PCOS is a common female condition in our society.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is the most common endocrine disorder* in women and is a major cause of infertility due to the lack of ovulation. The condition is poorly understood but has been known to have influences from genetic, metabolic, endocrine abnormalities and environmental circumstances.
The precise definition is based on having at least two of the following criteria:
- Irregular ovulation. Signs and symptoms include irregular or infrequent period cycles of 8 or less per year.
- Elevated androgens (dominant male sex hormones). Signs and symptoms include abnormal hair growth, hair loss, acne.
- Polycystic ovaries diagnosed by ultrasound.
The conventional approach to treating PCOS, is by pharmaceutical management. For example, ‘the pill’ encourages a monthly bleed and prevents the build-up of endometrial lining which poses a risk for developing uterine cancer; and ‘Metformin’, which is a blood-sugar controlling drug, assists with insulin resistance – a common neighbouring condition. These pharmaceuticals have many side effects and do not address fundamental issues that may be driving the hormonal imbalance in the first place.
Treating PCOS naturally:
Diet, stress management, and optimising liver and digestive function are paramount and fundamental in a the naturopath’s plan for treating PCOS. Whilst some conditions warrant the use of medications, other conditions may be better treated by a more natural restorative approach using naturopathy.
A naturopath’s fundamental approach to treatment involves a healthy eating plan to support weight loss, insulin sensitivity, optimal liver function and digestive function. Stress management is also paramount in helping to balance the HPA axis. The HPA axis (Hypothalamus – Pituitary – Adrenal axis), are key endocrine glands that govern hormonal influence via a negative feedback loop.
For example, if you respond to a stressful situation, certain hormones are secreted so that your body can respond appropriately, and once the stress has ameliorated, the feedback signals blunt the initial response. These biochemical rhythms ebb and flow depending on many variables such as the influence of diet, lifestyle, stress response, blood sugar irregularities, insulin resistance, thyroid function, liver and digestive function. Think of ‘dominos’… one issue knocks on to the next (or in conjunction with) and ultimately, this affects the female reproductive system.
Addressing PCOS is not only about improving your chances of fertility. Evidence has found that PCOS increases your risk of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension, especially at the post-menopausal stage of life.
PCOS and insulin resistance are closely inter-related, however women may have PCOS with normal insulin and blood sugar responses.
Insulin resistance may influence the elevation of androgens by its synergistic action with female hormones (luteinising hormone) and the production of the sex hormone binding globulin in the liver.
Dietary influence and exercise programs are fundamental for improving insulin sensitivity, and they form the basis of the naturopathic treatment plan; however, key vitamins and minerals that also play a role are assessed and supplements may be prescribed for better management and progress. An example of where supplements may be needed are when:
‘The pill’ can leave side effects, such as the depletion of B vitamins, and deficiency of vitamin D, which is suggested to play a role in insulin resistance.
The liver plays an enormous role within the body, and is responsible for the detoxification of hormone metabolites and ‘toxins’ that act as hormone disruptors.
One of the ways to improve the clearance of excess hormone metabolites is to increase the production of the ‘sex hormone binding globulin’ in the liver. Foods such as linseed meal can be incorporated into the dietary plan to improve such function in the liver. However, there are many more dietary influences (positive and negative) that play a part in improving liver function, and this is why naturopathy looks at diet as a major foundation for the treatment plan. Key minerals, amino acids, vitamins and herbs may also be required to bring the liver back to optimal function, and to assist hormonal balance and excess clearance.
Elevated Androgens and Oestrogen Dominance:
The production of excess androgens in women with PCOS occur in the ovaries and adrenal glands, and is caused by the derangement of steroidal enzymes. The high free testosterone correlates with high levels of luteinising hormone (LH), which then inhibits the production of the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), causing infertility. The oestrogen dominant picture is triggered by an imbalance with the HPA axis where the secretion of hormones have knock-on effects and hinders ‘normal’ biorhythms of female reproductive hormones.
Signs and symptoms of PCOS are:
- Irregular or unpredictable cycles
- Cystic acne or acne to the face, back, and/or shoulders
- Abnormal hair growth
- Insulin resistance – difficulty losing weight, blood sugar problems, obesity
When it comes to treating PCOS in a natural way, we complete an assessment of your hormones, thyroid, blood lipids and stress responses; address dietary and lifestyle influences; and provide a step by step naturopathic plan.
If you’d like any further information of how naturopathy can assist you with PCOS and balancing hormonal issues, please get in contact or book in for an appointment!
* The endocrine system includes the network of glands (e.g. hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, pancreas, ovaries) that secrete biochemical messages (hormones) into the circulatory system, to alter the function of targeted organs and cells. It is the imbalance of these biochemical messages caused by many variables that gives rise to the disease.