There is a silent epidemic happening for women around the world that impacts weight, blood sugars, cardiovascular health, mood, cancer risk and fertility. It is the most common endocrine disorder in women, and between 50 to 70 percent of the women struggling with this condition remains undiagnosed. This silent killer is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and is often confused with thyroid disease, metabolic syndrome, or estrogen dominance. Even those women who are given the diagnosis often aren’t educated about the significance of this condition or given proper guidance, and so don’t protect themselves from the future consequences, which can include Type II diabetes, severe obesity, endometrial cancer, and autoimmune thyroid disease.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there is no test that definitively diagnoses PCOS and so identification relies upon examination of symptoms and assorted tests that look for a variety of results. Symptoms of PCOS can be vague or difficult for doctors to see as a whole. For example: It is estimated that 40 percent of the women ages 20–50 who have been diagnosed with diabetes or glucose intolerance actually have PCOS.
Because the spectrum of symptoms can vary so much from woman to woman, this can be a very difficult condition to understand. Additionally, although the name makes the cysts sound like a prominent feature, many women who have PCOS have never had the classic ovarian cysts. Although only women can be diagnosed with PCOS, men can still carry the trait genetically and are also more likely to have blood sugar irregularities, early thinning or balding of their hair, acne, and weight gain or difficult weight loss.
Women who suspect PCOS—especially those taking thyroid medications or working to change their blood sugars but are still having a hard time losing weight, normalizing their cycle, getting pregnant, or resolving symptoms—should consult with their gynecologist. Appropriate diagnosis is important because PCOS, if left untreated, can increase risk for some very serious conditions including breast cancer and endometrial cancer. Long-term risk for Type II diabetes is also strongly increased because of the blood sugar irregularities and diabetes can lead to blindness, amputations, cardiac disease, obesity, neuropathies and early death.
Cardiovascular disease risk is also elevated because of higher inflammation levels caused by the unbalanced blood sugars and hormones. Accurate diagnosis can help women take proactive steps to change their outcomes, their weight and their fertility.
By far the most important component of any natural treatment for this condition is diet. Because of the strong link to blood sugar irregularity and the severity of the consequences from those irregularities, it is important to adopt a low carb, low sugar diet that is rich with the antioxidants and nutrients that come from fruits and vegetables. A modified Paleo diet, with smaller meat and protein portions and larger vegetable portions, is extremely helpful for this condition. Also, many people with PCOS notice improvement in their symptoms from adopting a gluten-free, low grain diet.
One of the features of PCOS is excessive estrogen as well as higher than normal androgens, or male sex hormones, including testosterone and DHEA. These hormones can be balanced, but it is important to work with a knowledgeable doctor or natural practitioner. PCOS creates conditions that make supplementation with any natural hormone booster or modifier risky, and taking supplements without guidance can actually make the condition worse. This includes commonly used natural hormone balancers including maca, vitex (also called chaste tree), progesterone cream, DHEA, or any natural phytoestrogen, as well as natural libido enhancers such as tribulus or damiana. Conversely, supplements that help to reduce excessive levels of estrogen—including fiber, indole-3-carbinol (I3C), or di-indole methane (DIM)—are extremely beneficial and over time, help to normalize hormones and reduce cancer risk.
Modern medicine is far from understanding PCOS, and it is often overlooked. As a result, it is important for every woman to be aware of her own body and to have knowledge necessary to talk with her doctors if she suspects that there is more to her condition.