Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) also known as Stein-Leventhal syndrome or Syndrome O, is a metabolic disorder that causes hormonal imbalances as well as a vast array of other symptoms. Including:
- Irregular or absent periods (normally the main symptom)
- Ovarian cysts
- Insulin resistance
- Hair loss or even excess facial hair
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure and/or high cholesterol
- Mood swings
Of course, not all woman experience these symptoms in the same way. Some may have only one or two, while others feel each and every one of them. Sometimes getting a diagnosis is difficult, as test results aren’t accurate. Personally I’ve had multiple blood tests and the doctors have always mentioned that my hormone levels were considered ‘normal’. But the fact I was not ovulating meant otherwise. Some women also don’t even show the classic ‘cysts’ on their ovaries (the cysts are actually empty follicles) and others even have a period every month, although they don’t actually ovulate (annovular cycle).
And a staggering 10% of women actually suffer from this disorder, as it’s the most common cause of infertility.
What causes PCOS?
It’s unknown as to why some women may suffer from this disorder while others don’t, but your genes are thought to be a large factor. Nutrition is also a very big reason why some women struggle with PCOS. Researchers have also found that insulin production is also a large part of it. What you may not know, is that insulin is actually a hormone. And when one hormone is off balance, they all are.
It’s a domino effect.
An excess of insulin also seems to increase the production of another hormone, androgen. Androgen is actually a male hormone (that all women produce, but it’s supposed to be to a much smaller extent) that is made in fat cells, ovaries, and in your adrenal gland. When your body has to much androgen, it can cause ovulation problems as well as excess hair growth and weight gain.
Risks associated with PCOS
When I was younger, a lack of periods never bothered me. It was one less thing I had to worry about! But as I started researching, I found that there were also a host of other issues that could accompany a PCOS diagnosis. Women with PCOS have higher instances of:
- endometrial cancers
- heart disease and heart attacks
- type II diabetes
And personally I think the reason these risks are there is due to the diet that a lot of women with PCOS eat! Infertility and annovulation is just a symptom of a greater issue within your body.
What can you do about it?
PCOS can actually be greatly helped by better nutrition and change of lifestyle. While not easy, it can be done successfully. Most women find that being at a healthy weight relieves a lot of their symptoms. (excess toxins and hormones are stored within your fat cells!)
My own personal journey with PCOS began when I was very young. And since puberty, I never once had a regular cycle. Sometimes going years between each one. When my husband and I started trying to conceive, we knew it would take longer than it would for normal couples for the fact that I would still go 6-8 months between cycles and of course, never knew when I was actually ovulating. After my son was born, I decided I needed to try to get a handle on it and change my health, and after about 6 months, I had started ovulating regularly (every 8 weeks, but still – it was every 8 weeks. On. The. Dot!)
A few things that helped me the most were:
- Eating little to no processed foods
- Giving up a low-fat diet and eating only good, natural foods
- Cutting sugar out of my diet and using only natural sweeteners (i.e. honey, maple syrup, whole cane sugar)
- Lowering my carbohydrate/grain intake, not cutting carbs completely, but cutting back
PCOS doesn’t have to be a devastating diagnosis. It’s a livable and manageable condition. Just think of it as a wake up call to get your health in order. And not only will healthy living reduce or eliminate your symptoms, it can actually prolong your life by reducing the associated risks.
10 Natural Treatments for PCOS
Natural Progesterone and Luteal Phase Defects
I definitely feel better eating low carb.
It’s funny, I do to. I never thought carbs/gluten bothered me at all and then I went on the Maker’s Diet this past spring and couldn’t believe how much I started to bloat when I starting eating them again. (The maker’s diet has 3 phases and the first one is no grains)
I think one of the reasons so many are sensitive to gluten is that we start babies out on them so much younger than we used to and the other is we don’t prepare them like they did ‘way back when’.
Quick question…my husband and i have been trying to get pregnant for almost a year now. I went to the dr about 2 months ago and he ran a bunch of blood tests to find out that i have not been ovulating at all and that i have low progesterone levels. We lead a very heathy lifestyle (excersise and food)….i have been taking fish oil, b12, cinnamon (to help with blood sugar now) and a prenatal. He dr. just put me on metformin….i HATE being on medications like this but am willing to do what it takes. What do you think??? Should i also look into a natural progesterone cream?? Also, have you heard anything about Peru’s Maca root herb and how it affects progesterone? Sorry for the lost comment. I really appreciate your website and love reading.
Anonymous – I hope you look back here and see my reply since I have no other way of contacting you.
