Some of you may know that I have been struggling with a condition called PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) for quite some time. All my life to be exact, however the symptoms got increasingly unbearable over the last 6-7 years. During that time, I have spent thousands of dollars on medical care with western medical doctors, naturopaths, acupuncture, Chinese Medicine, books, dvds, you name it, I’ve done it. These resources have all been helpful in my education about PCOS, what is likely causing it, and what type of treatments currently exist to help the symptoms. Yes, there are only treatments to help the symptoms, no ‘magic bullet’ cure.
My First Treatment: For a few years I opted to try Yaz birth control pills to control the symptoms, which is the number one treatment western doctors prescribe for women with PCOS. Birth control prevents your ovaries from ovulating, while Yaz in particular has a higher amount of an anti-testosterone (Progesterone) that eases other symptoms like acne, losing hair (Alopecia), and excessive body hair (Hirsutism). I was also on another anti-testosterone called Spironolactone to further help the symptoms.
At first these drugs were a lifesaver. I felt better, didn’t have the terrible moods associated with my cycle, no cysts, no acne, no facial hair, and my head hair grew back. Then the side effects began to set in.
I think it’s important for us all to remember that drugs are here to help us with some things, but with chronic conditions, drugs act as a ‘stand-in’ for your current symptoms and give you a whole new set of other side effects.
Yaz: While Yaz helped with virtually all of the PCOS symptoms, it also made me gain weight, I had terrible headaches daily from the estrogen, and had NO libido. I am currently trying Ortho Tri-cyclen® Lo, which has a much lower estrogen count and still has progesterone. I’m only in the first month, so I’m not sure if this pill will work for me, but so far I do not have headaches, not lost my libido, and not gained weight.
Spironolactone: If you are not on birth control Spironolactone interrupts your periods and will make you irregular with random spotting. If you take a low dose you might be able to avoid the cycle interruption, but each person is different so you have to experiment with the dose. In most cases this drug is prescribed along with birth control. The worst part about spironolactone is it’s a diuretic. So it dries you out to the point where you can experience severe dehydration, dizziness, and an insatiable need to drink fluids but you are still always thirsty. I take 100 mg a day, half a pill in the morning and half at night. The trick to this drug is drinking lots of fluids with unsweetened electrolytes all day long. You will feel just fine if you can keep up with the water.
Metformin: At my rock bottom I tried Metformin for two weeks. That drug (I refer to it as if it were ‘that guy’ who was the biggest asshole I ever dated) gave me the worst flatulence and intestinal trouble, I have never been so uncomfortable in my life. The worst part of it was, it would not pass, so I was just bloated constantly and it did me no other favors. The drug did not help any of my PCOS symptoms at all. It took months for me to recover from the two week trial, I had to get colonics and do everything I could to re-flora-nate my intestines.
Progesterone: I saw a naturopath who had me try taking a sublingual liquid form of progesterone. I have never felt so sick in my life. My head was heavy, I had nausea, and I couldn’t hardly walk. Needless to say that treatment did not last long.
Natural Treatment: A few months ago I decided to quit seeing doctors and go off birth control completely. I was done with drugs and ready to make a major lifestyle change spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I have been reading about diet changes, fad diets, natural herbs, etc that supposedly cure PCOS – all of them different and all of them seemingly impossible to maintain. For example, who could not eat carbs…ever? No one. I’m happy to report that the ‘no-carb’ diet is not the answer and neither is a tremendous amount of exercise.
I began to change my diet. I didn’t just start eating meat all the time (high protein diet), I actually cut back a little on red meats and how frequently I ate meat. I increased my veggies and fish, but most importantly I increased my whole grains for fiber. Since I’m gluten-free that last one is hard, there are a lot of grains I cannot eat and many gluten-free baked goods are very starchy, high in calories, and sugar. Quinoa in grain form is what I turned to. I also started eating more brown rice along with healthy nuts like walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and almonds. I cut back almost 95% on gluten-free baked goods like breads, pastas, cookies, etc because most are made with potato flour, white rice flour, or corn. All starches and all convert to sugar.
I was eating a lot of trail mix with dried fruit, still ate my treats on occasion, and fruit. I still didn’t experience the greatest difference in my cycle…it was very painful. So onto the next month. I began massage therapy weekly for some muscular issues I have, I found this body worker (I call her that because she is so much more than a masseuse!) who literally changed my life. She stretched my muscles out that I never knew were so tight. She spoke to my uterus and sent loving and kind messages, she balanced my chakras, and gave me advice each visit of things I could do to help myself. She is an intuitive healer without a doubt and brought me to that next level of awareness that made me realize that I had a lot more work to do.
I started to take a look at my liver and also my sugar intake. While I didn’t eat a ton of treats, I ate them enough to have major Candida. Eating one piece of fruit would give me a yeast infection. I initially started a liver cleanse with a tincture called Coptis and Chinese Bitters. I found it worked, but during my detox I broke out like crazy, in odd places, so I scaled back because I’m getting married soon. I will start up again after the wedding when I’m free to break out without insecurities.
