Monday, September 1, 2008

PCOS

Continual, stubborn weight gain is something we hear about almost every day here in the MassAttack clinic. After a visit to the GP, so many women are told that they just need to eat less and exercise more. It’s no wonder so many of us get so frustrated with this response and we walk away thinking “Did he/she even listen to any of what I just said?” When healthy diet and lifestyle changes do not initiate weight loss, it might be time to look into an underlying hormonal imbalance such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.

PCOS is a condition that affects around 5-10% of Australian women of reproductive age and is the most common endocrine abnormality of women in this age bracket [1]. Before ovulation, hormones signal 100-1000 follicles to start developing in order for one to dominate and go on to rupture and release an egg, ready for fertilisation. When the hormonal signal is disrupted, the dominant follicle does not rupture, hindering ovulation, and forms a cyst[2]. This process is characterised by an increase in androgen (e.g. testosterone) levels and can be assessed via a blood test or ultrasound.

In order to diagnose PCOS, one or several of the following may be present:

  • Irregular or absent ovulation
  • Irregular or absent menstruation
  • Infertility
  • Hirsutism (male pattern hair growth)
  • Insulin resistance
  • Obesity/stubborn weight gain
  • Acne [3]

Risk factors:

  • Genetics: hereditary link between family members
  • Obesity: interferes with hormonal regulation, increases risk of insulin resistance
  • Insulin resistance: occurs when normal levels of insulin do not have the desired effect on cells, resulting in constantly elevated glucose and insulin levels. This can lead to diabetes, weight gain and may cause or contribute to androgen excess
  • Stress: may interfere with hormonal regulation and increase androgen levels
  • Hormonal imbalances[4]

Medical treatment has largely focussed on hormonal treatment (OCP, Clomid), weight loss or insulin resistance (Metformin, Diabex) but it is a mix of the above factors that are needed in order to achieve a positive outcome. Weight loss will be an uphill battle if tackled on its own so let’s look at the bigger picture to get the results you are searching for.

Address hormonal imbalance: It is possable to correct these imbalances via nutrients, dietary and lifestyle modification.

Increase phytoestrogens: foods such as nuts and seeds (especially flaxseeds), soy products, legumes, sprouts and fruits and vegetables all produce oestrogen like effects in the body and can help to balance hormones.

Regular exercise: 2-3 times per week will help with insulin resistance, oxygen transport, weight loss and toxic elimination.

Dietary modification: increase good quality protein (fish, lean meat, nuts, seeds, legumes, yoghurt) eliminate saturated and trans fats, increase fibre to assist elimination and limit hormones re-circulating through the system, limit carbohydrates to one meal per day (oats, brown rice).

Reduce sugar cravings and address insulin resistance: eat small, frequent protein based meals and snacks, which will help regulate appetite and metabolism, limit fruit and sugar intake. Herbs such as Gymnema or nutrients such as Chromium, Lipoic acid and Magnesium may be useful in regulating blood sugar levels.

Avoid coffee and caffeinated drinks: places undue stress on the adrenal system and can also interfere with blood sugar regulation.

Moderate alcohol intake: small amounts can have a protective effect but too much puts strain on the liver, which can disrupt digestion and elimination.

Reduce stress: may reduce adrenal output of androgens, help to improve energy levels, promotes inner harmony. Perhaps try a yoga class, go for a long walk, try some deep breathing exercises or try some retail therapy.

Hair removal: waxing and electrolysis discourages thick hair growth by thinning the hair shaft.

Taking a multifactorial approach to treatment will cover many of the varied aspects of this common health concern. Many of the complications of PCOS can be avoided through adequate nutrition and weight loss and a fully functioning hormonal system will be the result of your efforts. You’ll be amazed at how much better your body functions and how much better you feel. So, let’s get moving…

Emma Scasni is a qualified naturopath at MassAttack Health Clinic and has a keen interest in women’s health. Emma is passionate about all aspects of natural health and is happy to offer support and advice to new and existing MassAttack members. MassAttack specializes in natural treatment programs for women with hormonal imbalances such as PCOS, Fibroids, Endometriosis & thyroid imbalance. Narelle Stegehuis, CEO of MassAttack, is the recipient of the Australian Naturopathic Excellence Award 2006 and can be contacted at narelle@massattack.com.au

[1] http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/187_06_170907/tee10663_fm.pdf
[2] Suzie O’Donohue, Gynaecology: Approaches to Treatment with Natural Therapies, SSNT, 2003 pg 55
[3] Ibid
[4] Suzie O’Donohue, Gynaecology: Approaches to Treatment with Natural Therapies, SSNT, 2003 pg 56