As to a healthy lifestyle, I don’t know exactly what you eat on a daily basis, but I too, thought I led a healthy lifestyle prior to a few diet changes. Try cutting out all refined sugar and using only honey for a couple months. This includes checking out processed foods, which you most likely won’t be able to eat anymore since they all have sugar in them. Also, make sure you’re not eating any white bread products.
Personally I don’t like the option of metformin, since it only helps your body out in a ‘fake’ sense. Once off of it, you’ll still suffer the same issues and a lot of times need to be on hormones throughout pregnancy as well.
As to maca powder, I was looking into that as an option but since have found myself pregnant so I am not going to be trying it personally. I’ll refer you over to Kimi at http://www.thenourishinggourmet.com
She is actually testing out several brands right now, using herself, her hubby and her parents as guinea pigs.
Let me know if you have any other questions, or if you’d like to speak in detail, just shoot me an e-mail to
(and don’t worry – all e-mails are kept confidential)
I just found your blog and I’m working through your archives (I know, I’m crazy for commenting on a post that’s so old!) But I just felt I needed to stop and say ‘Thank You’ for this post.
My situation is similar to yours, crazy cycles from day one, then put on ‘the pill’, then I got married and found out the bad news (PCOS). The diagnosis itself just about killed me. We almost lost our house trying to go the medical route. I was fast on my way to becoming a very angry, very bitter person.
So I finally started Paying Attention and started making small changes to my diet and lifestyle and while my weight refuses to cooperate, I’m having a cycle roughly every 4 months…. just, thank you.
Your writing is very gentle, non-dogmatic, and perfectly positive (ie, not that kind of happy-go-lucky positive that makes someone who IS still yearning for their first baby want to bite something). I feel that for sure I’m putting this badly, just…
(and now I’ll get back to going through your archives)
@Alexis, Thanks Alexis! And yes, I do know what you mean. 🙂 When I was TTC and searching for answers I got soooo tired of sites that “sprinkled baby dust”. Bleh. Gag. If you can’t find something you’re looking for, or have other questions, just let me know!
Thank you for this blog! I was wondering if MACA tablets can be taken with vitex, Bee pollen, Vitamin E, prenatal multivitamins, folic acid, royal jelly and wheat grass tablets. lol Yeah i know it’s a lot but i have been taken all the others and i wanted to add MACA to it.
Do you think there is a problem with my ‘cocktail’? lol
I have been down a long frustrating road as well with PCOS. I recently got the diagnosis this year and I have not had a period in 2 years. My husband and I would like to get pregnant, and I have been trying so hard to get rid of all toxins and chemicals as possible. I have been eating pretty strictly no sugars, preservatives, or any processed foods. I eat tons of fruits, veggies, whole grains, fish, and some chicken and eggs, I have been eating more beans and rice and quinoa instead of meats lately. I am not completely vegetarian, but I eat meat less often. I have recently cut out dairy as I was doing a detox, and I am thinking of doing raw dairy, I just havent done enough research on it.
I am also hypothyroid. The funny part is everything I read says to lose weight and eat healthy.. well I am 27, 125lbs (5’5″) and I am a personal trainer, and I eat very well.. so anyways this is all very frustrating because I dont know what else to do. I am about to go back to the fertility dr.. even though I really dont want to be put on drugs!!! 🙁 (He wants me to be on clomid) But I know it is not heatlhy to not have a period either.. If you have any other suggestions it would be great! Your website is great! Thank you!!
@Melissa, Since you mention hypothyroid, I’d really recommend listening to this podcast- http://www.blogtalkradio.com/undergroundwellness/2010/08/19/why-do-i-still-have-thyroid-symptoms-with-dr-datis (you can find it on iTunes as well under Underground Wellness)
As for diet, I’d really make sure you’re getting enough nutrients that are essential for fertility: http://www.naturallyknockedup.com/start-here/
and make sure that the grains and legumes you are eating have been properly soaked before consumption. otherwise you’re just losing the nutrients you’re trying so hard to build up. While conventional wisdom says to eat plant sources of protein, it’s actually backwards – don’t worry about the consumption of animal products.
Another couple of things would be to get your vitamin D levels tested. I believe it’s the 25OHD levels that need to be above 50 or 60. Less than that and you need to supplement with a really good cod liver oil.
Exercise also needs to be looked at because if you’re over doing it the body produces to much adrenaline and will slow down production of the reproductive hormones.
You could also try a supplement called Maca (it’s an herb/root veggie) or an herbal vitex supplement to help balance out hormones as well.
Hope that helps!
