What is PCOS? Can it be treated naturally?

PCOS and natural treatment

PCOS might sound a bit like a robotic sounding set of letters put together (or Elon Musk's next childs name), but let's break down what it is and what to do if you’ve been diagnosed with it. 

Put simply, PCOS or poly cystic ovarian syndrome is a hormonal condition with a pretty strongly misleading name. The name suggests it has a lot to do with extra cysts on the ovaries (‘poly’: many, ‘cystic ovaries’: cysts on the ovaries), but in fact it doesn’t have much to do with that at all! In previous years, before clinical trials started to reconsider the diagnostic criteria for PCOS, doctors usually ordered an ultrasound of the ovaries to check if you have excess cysts and if you do, diagnose you with PCOS. It’s since been shown that a lot of women in reproductive years can have excess little cysts on their ovaries in any given month and not have PCOS so you therefore cannot be diagnosed with PCOS with an ultrasound alone.

It turns out that those multiple little ‘cysts’ are just follicles or eggs that are normal for an ovary to have and sometimes it’s normal to have higher amounts, especially if you’re a teenager because you have a lot of eggs. If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS based on an ultrasound alone, it may be time to get a second opinion!

OK, so we know what PCOS isn’t, so what is it!?

PCOS is better described as a hormonal condition of high androgens (male type hormones like testosterone), when all other reasons for it have been ruled out. 

High androgens cause all sorts of undesirable symptoms like acne on the face, chest and/or back, oily skin, excess hair growth (on jawline, around the nipple, below the navel), thinning hair on your head, weight gain, irregular periods, missing periods or sometimes difficulty falling pregnant. 

Just what a woman needs… not!

What to do if you’ve been given a diagnosis of PCOS?

Step one: Consider if it really is PCOS. Do you have symptoms listed above and/or a test to show high androgens? Have you been given a diagnosis based on an ultrasound alone? Have all other reasons for high androgens been ruled out? A common condition that is often misdiagnosed as PCOS is hypothalamic amenorrhoea (HA) where your periods go missing and symptoms present similarly to PCOS.  If you’re unsure, it’s best to talk to your health care provider, naturopath or doctor before you go any further. 

Step two: Ask yourself “What kind of PCOS do I have?”. Yep, there are multiple types! 

The 4 types of PCOS are insulin resistant, post-pill, inflammatory and adrenal. It’s always best to find which type of PCOS you have with the help of your health care provider as there are various tests to take to rule in/out each type.

Step three: Learn how to treat your type of PCOS. 

The treatment of PCOS varies depending on the type you have, so working closely with a holistic practitioner is key to getting results. 

Insulin resistance PCOS

Where the increased androgens come from high insulin, a bit like pre-diabetes, in response to an extra sugary diet or a genetic susceptibility to being insulin resistant. *Note: you don’t have to be overweight or eat excessive amounts of sugar to have insulin resistance, in fact this is the most common type of PCOS that women have. If you’re unsure if this is you, talk to your health care provider to test your bloods.

  • Treatment for this type of PCOS includes cutting down on sugar (cakes, biscuits, lollies), balancing your meals with good fats and protein, and supplementing with blood sugar balancing nutrients like Magnesium.

Post-pill temporary PCOS

Where increased androgens start after coming off some types of hormonal oral contraceptive pills (OCP). When you are on hormonal contraception, your hormonal system is completely shut off and all sex hormones including testosterone are suppressed. So when you come off of it, your body ‘rebounds’ with a large surge of testosterone as it remembers how to produce normal amounts again. 

  • Treatment for this type of PCOS includes increasing green leafy vegetables in the diet, considering an anti-androgen supplement like zinc, and knowing that it might take some time for your body to rebalance itself.

    Inflammatory PCOS

    Where increased androgens are driven from chronic inflammation in the body. An inflammatory chronic condition could be related to gut health dysfunction, food intolerances, or digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

    • Treatment for this type of PCOS includes addressing what is going on to cause the inflammation, whether it be removing dietary triggers like dairy, or correcting a gut microbiome imbalance. Also considering an anti-androgen supplement like zinc. 

      Adrenal PCOS

      Where increased androgens are due to an irregular stress response. This is pretty similar to another condition called congenital adrenal hyperplasia, so if you think this is you, check with your doctor or natural therapist to confirm through testing. 

      • Treatment for this type of PCOS includes managing stress in your life, increasing self care practices, getting a  good night's sleep and considering supplementing with Magnesium.

        As you can see, PCOS can be a tricky condition to navigate alone, so I always suggest working with a practitioner to get the right kind of treatment, diet suggestions, supplements and/or herbs. 

        If you’d like to book in with me or see how a nutritionist can support your PCOS, then you can book a consult with me here.