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PCOS: A Functional Medicine Approach for Healing

Updated: Oct 13, 2023
















"A functional medicine approach offers a promising path for women with PCOS, aiming to address the root causes of the condition and restore hormonal balance. "


Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex endocrine disorder affecting many women worldwide. It's believed that approximately 5% to 20% of women of reproductive age have PCOS, so if this article resonates with you, I encourage you to get tested. Traditionally, the treatment of PCOS has focused on managing symptoms through medication. However, a functional medicine perspective offers a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of the condition, aiming to restore balance to the body and improve overall well-being. In this blog post, we will explore the physiology of PCOS, its diagnosis, common symptoms, and the medication often used, along with potential side effects. We will then delve into the functional medicine approach, which incorporates sleep regulation, therapeutic diet, supplementation of herbs and nutrients, exercise, nervous system regulation, and genetic considerations. By adopting a functional medicine approach, women with PCOS can find hope in reducing or eliminating symptoms without the side effects of medication, while improving their overall health.


What is PCOS exactly?

PCOS is characterized by hormonal imbalances, particularly involving insulin, androgen (male hormone), and luteinizing hormone (LH). Insulin resistance plays a crucial role in PCOS development, leading to elevated insulin levels and subsequent increased androgen production. The excess androgens disrupt the regular menstrual cycle and contribute to the formation of ovarian cysts. Additionally, imbalances in LH levels can impair ovulation, resulting in fertility challenges.

Symptoms

Diagnosing PCOS involves a combination of clinical evaluation, medical history assessment, physical examination, and laboratory tests. The Rotterdam criteria are commonly used for diagnosis and require the presence of two out of three criteria: irregular or absent menstrual cycles, clinical or biochemical signs of hyperandrogenism, and polycystic ovaries on ultrasound. Common symptoms of PCOS include irregular or absent menstrual periods, excessive hair growth (hirsutism), acne, weight gain, mood swings, and infertility. Furthermore, many women with PCOS may experience metabolic disturbances such as insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. I often hear clients say that their GP told them that they have PCOS because they're overweight. It's actually the opposite; clients are overweight BECAUSE they have PCOS. PCOS makes it very challenging, if not impossible to lose weight the traditional "calories in vs. calories out" way. This olds chool approach can be very psychologically damaging and lead to disorders such as anorexia.

Traditional meds

Traditional treatment options for PCOS often include oral contraceptives to regulate menstrual cycles and reduce androgen levels. Anti-androgen medications, such as spironolactone, may be prescribed to manage symptoms like hirsutism and acne. Additionally, metformin, a medication typically used to treat type 2 diabetes, may be prescribed to address insulin resistance. While these medications can be effective in managing symptoms, they may also come with side effects. Oral contraceptives can cause nausea, breast tenderness, and mood changes. Anti-androgen medications may lead to digestive disturbances, dizziness, or irregular heartbeat. Metformin can cause gastrointestinal upset, vitamin B12 deficiency, and lactic acidosis in rare cases.

The Functional Medicine Way

  1. Sleep Regulation: Adequate sleep plays a vital role in hormone regulation and overall health. Optimizing sleep hygiene and establishing a consistent sleep routine can support hormone balance and improve PCOS symptoms. Prioritizing quality sleep allows the body to repair, restore, and regulate hormonal levels.

  2. Therapeutic Diet: A therapeutic diet for PCOS aims to stabilize blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and support hormonal balance. This may involve consuming a low-glycemic load diet, rich in whole foods, healthy fats, lean proteins, and fiber. Minimizing processed foods, sugar, and refined carbohydrates can help manage insulin resistance and reduce androgen production.

  3. Supplementation of Herbs and Nutrients: Certain supplements, herbs, and nutrients can assist in rebalancing hormones and managing PCOS symptoms. For instance, myo-inositol and d-chiro-inositol have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and regulate menstrual cycles. N-acetylcysteine (NAC) may help reduce androgen levels and improve ovulation. Other supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and magnesium, have shown potential in addressing inflammation, insulin resistance, and hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional or functional medicine practitioner to determine the appropriate supplementation for individual needs.

  4. Exercise: Regular physical activity is beneficial for women with PCOS as it can help improve insulin sensitivity, manage weight, and reduce stress levels. Both cardiovascular exercises and strength training can contribute to better overall metabolic health and hormone regulation. Finding enjoyable activities and incorporating them into a consistent exercise routine is key to long-term success.

  5. Nervous System Regulation: Stress management techniques, such as mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga, can help regulate the nervous system and reduce cortisol levels. Chronic stress can exacerbate hormonal imbalances and contribute to PCOS symptoms. By incorporating stress-reduction techniques into daily life, women with PCOS can support their overall well-being.

  6. Genetic Considerations: Understanding one's genetic makeup can provide valuable insights into individualized treatment plans for PCOS. Specific genetic variants, such as those related to insulin signaling or androgen metabolism, can impact the manifestation of PCOS symptoms. Genetic testing and analysis allow for a more targeted approach, tailoring interventions and personalized lifestyle modifications to address specific genetic factors.

Functional Testing Gives Us a Roadmap

Functional medicine practitioners often utilize advanced testing methods to gain deeper insights into the underlying factors contributing to PCOS. The Dutch test, which analyzes hormone metabolites, can provide a comprehensive picture of hormonal imbalances and guide treatment strategies. The GIMap from Diagnostic Solutions can assess gut health, as there is emerging evidence linking gut dysbiosis and inflammation to PCOS symptoms. Furthermore, the Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) can identify mineral imbalances that may be influencing hormonal disturbances in PCOS.

Healing Is Possible

A functional medicine approach offers a promising path for women with PCOS, aiming to address the root causes of the condition and restore hormonal balance. By incorporating sleep regulation, therapeutic diet, supplementation, exercise, nervous system regulation, and personalized genetic considerations, women can experience a reduction or elimination of PCOS symptoms without relying solely on medication. Furthermore, this approach not only improves PCOS but also promotes overall health and may address other underlying health issues simultaneously. With the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional, women can find hope in a functional medicine approach, empowering them to regain control of their health and well-being.


*this is intended for informational purposes only. PCOS is a complex disorder with bio-individual physiological factors. For personalized advice, book a consultation with me to begin your healing journey.





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