Many women suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), in fact 1 in 5 in the UK do, and I am one of them. PCOS is a condition where a woman's hormones are out of balance, and their ovaries contain a large number of harmless cysts. Hormones are chemical messengers that trigger different processes in your body, including growth and energy production so they're incredibly important, and when they become imbalanced it causes side effects.
If you have PCOS your hormones get out of balance - all women produces the hormones oestrogen, progesterone, androgen and testosterone but if you have PCOS your body will produce more testosterone than usual, and normally excess androgen too. These imbalances lead to the symptoms of PCOS such as weight gain, acne, irregular periods, excess hair growth, depression and fertility problems. Your body may also have a problem using insulin, this causes blood sugar levels to go up which can be dangerous. The reasons for this condition are not yet understood, and there's currently no cure but there are things women with PCOS can do to greatly improve the symptoms and side effects.
I was diagnosed with PCOS when I was about 16 years old. I'd been suffering with very irregular periods (sometimes I'd go 3-4 months without one), I had cripplingly bad stomach pains, I found it difficult to lose weight and my skin was getting pretty bad, so I decided to visit the doctor and after blood tests I found that I did have PCOS. Immediately the doctor prescribed the contraceptive pill, which is often used as a treatment for PCOS because it balances the hormones out and helps to regulate periods, but the first one I was on made me incredibly sick. After months of trying to figure out which pill wouldn't make me ill I stuck with Yasmin, which didn't make me want to throw up constantly. I also decided to do my own research into holistic ways of dealing with this condition and I found a mass of information online to show that cutting out sugar and dairy can make a huge difference, so that's what I did. I also took up regular exercise and daily yoga. After a few months my skin cleared up and I had more energy, I noticed my hair health improved too and my periods were becoming regular, I also lost almost 2 stone over the course of about 8 months.
Now, at almost 21, I am symptom free of PCOS and guess what? I'm also off the pill. I'm so health conscious and value my body, so I made the decision to come of Yasmin (who wants to be putting artificial hormones into their body?!) and my symptoms have not come back.....hurray for natural healing! Seeing as millions of women suffer with this condition I thought I'd share exactly what's helped me and why it's worked.
Quit The Sugar
As I said above insulin resistance goes alongside PCOS (80% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance), and the biggest cause of insulin resistance is sugar. When we eat sugar our insulin levels rise which causes the hormones in the ovaries to produce more of the 'male hormones', which triggers the symptoms of PCOS. Many studies have shown that cutting out sugar greatly improved the condition of women with PCOS, but it can be difficult because most women with PCOS crave sugary foods more than the average person due to surges in insulin levels....it's a vicious circle.
What we need to be doing is cutting out the refined sugars in our diets, as well as simple carbohydrates (the body recognises these as sugar in the body) so that includes brown sugar, white sugar, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, non-raw honey, golden syrup, malt syrup, corn sweetener, white bread, white pasta, white rice and anything artificial - these foods will make your PCOS symptoms a whole load worse! Instead satisfy your sweet tooth with whole fruits (preferably low sugar options like berries, but any whole fruit is better than a candy bar), raw honey or coconut sugar and swap the simple carbs for complex carbs like brown rice, organic wholegrain bread, oats, quinoa, buckwheat and millet. You should also avoid starchy foods like white potatoes if possible.
Back Away From The Dairy
Cutting out dairy is something I absolutely swear by when it comes to relieving PCOS symptoms - I noticed as soon as I cut out all dairy from my diet my skin improved more than I could have hoped and my stomach pains lessened. Cows milk is absolutely bursting with oestrogen, and PCOS is an oestrogen dominant condition. When you consume dairy your hormone levels rise a lot and become very disturbed, not only because you're consuming the cows hormones but these days dairy farms pump their cows with artificial hormones as well so you're ingesting those hormones as well....nasty! Swap the hormones for almond milk, oat milk, coconut milk, brown rice milk (my favourite) or cashew milk. A 2015 study found that a low dairy diet resulted in improved insulin sensitivity, reduced testosterone and weight loss in women with PCOS over 2 months.
Up The Omega-3
Studies have shown that women with PCOS benefit from eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, this is because healthy fats reduce testosterone in your body and help to regulate periods. Chia seeds, flaxseed and walnuts are amazing plant-based sources. If you eat fish then mackerel, wild salmon and sardines are good sources.
Zinc can really help with two common symptoms of PCOS - acne and weight gain. Research suggests that zinc may really help with acne, and it can be as effective as traditional antibiotics. Zinc reduces inflammation and kills bacteria, it also plays a role in protein synthesis and collagen formation, both are vital for maintaining healthy, clear skin. Zinc has also been shown to increase the levels of circulating leptin, a hormone that plays a key role in regulating the body's energy expenditure, fat storage and appetite. Zinc can be found in walnuts, chickpeas, oats, grains, lentils, almonds and broccoli.
Something I feel has helped me a great deal is exercise, and that's unsurprising really when exercise has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, frequency of ovulation, burns fat and gives you more energy. Any type of exercise is beneficial if you have PCOS, but a mixture of strength training and cardio is apparently the best. I think just do what you love and don't push your body through something you hate! As PCOS is often linked to depression exercise is especially important - moving your body has amazing effects on the brain and really lifts your mood.
PCOS is a horrible condition, it can be embarrassing and painful but instead of going straight in with the artificial hormones doctors so often prescribe try some natural healing, it worked for me so I'm sure it'll help you too. I can happily say I'm now PCOS symptom free, I never think about it any more and it doesn't effect my life at all. I put that completely down to my change in lifestyle - oh the magical powers of good food and moving your body!