In my practice I often see women who have been diagnosed with PCOS. Not only does it make losing weight challenging but it also comes with a whole host of other side effects. In today’s guest post best selling author and expert on PCOS Dr. Rebecca Harwin will share with you her biggest tips on reversing your symptoms of PCOS naturally. Plus grab your FREE PCOS fact sheet and recipe ebook!
Have you been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (aka PCOS) and feel lost in the overwhelm of your diagnosis or unsure what this means for you… or most importantly, how to help yourself?
Maybe you’ve been mistakenly told ‘there’s nothing you can do’? This common disempowering statement could not be further from the truth so in this article I’ll share the underlying drivers of PCOS and powerful strategies that can aid your recovery.
See, I have been helping women with PCOS for many years, this condition is the veritable air I breath, and I’m the Amazon bestselling author of Conquer Your PCOS Naturally. I say this not to brag, but to offer hope.
Before we delve into the causes and lifestyle approaches, let me share…
My personal story
I remember being the poster girl for PCOS. Obese, acne, hair embarrassingly sprouting from places that it shouldn’t, and a period that went AWOL for 15 years. Yup, that’s 1-5! I’d hear women complain about their period pain and think, ’I wish!’ And my body image? Well, it dragged along the ground, begrudgingly pulled along by my ambitious nature. And I stayed single for a l…o…n…g time, convinced that no-one would want my unattractive, unfeminine self.
When I was accepted into University to study Chiropractic, I realized from a confronting first lesson that we would be required to bare our flesh. It’s impossible to learn about the body in detail in a profession like mine without keen observation and touch.
I could have died of embarrassment!
So each morning I would check myself up and down. Not comfortable when you hate the sight of your body (or what I considered my ugliness) in the mirror. I felt like an ineloquent contortionist placing wax strips in untoward places with the aim of achieving a ‘normal’ appearance. And it hurt!
After years of formal and informal research and using myself as the PCOS guinea pig, I no longer experience any of the signs and symptoms of PCOS other than the occasional missed period when I’m under a great deal of stress.
And the reason I share such intimate insights?
I understand where you are and how hopeless its possible to feel. I also know what it is like to have trouble seeing the light, to feel lost without a compass. And I know with the right guidance and lifestyle approaches, you too can transform your life. I’ve been blessed to witness this again and again.
Let’s take a look at the main drivers of PCOS, and what steps you can implement to feel well again and soon.
The main drivers of PCOS
One of the issues known to cause and exacerbate PCOS is called insulin resistance… and it’s rarely considered or assessed for correctly.
What it insulin resistance and how does it occur?
Blood sugar (glucose) is sticky stuff and if too much remains in your circulatory system, it’s dangerous. So your body produces the hormone, insulin, to guide excess blood sugar into the relative safety of your cells. Constant high blood glucose levels result in a continual increase in insulin production, called hyperinsulinemia. This can result in a normal blood glucose test, because your hard working insulin manages to keep blood sugar levels in check. But, over time, insulin essentially fatigues and becomes less effective. When this happens, insulin resistance results and now your blood glucose tests may show an abnormality.
In this video I share how to correctly assess for insulin resistance in PCOS.
The trouble is, research shows the vast majority of women with PCOS have insulin resistance, regardless of their body size and body mass index (BMI). As insulin resistance not only causes many signs and symptoms of PCOS, it also increases our heightened risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer so it is important to implement the correct approaches regardless of what your blood glucose tests reveal.
Inflammation is an underlying driver and contributor to PCOS and other serious illnesses, yet it is rarely considered. I think part of this brooks from the difficulty in defining the process (different cells and cascades are involved) and its lack of awareness in mainstream health.
Women with PCOS have been shown to have elevated markers of inflammation regardless of size and age, including CRP. To my mind, this syndrome should be considered one in which low-grade inflammation is a key player. Inflammation has been shown to cause insulin resistance, and the signs and symptoms of PCOS including increased androgen (‘male hormone’) levels, irregularity of the menstrual cycle, and the presence of polycystic ovaries.
Now to the most important part, how can understanding this help you find…
Steps To Conquer Your PCOS, Naturally
The wonderful thing is the best way to reduce insulin resistance and inflammation, as well as your PCOS signs and symptoms, is through natural approaches.
Exercise is integral to conquering your PCOS. It improves insulin resistance, aids weight loss, boosts mood and enhances your muscle bulk which increases metabolic rate. Women with PCOS often complain of pain (which may be related to the increased levels of inflammation and reduced levels of magnesium) so find an activity you can perform regularly.
Think swimming, walking, bike riding, Yoga
Add incidental activity
Include movement that is fun as you’re more likely to stick to it! Tap dancing, Zumba, dancing around at home to your favorite 80’s tunes… Am I showing my age? (Pink leg warmers optional)
One night of poor sleep has been shown to reduce insulin sensitivity, so you can imagine what chronic sleep loss does to your hormones and your body. I also recall reading a study some years ago where they found women who slept six hours or less weighed 6-8kg more than those who slept for 8 hours. It may be possible to sleep yourself slender!
Note: Women with PCOS are at risk of sleep apnea, so if you snore, wake with a sore throat, fall asleep mid-afternoon or your partner notices you stop breathing during slumber, see your doctor promptly.
How can you improve your sleep patterns?
Set a regular wake time
Avoid screen time for at least one hour prior to bed
Keep your bedroom slightly cool and completely dark
Ensure your bed and mattress are comfortable
Reduce your caffeine consumption
Meditate prior to sleep
Managing your stress levels
It is frightening how similar the hormonal changes that occur in PCOS look to those that occur in stress. Reduced gut and reproductive function, increased insulin resistance and inflammation, lowered sex hormone binding globule (SHBG) levels, raised free and active hormones (like estrogen and testosterone).
How can you better manage stress?
Ensure sufficient sleep
Meditate (yes, it’s a great practice for women with PCOS!)
Eat well… and with your food plan being a key player in conquering your PCOS, let’s take a look at this separately…
If there is only one change you make to improve your Polycystic Ovary Syndrome this has to be it. What you eat is a foundational piece in the PCOS puzzle. Food and beverage choices literally alter genetic expression and profoundly effect your hormonal balance.
I also think it’s important to focus on a positive relationship with food, as many women with PCOS look at food as either evil (yes, in my PCOS years my husband used to comment that I looked at chocolate cake like it was the devil incarnate) or healthy (but boring).
This is where a health coach like Karen can be the golden key to throw open the health door!
Food is sustenance, it is the building blocks upon which we are created and it ought to be a pleasure as well. Yes, healthy food can taste great!
Some of the basics include:
Choosing low glycaemic index foods
Consuming healthy proteins and fats
Opting for gluten and dairy free
Combining foods (protein moderates the blood sugar response, for example)
Natural, real foods
Where ever you are in your PCOS journey, there is hope and help. Growing evidence proves that lifestyle approaches are not only appropriate, they offer the best path from PCOS to health.
All my love,
Dr Rebecca Harwin
The PCOS Expert
Chiropractor, Bestselling PCOS Author