“The idea that we have to experience ourselves and be treated as if we are ill and wrong rather than individuals with our inherited physiology with some common experiences related to that is what I want to change our minds about.”
Dr. Nancy Dunne is a pioneer in holistic handling of PCOS and was instrumental in my own healing journey. Her positive spin on PCOS, focusing on the benefits of being a high androgen, inherently insulin resistant woman, is life changing. In her view, “We are human beings with highly androgen influenced nervous systems and fundamentally feminine emotional hearts which is a very beautiful and very powerful combination of characteristics that should be developed and celebrated rather than suppressed and hidden.” In short, women with PCOS must adopt a powerfully positive lifestyle and perspective in order to truly thrive. Listen in as we discuss:
- The positive aspects of PCOS
- The 2 steps you must take to alleviate your suffering
- The importance of spirituality in healing
I teach high-androgen, inherently insulin resistant women diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) to maximize the many advantages we are born with & to minimize aspects that cause distress. In consultation, women living with PCOS are guided to learn behaviors that help create optimal well-being. As a postmenopausal woman with PCOS, having raised a peaceful, positive, thriving daughter who has PCOS & successfully treated hundreds of other women, I can assure us all that the rewards of naturopathically-informed self-care are profound & utterly reliable. I have served in a variety of volunteer leadership roles in the naturopathic medical profession with passion & gratitude. I earned my medical degree at National College of Naturopathic Medicine in 1989 & a Master of Arts/Applied Behavioral Science from Bastyr University in 2002. Before that I was an obstetrical RN & a homebirth midwife. I am fascinated with aging & dying & what comes next! I can be found at: www.PCOSConsultations.com
|Hello and welcome to the PCOS Diva Podcast, this is Amy Medling, I’m a certified health coach and I’m the founder of PCOS Diva, and I am just so honored and really thrilled to be speaking with a woman who I think is a pioneer in holistic handling of PCOS and she was really instrumental of my healing journey for PCOS and that is Dr. Nancy Dunne and welcome to the podcast today.
|Thank you, I’m glad to be here Amy.
|I just want to share with our listeners a little bit about how I discovered your brilliant work. About ten years ago, you published the book The Natural Diet Solution for PCOS and Infertility and ten years ago it literally changed my life, it really helped me to look at PCOS beyond the pharmaceutical drugs and that I really had control over my body and my PCOS. I wanted to just share a quote from your book that gosh I have it underlined and starred and it was really … helped me to move beyond the pain and struggle of PCOS.
|This is your quote you say, “I want to share my experiences treating PCOS and its accompanying difficulties by using natural therapies. PCOS can be a devastating experience with health consequences that reach deeply into a woman’s life. The burden of this condition can be lightened, even erased in many cases with your active participation, your willingness to learn and make changes. It is challenging and exhilarating to take your health in your own hands and make your life the best it can be.”
|I feel like I took that charge and here we are now talking on the PCOS Diva podcast so thank you, thank you, thank you.
|For helping inspire me.
|You’re very welcome.
|I know you inspire many others, I was just talking to Dr. Fiona McCulloch which our listeners are probably familiar with the podcast we’ve done with her and her writings and she’s coming out with a new book and she also credits you as being just a pioneer and inspiring her work with women with PCOS. Before we get into our discussion today, I just wanted to give listeners a little bit more about your background. You are a naturopathic physician and I love this little bio that you put together for me I’m just going to read it verbatim.
|You said that, “I teach high androgen inherently insulin resistant women diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome to maximize the many advantages we were born with and to minimize aspects that cause distress in consultation women living with PCOS are guided to learn behaviors that create optimal well-being. You as a post-menopausal women with PCOS having raised a peaceful, positive, thriving daughter who has PCOS and successfully treated hundreds of other women. I can assure us all that the rewards of naturopathically informed self-care are profound and utterly reliable.”
|I love how you put this really positive spin on PCOS. I was wondering if you could explain to us what your philosophy is or your view point of women with PCOS and what is the benefit of being a high androgen inherently and insulin resistant women.
|The way I think of the high androgen inherently insulin resistant woman as normal human females impacted by an increasingly abnormal environment. It’s my contention that the underlying problem of defining PCOS we’re all aware that we’re not even sure if this is the right name and we have multiple sub-categories, we have this ongoing problem and even saying what PCOS is and I think that’s because we have not examined the possibility that we stop trying to parse these degrees of androgenicity of insulin resistant and fertility among human females as if there were a clear logical demarcation between normal and abnormal rather it seems very obvious that we exist on a continuum.
|That each one of us is a completely unique individual with our own specific phenotypical body expression of our inherited tendency to high androgen and inherently insulin resistant status. It’s important for us to remember that physicians and research scientists are human beings that are burdened by the same cultural and social biases that every human being is and that reliably is a strong word but I’m going to say that reliably perverts the direction of research and conclusion in research.
