS, but typically, your description of symptoms will give us a good idea about the diagnosis.
No one knows for sure whether insulin resistance is a cause of PCOS or a symptom, but often simply changing the diet and getting more exercise reduces insulin resistance and promotes weight loss. We will look at your lifestyle and see which realistic changes will help. We don’t want you to think we expect you to jog and lift weights. We want you to engage in activities you enjoy, such as walking the dog, yoga, and swimming.
As refined carbohydrates raise blood sugar, causing a higher insulin response, the main goal of your eating will be to keep insulin and blood sugar levels as low as possible. We’ll focus on real, whole foods, with plenty of protein and fiber. We’ll also make sure your vitamin and mineral levels are where they should be, especially the B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium.
Often, women with PCOS are deficient in progesterone, so we may prescribe a natural hormonal cream to be used once or twice a day at certain times of the menstrual cycle. Herbs such as vitex (chaste tree), blue cohosh, licorice, and maca can reduce symptoms and help regulate hormones. Massage, lymphatic drainage, and homeopathy are also helpful.
In contrast, traditional medicine prefers to use artificial hormones and put you on the pill to regulate your hormones. You might also take metformin, a diabetes medication, or Vaniqa, a cream that slows facial hair growth.
It’s worth noting that natural progesterone and the herbs mentioned above can be effective in promoting ovulation, while traditional medicine will give you yet another drug, Clomid, to cause ovulation.