A friend gave me this website address b/c i told her i had PCOS and I’m glad i found this article and got to read the comments from other women and i want to answer your question about how I control my symptoms.
I’m 23 now and was diagnosed when i was 16, from some kind of natural doctor who did saliva testing and blood work to determine what the heck was going on with me. ( I had been having extremely difficult/painful periods since i started menstruating at 14). She determined i had Adrenal Fatigue, hypo-hypoglycemia, and PCOS and i have somewhat recently learned these are all connected, (as most things are.)
So the long and short of it is that i changed my diet so that i don’t eat soy, wheat, dairy, preservatives/etc, nor any added sweeteners, (i was even cutting out a lot of fruits for awhile). The thing was that i was addicted to certain foods, especially bread and sugars. But it doesn’t appeal to me at all anymore. now i want kale and quiona and mutton or something. mmm mutton. anyway.
I also started eating meat again..one of the things the doctor told me to get my period back was to get more cholesterol, protein, iron, nutrients in general. So i eat eggs once a day, meat a couple times a week. I also started making my lifestyle one in which i would have to work more. I started farming/bicycling as transportation, and i’ve even come to be a sheepherder for 5 months of the year in NE Arizona.
I still have painful periods every month. They’re about 45 days apart now, which is much better than 70. The things that help me the most are eating a varied diet (with plenty of meat and green things), low stress levels, and not over or under-doing it in terms of exercising.
So, all my treatments have been “free” so to say, and it’s taken 7 years for me to feel pretty much in charge. But i still have an aching pain down there that i don’t know what to do about it. it mostly hurts when i overexert myself (i’m quite an active person-chopping wood, carrying heavy stuff etc). I still worry/wonder about other cheap treatments i can do, or if i should go to a health care provider who would be willing to trade/barter for helping me.
I just wanted to share my story and thanks for reading, i know it was long. hit me up if you wanna talk more anyone [email protected] cuz women’s health is a passion of mine and it’s important dammit!
@Juniper, Have you tried any herbs at all? You could try researching different herbal options to try as I’ve heard good things from women who have used them to deal with issues and pain surrounding their period. Each woman though may need a different herb so it’s definitely not something that’s one size fits all.
Another thing to try is perhaps fertility massage. If you have adhesions that can make menstruation painful and massage can help break that up.
hope that helps a little!
Do you find that if you “cheat” or are not as strict with your diet during the month then you do not get your period. I just want to know if I seem crazy that although I try mostly to eat a real foods diet high in nutrients, I seem to notice that if I have too many slip-ups in a month I can pretty much predict that I won’t get my period. i know this is super late and kind of random but I would love to hear about your personal experience.
Also, some other sites that promote more of the pale approach to real food seem to oppose dairy, even raw. What are your thoughts on those arguments?
Thanks…love the blog!!
@Nicole, Honestly, I haven’t had enough time since switching to “real food” to figure this one out. I have yet to start cycling normally since becoming pregnant and then breastfeeding for two years. So time will tell now I guess!
As for paleo – I don’t oppose raw dairy for those who can tolerate it. 🙂 i also have a series going right now where we’ll look at each “diet” so make sure to check those out as they come up!
Do you have any tips for stress relief? I’ve done everything else, herbs, supplements, maca–and I already had a very good diet, but I still struggle and I suspect it is because I have absolutely out of control levels of stress. But nothing that is generally suggested to people to rid them of their stress works for me at all.
@sara, That’s a tough one. because i think each person needs to figure out how to destress their lives in ways that most benefit them. Going to sleep by 10pm is important. Along with that, eating animal proteins before 4 or 5pm can help lessen the stress of the liver since it naturally cleanses between about 1 and 3 am. Animal proteins take about 8 hours to digest, so you want digestion finished before 1am. Foods high in sweets and/or caffeine also cause the body stress.
I’m currently reading the book Organized Simplicity and it’s been really good to look at how I live my life, helping me to make more time for the things that matter. For me it also meant that I had to give up a lot of control, say no ( a LOT) and take on a lesser work load. And I don’t know what your ideas are on faith and religion, but the biggest part of it for me was surrendering my control over to God.
Over the last few years I’ve made big changes in making sure my life has as little stress as I can control. I constantly work on decluttering my house and paring back on my obligations. I also had to cut back on my hours working on my website. While the traffic and monetary boosts that come with working 40+ hours a week are nice – it didn’t fit in with my plan for my family and was causing me tons of stress. So some of the decisions I made were really tough, but in the end I have a lot less stress on my plate. And when other stressors happen (ummm….hello family) I can better deal with them.