Cutting The Sugar: When you are so riddled with yeast, it’s hard not to crave sweets constantly, even fruit. Birth control pills make yeast in your body 10 times worse and so does not eating enough protein (have you ever noticed vegetarians LOVE sugar?). In the past I used to do yeast detoxes, but haven’t done one in years (I plan on doing these yearly now if not more often.). So I went over to The Herbalist (excellent Seattle and online herb store) and bought their Renew-U Tea and Beat The Yeast tincture package. I cut out all fruit, fruit juices, cereals with sugar, and sugar in general for two weeks. I also cut back on starches about 80%. The first few days were so hard! It feels like a demon inside of you is being killed and it’s lashing out for some sugar. It also feels similar to an addict wanting another fix. I drank the tea and put two dropper fulls of each tincture in the tea twice a day. I was very strict for two weeks and continued for a third week. What did I notice? My stomach immediately lost it’s pooch. My skin cleared up. My face was less puffy. Best of all I started my period on time, had no cysts, and no irritated uteran lining. I still had sore breasts, a little cramping, and without fail cried the day before I got my period. So that tells me there is still work to be done. The emotional instability I have before my period is much like a dark cloud. While I am happy in most cases, it really makes me doubt the people close to me and hence I take out my frustrations on them. It’s terrible and not something I’ve been able kick yet, but I am becoming more and more aware of how I can overcome it. After three weeks of yeast detox, my skin began to break out on my neck and back, which I have been told is the final stage of detox (when toxins excrete through the skin).
My goal is to continue on my low to no sugar diet, because truly for me cutting all sugars and doing a yeast detox was the final act of pushing me towards better health. I also am aware that when I get upset, whether it’s work or personal, I tend to want sugar or starchy carbs as a way to feel better. Sometimes I allow myself to indulge, but sometimes I go for a walk instead. It’s imperative to eliminate stress and situations that upset you, especially if they happen on a regular basis. Yes, we all have bad days from time to time, but if your relationships are causing upsets daily with your family or partner, work, or whatever else, it may be time to evaluate whether they really serve you.
Exercise: A lot of PCOS guidebooks and articles insist you need to exercise like a fiend to cure yourself of PCOS symptoms. I feel this is absolutely false. Exercising excessively actually increases your testosterone levels and can cause trouble with you muscles and joints. It’s also exhausting if you have a full life of work, kids, family, and friends. In my case, I love running, often. However, after 15+ years of running, I have both knee and hip problems. My muscles get so incredibly tight from the same repetitive movements that I’m at the point where walking long distances now cause me trouble from my excessive running. Massage therapy helps, but mostly I am just making daily decisions to be more active, whether it’s a walk, an intense bike ride, weights, yoga, or one of my favorite new discoveries The Wii’s My Fitness Coach (they have great cardio work outs!). None of those things hurt my knees or hips. I’m also trying new things like kayaking and paddle boarding. The world is full of fun activities – hiking, rock climbing, playing on a volleyball team, it’s exciting when you think about all the options! You can also incorporate more activity into your schedule like biking to work, or taking breaks for a walk at work.
Yoga and Breathing: Daily yoga has been an essential addition to my life. My practice reminds me to breath, stretches out my tense body (I exercise often), and connects me to everything and everyone around me. I cannot even express how important and valuable yoga is. If you are like me and do not have enough time to go to classes (nor want to pay for them), you might want to try Rodney Yee’s AM/PM Yoga DVD. It’s 20-30 minutes in the morning and night and the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I prefer Hatha type of yoga, it’s meditative, slow, and relaxing. Both the AM and the PM positions are in the Hatha Flow category.
Did you know that most of us hold our breath? Or suck in our stomachs and forgo fully breathing in? I realized that when I’m in front of my computer working, I hold my breath. When out with my friends in a nice form-fitting outfit, I suck in my stomach to avoid having a belly. In both cases which is about, oh I don’t know, my WHOLE DAY, I don’t breath in or out fully. When I started to remind myself to breath and that yes, it’s okay to have a belly, we all have one, my anxiety went away almost completely.
Spiritual Healing: A few months ago I started to take long walks through my neighborhood, while I listened to peaceful music, and concentrated on curing myself. I visualized myself being healthy and even asked the many flowers and plants I walked passed to help me in my journey. I know that seems silly, but I believe being disconnected from the earth is a large part of the reason we have health problems to begin with. Besides, why can’t the flowers and plants help? They are pure beauty, pure sunlight, pure oxygen-generators, and pure water – everything we are made of.
I also began addressing my rather traumatic childhood and began bi-weekly therapy. I have been in therapy most of my life but never was focusing on the one thing that seems to be the source of all my emotional troubles – my relationship with my mother. Reuters just recently published an article about how children who experience childhood trauma, abuse, and/or neglect develop chronic health conditions later in life like asthma, mental health issues, and diabetes to name a few. Furthermore, when you are constantly under duress as a child your adrenaline is spiking way too often (Fight or Flight) causing severe adrenal exhaustion and ultimately a hormonal imbalance (the very crux of PCOS)! Read the Reuters article here.
For me, this has been the most important realization of my life. If a relationship itself is toxic, it hurts you, whether you realize it or not. When people say hurtful things and you just brush it aside, it still enters your subconscious and often times your subconscious agrees to this information that usually is untrue. The best favor you can do for yourself is let go of toxic relationships, however painful it may be.
The Full Monty: When I say that, I mean you really do need to expose your whole self in order to heal your whole self. You can’t just take drugs to heal your body, or just change your diet, or just do counseling. They are all interrelated and I am finally at the point where I am ready to expose it all and shed the lifestyle and baggage that no longer serves me.
I don’t have all the answers and really everyone’s journey in becoming well is unique to them. We all have different experiences, genes, and tendencies, so someone else with PCOS might have an entirely different process to go through. In all cases, despite your condition, getting to the source is the key, so don’t be afraid. While it may be the most frightening experience at first, it’s also the most freeing.
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