My Journey with PCOS and Chinese Medicine
I can say without a doubt that having Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) has been the most difficult, frustrating and complicated disorder I’ve experienced. I have dealt with PCOS for over half my life and it is still a struggle as an adult as it was when I was 18 starting to experience my first symptoms of PCOS.
As a teenager, I always had regular periods every month but It wasn’t until freshman year in college I got sick with Epstein Barr (mono) is when I started seeing symptoms of PCOS. Long after I got over mono, I was still feeling constantly tired, losing large amounts of hair, getting cystic acne, gaining weight, having a hard time losing weight, and gnawing hunger even after eating. This continued for years till I went to see a doctor. My lab tests showed that my testosterone levels were high followed by an ultrasound of my ovaries which showed tiny cysts growing. At the age of 25 I have never heard of PCOS. My doctor at the time said to me, “PCOS is only an issue if you want kids… you should do some research on the internet to learn more about it.” Needless to say, I never saw that doctor again.
Unfortunately, this is really common, from my own experience and hearing from others, doctors marginalize the illness because they view it as just an infertility issue when that is just one aspect of the disease. I felt that my health didn’t matter unless I wanted to bring life into the world. I went home disappointed and confused wondering if would ever feel normal again.
After being diagnosed, my acupuncturist mentioned to me that Chinese medicine could help with the symptoms. I took a leap of faith and got treated with acupuncture once a week and drank an herbal tea (that my acupuncturist prescribed to me) every day for a year. In between that year and some lifestyle changes, I did start to feel less tired, my acne cleared up, and I started to lose weight slowly. After a year of treatment, I decided to go back to get an ultrasound of my ovaries because I was curious to see if there were any physical changes. Not expecting much, I was surprised when the ultrasound technician showed me on the monitor that my cysts were gone! I couldn’t believe it. That was when I truly believed in Chinese medicine and it is the reason why I became an acupuncturist myself.
Here is what I have learned over the years about PCOS.
PCOS is an endocrine disorder distinguished by elevated androgen (testosterone) levels, dysfunction in hormone signaling, insulin resistance and inflammation that leads an array of symptoms that causes reproductive and metabolic issues such as infertility, amenorrhea, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular issues.
Symptoms of PCOS can include: irregular menstruation, no menstruation, infertility, weight gain, hard time losing weight, acne, hair loss, hair thinning, fatigue, hyperpigmentation of skin or scars, insomnia, and unusual hair growth (on face, chest, back or buttock). Not all women who have PCOS experience all the symptoms listed above. To be diagnosed with PCOS 2 out of 3 criteria must be met: blood tests show hyperandrogenism, there being a history of menstrual dysfunction, or an ultrasound shows you have polycystic ovaries. If you suspect you may have PCOS it is important to call your doctor to get a proper diagnosis.
Unfortunately, there is no cure to PCOS but it is possible to manage PCOS without having any symptoms. Management of PCOS should start with nutrition and lifestyle changes, this alone can help stimulate ovulation, regulate menstruation, increase fertility and weight loss.
Here are a few tips to healing your PCOS:
o I recommend eating a low glycemic load diet. A low GL diet will help keep blood sugar and insulin low thus keeping testosterone controlled which is the root of the issue. Stay away from processed foods, simple carbs, and added sugars.
o Eat more organic fruits and veggies! Pesticides from fruits and veggies are hormone disruptors which can alter your own hormones when ingested or absorbed through the skin.
o Eat gluten and dairy free. Going gluten and dairy free will help with reducing inflammation within the body to help it stop releasing chemicals to fight whatever is inflaming it. Inflammation has been linked to cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and asthma.
o Eat berries because they contain higher amounts of antioxidant which helps fight inflammation.
o Sleep is so important! Studies have shown that women who don’t get good quality and long enough sleep have higher levels of cortisol in their blood leading to obesity and insulin resistance. Poor sleep also lowers melatonin levels which decreases ovarian function. If you wake up early to exercise but don’t have the energy to do it or just feel tired it is OK to sleep in. Listen to your body because it is telling you that you need more rest. So, don’t feel bad for hitting the snooze button. Sleep can do way more for you than working out tired.
o Stress plays a major role in PCOS. A study showed that women with PCOS who had high levels of stress had higher cortisol levels showing a direct link to increased body mass index, visceral adiposity, and hip-waist-ratio. So, it is important to find some activities that help reduce your stress like walking, meditating, yoga, Pilates, singing, dancing, hanging with friends, coloring, crafting, or breathing exercises.
o Get regular exercise but don’t overdo it. Studies have shown that cardio stresses the body out increasing cortisol levels in women who have PCOS which is why we have a hard time losing weight even though we are working out like crazy. Stressing your body with endless cardio will only make your symptoms worse.
o Resistance training has shown to be more effective in shedding weight in women with PCOS. Lifting weights helps your cells uptake sugar from your blood stream to be burnt as energy thus helping you lose weight.
o Exercises that are less intensive and more relaxing like yoga, Pilates, meditation, breathe work, and walking will help you destress and lose weight faster.
o Focus more on eating right rather than exercising yourself to death. If you are eating healthy to heal PCOS there should be no reason why you should be over doing it with exercise.
o Many studies have shown that acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas can help with PCOS symptoms such as regulating hormones, reducing stress, regulating menstruation, stimulating ovulation, improving insulin sensitivity, increasing ovarian blood flow, decreasing ovarian cysts, increasing energy, clearing acne, and aiding in weight loss. It is recommended to get treated 1-2 times week along with lifestyle changes in order to see significant change in PCOS symptoms.
Bahman, M., Hajimehdipoor, H., Afrakhteh, M., Bioos, S., Hashem-Dabaghian, F., & Tansaz, M. (2018). The Importance of Sleep Hygiene in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome from the View of Iranian Traditional Medicine and Modern Medicine. International journal of preventive medicine, 9, 87. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijpvm.IJPVM_352_16
Basu, B. R., Chowdhury, O., & Saha, S. K. (2018). Possible Link Between Stress-related Factors and Altered Body Composition in Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Journal of human reproductive sciences, 11(1), 10–18. https://doi.org/10.4103/jhrs.JHRS_78_17