What do you do if you have irregular periods, you’re experiencing acne and facial hair growth, and you find out that you’re at risk for fertility issues and diabetes?
If you’re one of the five million people diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) — a hormonal disorder — you’re often slapped with a few prescriptions to help manage symptoms, and your doctor sends you on your way. “With PCOS, the conventional medical model is to prescribe the birth control pill, metformin, and spironolactone,” says Dr. Danielle Vogler-Bos (@drdanielle.nd). “However, it’s not addressing what’s happening in PCOS. It’s covering up the symptoms,” she says. Not only could traditional medicine be masking the symptoms, but studies have also shown that oral contraceptives could increase insulin resistance, deplete vital nutrients from our bodies, and increase inflammation throughout the body. Whatever the reason, some women might not want to use hormone therapy to treat their PCOS, but are there other options? Though everyone’s PCOS journey is different, Desorche shares alternative ways to manage the effects of PCOS as holistically as possible — just in time for PCOS Awareness Month (Sept 1-30).
Meet the Experts
Dr. Danielle Vogler-Bos is a licensed naturopathic doctor.
Kickstart your “period.”
For patients who go longer than three or four months without a period, Dr. Vogler-Bos stresses the importance of finding ways to reduce your risk of developing endometrial cancer — and this may include a temporary prescription to help you bleed. “For those specific women, I suggest that they use progestin, a synthetic progesterone, to trigger a bleed to try to prevent them from developing endometrial cancer. It’s possible that kickstarting this bleed could also encourage and stimulate their bodies to ovulate naturally,” says Dr. Vogler-Bos. “If you’re going a long time without any bleeding — and you’re not on birth control that’s regulating the growth of endometrial tissues — this could be a really dangerous situation for you. Unfortunately, there isn’t a completely holistic remedy that will just immediately trigger their period, so for those women, I’d recommend working with their OB/Gyn to get a prescription progestin. Then usually within a few months after starting progestin, we can work together on getting ovulation back on track, and they won’t need to continue relying on a prescription,” she says.
“Work on getting ovulation back on track, and [you] won’t need to continue relying on a prescription.”
It’s a great alternative to using birth control regularly, says Desorche. “I’ve had patients on birth control who try to do natural methods to support their body. But they can’t tell if they’re working because depending on their birth control, they are either not getting a period at all or the birth control is orchestrating it. So I like recommending the progestin approach because we can tell when improvement is happening. Also, we can tell when they’re getting their period on their own. With birth control, it’s more of a Band-Aid, and you can’t tell what’s going on with your body,” she says. To clarify, progestin isn’t an actual period, but it’s more of a “reset for the uterus, so your body can remove any uterine buildup,” she says.
Take a look at your diet.
What we eat has a big effect on our hormone levels. While many people turn to restrictive diets in hopes of losing weight and regulating their hormones, Desroches opts for encouraging her patients to eat in a healthier way to manage their blood sugar and promote hormone production by incorporating healthy fats, lots of protein, and fiber into their regimen. White flour, processed food, starchy carbs, and refined sugar are generally off the table as they can quickly increase insulin.
Add supplements to your routine.
Next, Dr. Vogler-Bos orders more tests to better understand how and where PCOS affects the patient’s body. This includes checking levels of vitamin D (promotes egg health and regular cycles), vitamin B-12 (helps convert food into energy), iron, TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone for thyroid levels), and ferritin, as well as a lipids panel to check cholesterol levels.
She also checks for fasting insulin since nearly 70 percent of people with PCOS have insulin resistance, leading to higher androgen hormones, more irregular cycles, weight gain, sugar cravings, and fatigue. In addition, Dr. Vogler-Bos recommends supplements such as prenatals (whether or not they are trying to conceive), vitamin D, probiotics, magnesium, and fish oil that help promote overall body health.
There’s also inositol — a B-vitamin that Dr. Vogler-Bos often uses with her patients. “The two types of inositol are Myo Inositol and D-Chiro,” she says. “There is a product specifically called Ovasitol, which combines Myo and D-Chiro Inositol in the same ratio found in the body. Research has shown that inositol can improve ovulation and regulate cycles. It also improves insulin resistance and can help us respond and use thyroid hormones,” she adds.
Get your body moving.
Getting enough physical exercise is always a good idea whether or not you have PCOS. But for those with PCOS who experience insulin resistance, regular exercise helps your body process sugar and increase metabolism. In addition, normalizing your insulin levels could potentially mitigate testosterone-related symptoms like acne and facial hair.
Try to reduce stress — for real.
Stress can exacerbate symptoms for those with PCOS. Increasing your cortisol (stress hormone) levels weakens your immune system, resulting in further insulin resistance, weight gain, and the overproduction of testosterone. However, implementing more calm into your life doesn’t need to be a lofty goal. You can start small with a 10-minute break during the workday to meditate or go for a brisk walk. It’s important to remember that mental health is just as important as physical health.