Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a confusing name for a complicated condition. First of all, you can have PCOS and not have cysts on your ovaries. At the same time, studies show that healthy women have cysts on their ovaries 25 percent of the time. So you can be in perfect hormonal health and have ovarian cysts and/or you can be cyst-free and have PCOS. It’s, well….confusing.
Another common misperception about PCOS? That it’s an ovarian disease, or a problem with the ovaries. In fact, the ovaries are simply responding to a system-wide hormone imbalance. In other words, your ovaries aren’t causing the problem. They’re victims of the wider hormone imbalance happening in your body.
You might be thinking, Well, that’s all fine and good, but what I really care about is healing my PCOS symptoms. How does knowing about what PCOS is and isn’t help me?
Here’s how: When you know that ovaries aren’t the cause of your problem—and what you’re experiencing is a larger hormonal imbalance—healing your PCOS and erasing your symptoms becomes much easier. The root cause of your symptoms—hormone imbalance—can be addressed with nutrition and lifestyle. (Whereas it is significantly harder, if not impossible, to address a clinical ovarian problem with nutrition and lifestyle modifications alone.)
And if you have PCOS, that’s good news! It means you can heal your PCOS and erase your symptoms with what’s on your plate, how and when you move your body, and other lifestyle choices. The best treatment plan for PCOS is the one you already have the power to do at home. Plus, lifestyle modifications cost no extra money and they have absolutely no side effects. Best of all? They really work.
PCOS Symptoms & The Importance of Food as Medicine
PCOS affects as many as five million women in the United States and it is one of the most common causes of infertility among women of childbearing age. PCOS symptoms—including weight gain, weight loss resistance, acne, missing or irregular periods, thinning hair on the top of the head and excess hair on the face and chest—can be annoying at best and debilitating at worst.
As if that weren’t enough, PCOS can come with long-term consequences. The condition can set the stage for other chronic conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and stroke. PCOS has also been associated with increased risk of anxiety and depression.
This is why addressing PCOS with lifestyle choices is so important, both for your health and fertility now AND in the future.
Whenever I’m working with a client who has been diagnosed with PCOS, the first changes I recommend are food and nutrition. Food is medicine when it comes to PCOS. One of the biggest pieces of the nutrition puzzle for PCOS is blood sugar stability and insulin sensitivity. That’s because high insulin levels interfere with ovulation. And while a lot of factors affect blood sugar and insulin, including genetics and the health of your microbiome, the single biggest factor is what you eat. A diet high in processed carbs and simple sugars will send your blood sugar and insulin surging. A diet high in healthy fats, phytonutrient-rich vegetables and other complex carbohydrates, and high-quality protein will keep blood sugar stable.
When you eat certain foods also makes a difference. I call the concept of matching your nutrition with your unique hormonal needs each week “Cycle Syncing®,” and it is one of the most important parts of any diet plan for women with hormone imbalances. If you don’t currently track your cycle and match your food with your shifting hormonal needs, get the MyFlo app and start tracking your 28-day cycle and aligning your food with your hormones.
Natural Strategies for PCOS
PCOS is best addressed with food and lifestyle modifications. Here are my top recommendations for healing the hormone imbalances associated with PCOS and erasing your symptoms:
Have healthy protein and healthy fat at breakfast. Try to eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking up to help keep blood sugar steady and keep you feeling full until lunch. Eggs and avocado make a good combo. Consider adding some leafy greens or other veggies so your plate is brimming with inflammation-fighting phytonutrients.
…But don’t overdo animal protein. A Harvard study showed that women improved their chances of fertility when they got more of their protein from vegetable sources than animal sources. For the absolute best sources of protein for your hormones, click here. (Spoiler alert: eggs are okay! They appear to be the exception to the rule when it comes to animal protein.)
Embrace the RIGHT kind of carbs. Not all carbs are created equal. While some carbs are notoriously bad for health—think baked goods, white bread, pasta—others are important for hormonal harmony. Most women with PCOS struggle on a low-carb diet, like Atkins or Paleo. I recommend making rice, quinoa, buckwheat and millet part of your regular diet.
Ditch caffeine. Caffeine is a catastrophe for your hormones. Numerous studies link caffeine with impaired fertility (which is a hallmark of PCOS) and general hormonal discord that it’s hard to keep up with them all. Here’s just a few: research shows that drinking 3 cups of coffee a day (consumed by either men or women) increases the risk of miscarriage by 74%. Coffee is considered equal to drinking alcohol and smoking in terms of impairing fertility. And coffee depletes the B vitamins that are so necessary for healthy ovulation and hormone balance. If you suspect you’re low on B vitamins, you can find the formula I recommend in my Balance Supplement Kit.
Tiptoe around toxins (and try to avoid them altogether!). Many of the everyday chemicals we’re exposed to through cleaning products, conventional health and body care products, lawn care products and household pesticides are endocrine disruptors and are known to to have negative reproductive, neurological, and immune system effects. The Environmental Working Group lists 12 of the worst endocrine offenders. Read labels on cleaning products carefully or, better yet, make your own products with vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils. A study commissioned by the independent research group, Women’s Voices for the Earth, found that a large number of popular cleaning products contained toxic chemicals that weren’t listed on the labels.
Sync your life to your cycle. When you live your life in accordance with your natural hormonal rhythms, your hormones are happier—and so are you. It’s as simple as that. Sync your life with the MyFLO tracker, the first ever hormone balancing app.
Tend your microbiome. A healthy microbiome, the group of bacteria that lives in your gut, means a healthy estrobolome, the colony of bacteria in the microbiome that help metabolize estrogen. Hormonal healing is impossible if your gut is out of balance. The best way to bring your microbiome into balance is to supplement with probiotics.
Patch up nutrient deficiencies. Micronutrient support is critical for women with PCOS. Our bodies need the B vitamins that can help with mood and progesterone production; the liver support that helps detox estrogen; the magnesium that helps balance the production of progesterone, estrogen and testosterone; the probiotics that help heal the gut; and vitamins D, K1, and K2 to support healthy immune function and regular ovulation. You can find all these supplements together in the Balance Supplement Kit I created specifically to bring hormones back into balance.
Focus on strength training. Some studies suggest that resistance training may have a therapeutic effect for women with PCOS.
Get some sleep. Sleep helps pretty much everything, including hormone regulation. Make getting more sleep a priority!
Always remember that once you have the right information about how your body really works, you can start making health choices that finally start to work for you! You can do this – the science of your body is on your side!
Get Actionable Advice in a FLO Coach Consultation
We believe that no woman should suffer simply because she has a period. And we also know that it’s not always possible to get access to functional and holistic healthcare solutions — sometimes they’re too far away and most of the time they are way too expensive. That’s why we offer phone and Skype consultation sessions with our FLO coaches.
In your consultation session, your coach will go over your health history and symptoms, get feedback on any health changes you’ve implemented from our resource library, review your hormone test analysis if applicable, and help you develop a plan of action to solve your symptoms.