I have PCOS; Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. PCOS is a health problem that affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. But even then PCOS can cause problems from puberty onward. As a child, I was overweight and had horrible acne much younger than my peers. When puberty hit, my menstruation cycle was completely out of whack. I would have 2 or 3 periods a year and those periods were heavy and painful. I was put on birth control pills when I was 14 years old. The pill didn’t do anything for my weight or complexion but it forced my menstrual cycle into line.
I didn’t know I had PCOS back then. I kind of coasted through my teenage years and early 20’s without much change. I was unhealthy; verging on type 2 diabetes, and already with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and very overweight. I wasn’t eating that bad and I was at least moderately active but nothing budged. Then, in my mid-20’s, I decided to go off my birth control pills. (I wasn’t sexually active and I was sick of paying for them.) Huge mistake. My body freaked out.
My weight skyrocketed to the heaviest I’ve been in my life. I had acne constantly. Periods were nonexistent but I still had horrible cramps. I started having problems with my joints and muscles aching. But the worst, emotionally, was my hair starting to fall out. I would find big clumps of hair on my bathmat after showering and there was hair all over my clothing. It was devastating. My part and the crown of my head began to get thin. I could see my scalp. I had always had thick, wavy hair and to see most of it end up on the floor was heartbreaking.
Signs you may have PCOS…
I had no idea what was happening. I went to the doctor and she did tests on my thyroid but said they came back normal. I had to keep pushing and even then I pretty much diagnosed myself and contacted an endocrinologist. He repeated the test and more. Found out my thyroid was a little low, just not low enough for my regular doctor to bother with. I was put on synthroid, metformin, and spironolactone. The synthroid helped my low thyroid numbers, the metformin helped with the blood sugar issues, and the spironolactone helped with the high blood pressure. This is pretty much the trifecta of medicines a doctor will put a PCOS patient on.
For about 5 months, this worked. My hair stopped falling out and I just felt better. My skin cleared a little and my weight stopped going up. Unfortunately, the metformin tore my stomach apart. I had a constant upset stomach and with some foods I’d get horrible pains, that I later found out was from extreme bloating and gas. Apparently, the metformin can do that to some people. I was taken off the metformin but then all of the benefits stopped too. I was right back where I started.
I tried so many things and it took about two years of adjustments before I found something that really worked. Here is what I did…
• Sugar. There are lots of ways to try and control the insulin resistance that comes with PCOS; like metformin, cinnamon, or chromium. But the only sure fire way and the most effective is to limit your sugar intake. The goal is to get yourself down to 4 teaspoons of additional sugar a day. I’ve since stopped drinking soda and only lightly sugar my coffee and tea. It took time to wean myself off the sugar but it was worth it.
• Diet. I had a terrible diet when I was a teenager. A picky eater in the extreme and then I ate junk and too much of it. It was only in my upper 20’s that I branched out and started to vary my diet. Avoid junk food and processed food. Shop the outer ring of the store; fresh fruit, veggies, and meats, before going for anything in the center of the store. Whole foods are much better for you and your body.
• Gluten free. I only saw great improvement in my health when I went gluten free. My joints and muscles stopped aching. My headaches lessened and my stomach issues declined. I was also able to start taking metformin again without it upsetting my stomach. Also, I began to have periods again. If I eat gluten, I can instantly feel it. A headache within 20 minutes, upset stomach by an hour, and joint and muscle soreness by the next morning. I used to have to wear an ankle brace on my left ankle just to be able to walk without pain. I no longer have to do that and it was only after going gluten free. I also won’t have a period that month if I eat gluten, even though I take birth control pills again.
• Exercise. As in you have to do some. Many of the symptoms of PCOS can be helped with moderate exercise and strength training. I try to get up and walk as often as I can at work and then at home I use a small floor cycle and a set of weights to focus on my arms. I have lost and kept a good amount of weight off and it helps your body in many, many ways. I can’t stress how much a sedentary lifestyle will hurt you in this situation.
- Anxiety/Depression. Mental health problems almost always come hand and hand with PCOS. Maybe you think you’re coping, maybe you think you can handle it. But let me tell you that you will feel a world of difference if you take your concerns to your doctor. I’d always been a shy, introverted, and anxious person but I never thought I had depression or a mental health problem. When I started having panic attacks at night last spring, I had to admit to myself that I needed help. It’s made me feel so much better and really lowered my stress level.
Along with the prescribed medications, I also take several supplements to counteract the symptoms of PCOS, which I will address in my next post. There is no way to cure PCOS, but we can manage the symptoms. Lifestyle change, diet, and exercise will be the fundamental foundation that you will build your PCOS treatment on.
Links for some further reading: