by Amy Medling, founder of PCOS Diva
I often hear from women with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) who are frustrated and have lost all hope because the only advice their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill, and live with their symptoms. For much of my life, I was one of these women. One day in college, I found myself sitting in a cold exam room scared and confused, feeling lousy, not having had a period in months, and not understanding why. The doctor looked me in the eye and told me they would have to “jump through hoops” to get me pregnant one day. She renewed my prescription for the pill and sent me on my way. I felt helpless and hopeless. It was a dark moment.
After years of following mainstream advice from countless doctors, I realized that nothing was helping. The drugs they offered made me sicker and more miserable. I scoured the internet for information, read countless books, and went back to school to learn from experts. After hundreds of hours and tons of trial and error, I developed a protocol that allowed me to thrive.
I quickly realized that my PCOS Diva protocol could help others. There were millions of women just like me- struggling against our symptoms with medicine and advice that didn’t help. I could break what I learned into small, manageable steps that help women take control of their symptoms. Now I do just that. I am also the mother of an amazing daughter, my third child, and direct product of the lifestyle I forged.
Here are 10 things I wish someone had told me when I was diagnosed:
1) That you have it.
About 15-20% of women worldwide have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), but only 50% are diagnosed. There are many reasons for this, but primarily, PCOS has symptoms that overlap with other diseases and disorders. Irregular (or missing) periods, fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, acne, hirsutism, depression, anxiety, and more can all be the result of a variety of things. Worse, most health care providers treat individual symptoms without pinpointing the root cause.
2) No prescription will cure PCOS.
Most women are automatically prescribed the birth control pill and/or Metformin. Not only do both of these drugs have serious side effects, they mask the symptom instead of resolving the cause. There is nothing wrong with taking medication when you need it, but research indicates that diet and lifestyle changes should be the first line of treatment.
3) Diet and lifestyle changes are the first line of treatment.
When your hormones are out of balance, the first thing you need to do is get them reset. Eliminating processed and inflammatory foods is a great first step. Learn what foods make you feel energized and which leave you inflamed, bloated, and fatigued. You must make movement part of your day. Find something you love to do (dance, swim, walk, tennis) and make it a regular part of your day.
4) You can get pregnant.
Women with PCOS conceive and carry children. Yes, it may take longer to get pregnant. You may have to pay more attention to your diet, lifestyle, and cycles than other women, but most women with PCOS can start a family.
5) Untreated, PCOS can cascade into serious health problems.
6) Stress makes PCOS worse.
Daily stress impacts your body’s ability to function. When we experience stress, the brain signals the body to create more cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline as well as additional androgens (male hormones). All of these things spiral into a stress cycle which further imbalances our hormones.
7) Not all women with PCOS have cysts on their ovaries.
Diagnosis in now largely based upon symptoms dubbed the “Rotterdam” criteria.[i] These criteria include the original National Institutes of Health[ii] and EAE-PCOS Society diagnostic criteria. To be diagnosed with PCOS, a woman must present two out of the three criteria: 1- Anovulation, 2- Hyperandrogenism, and/or 3- Polycystic Ovaries (on an ultra sound). Even with these criteria in place, diagnosis can be tricky. Characteristics can vary widely based life stage, genotype, ethnicity, and environmental and lifestyle factors such as body weight and eating habits. Birth control pills may also interfere with test results because they lower androgens.
8) You likely also have nutrient deficiencies.
Most women with PCOS have some level of nutrient deficiency. It could simply be that they don’t eat a complete diet or that the foods they eat are causing inflammation. It could be that a genetic mutation like MTHFR that makes processing certain nutrients difficult. The birth control pill and Metformin both deprive the body of vitamin B. Pay special attention to your levels of vitamin D, magnesium, omega 3, inositol, and zinc.
9) The root cause of PCOS varies.
PCOS is really a syndrome because it is a collection of symptoms which vary from woman to woman. That may be because there are several root causes. For example, for a few reasons, the ovaries may produce too many male hormones (mainly testosterone) and trigger PCOS. The birth control pill is a second culprit. Many women have PCOS symptoms immediately after stopping the pill when the communication between the brain and ovaries doesn’t reconnect right away or if they had PCOS before going on the pill in the first place. PCOS may also have a genetic link; In fact, studies show that a woman with PCOS has a 40% likelihood of having a sister with the syndrome and a 35% chance of having a mother with the disorder.[iii] If heredity is the case, a woman’s PCOS may be triggered by rapid weight gain or other risk factors.
10) PCOS has upsides and you can absolutely thrive!
PCOS is not all gloom and doom. We have stronger muscles and bones. We are fertile longer, have a higher pain threshold, superior spatial skills, and are strong leaders. With the right care, you can resolve your symptoms, thrive, and live your best life with PCOS.
Amy Medling, best-selling author of Healing PCOS and certified health coach, specializes in working with women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), who are frustrated and have lost all hope when the only solution their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill, and live with their symptoms. In response, Amy founded PCOS Diva and developed a proven protocol of supplements, diet, and lifestyle programs that offer women tools to help gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health, and happiness.
[i] Rotterdam ESHRE/ASRM- Sponsored PCOS Consensus Workshop Group. Revised 2003 Consensus on diagnostic Criteria and Lon-Term Health Risks Related to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Fertility and Sterility, 2004; 81, 19.
[ii] Zawadaki, R and Dockerty M, Diagnostic Criteria for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: Towards a Rational Approach. In: Dunaif A, Given JR, Jaseltine F, Merriam GR, editors. Current Issues in Endocrinology and Metabolism: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Boston: Blackwell Scientific, 1992: 337.
[iii] Futterweit, A Patient’s Guide, 11.