|We have to have a language to use among each other. We have to be able … clearly, we have to be able to talk about how a high androgen state expresses itself in individuals or in groups of women and what the subsequent, what the consequences may be but the idea that high androgen women are abnormal makes no sense to me. We don’t talk about tall people as abnormal although there are clearly health risks that are increased for tall people as there are for short people, as there are for blue eyes.
|The idea that we have to experience ourselves and be treated as if we are ill and wrong rather than individuals with our inherited physiology with some common experiences related to that is what I … that’s what I want to change our minds about.
|Yeah I love that analogy about it’s being tall, I’m six feet, my husband is 6’6, my 15-year-old son is 6’7 and there are pros and cons of being tall and it’s the same … I can see it really is the same having PCOS. It’s focusing on those benefits can be really more productive.
|You were curious about what I considered to be the benefit of having a high androgen inherently insulin resistant system. So there’s work that is being done in what’s … specialty called evolutionary biology where people are looking at … using the marvelous human genome project and all of that, all the information that we’re getting from being able to examine ourselves to that degree, that degree of cutting way, way, way down into the metabolic reality in our very self.
|For instance, we know that glucose metabolism and ovarian cells of high androgen women is different from the glucose metabolism and the ovarian cells of women who are not high androgen. That’s fascinating and it’s probably important, but it’s the defining of that as a disadvantage or as a disease state is what I am offended by. I didn’t know that I was a high androgen woman until my daughter was 15-years-old and her expression of her high androgen status was quite a bit more dramatic than my own.
|I had a relatively mild hirsutism growing up, and I have a hourglass shape. I did get very, very, very fat in my early 30’s under … in the stress of medical school, but I really didn’t … I just didn’t have a lot of phenotypic clues about myself and I didn’t think of myself as abnormal. It wasn’t until my daughter had expressed her high androgen status with a really dramatic outbreak of acne as a young woman that I began to learn about this state.
|All of this time, I want to claim a bias. I do have a bias which is I’m looking at myself and I’m looking at my kid and I’m saying, “There’s nothing wrong with us. We are not sick. We are not ill.” We have this challenge in our physiology, and that idea that there’s something wrong with us rather than something wrong with, for instance, our highly refined nutrient poor diet that we have ended up with at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century that that has … as if that has nothing to do with our experience and our struggles that we’re just shining the light in the wrong direction.
|In fact, when you are a high androgen inherently insulin resistant women, what it means is that you got stronger bones. You have stronger muscles. If you have a few more years of delayed childbearing when you’re a young woman, it means that you have more time to develop competencies in your social group and in your personal life that a woman who is absorbed childbearing and child rearing from a very young age does not necessarily have the opportunity to focus on and develop.
|A lot of the evolutionary sociologist are talking about how important it was to have a group of highly competent, physically strong and leaderly women in our species’ survival in Paleolithic and Neolithic times when we lived in small human groups and everybody’s skill set was essential to the survival. We have something that’s been referred to as the grandmother hypothesis and it’s been continuously developed but the basic idea is that human infants that have the attention of their maternal grandmother develop and survive better than kids who have only the attention of their if you will amateur parents.
|The value of that physically strong, and I’ll say mentally alert, that we have our nervous systems are in fact tuned up a little bit higher. Our sympathetic nervous system is a little bit more reactive when we have a higher androgen status and in our current culture, that can mean things like chronic anxiety and insomnia and eventually depression. It can also be flipped on its other side to give us advantages of perception and motivation to change that might not exist if the word that underlying sympathetic reactivity.
|A lot of what we have depends on how you look at it if it’s a burden or is it an advantage and I think that we get a lot of information about the burden and we experience a lot of the burden. The prevalence of anxiety and depression and other mental health challenges experienced by 21st century high androgen inherently insulin resistant women is inextricably linked to being a cosmetic minority as well as having a normal reproductive capacity that is perceived as inadequate in the context where women are mostly considered to function as their primary function as their reproduction of the paternal line.
|In a lot of cultures, we are still primarily valued for our childbearing and not from much else. We certainly should be valued for our childbearing and it is not the sole contribution that women make to a culture. Having professionals and having women in general understanding that a lot of what we suffer is perception rather than reality, and we can change distorted perception with new and fresh information. A new eye, a new angle on what our strengths and advantages are.
|This really is a fresh perspective because people aren’t talking about the benefits of PCOS and I know I’ve written an article about how women with PCOS that they often go through those five stages of …
|Yes, five stages of grief, thank you. When you finally get to acceptance, but I think I’ve really worked to move that beyond that place of acceptance to even consider it a blessing, and I think these areas that you’re talking about that women with PCOS are stronger, our bones more solid and there was a post about a recent study that shows we are at less risk of osteoporosis. We tend remain fertile longer and that is another benefit that studies are showing.
|I love that … I know a lot of women with PCOS suffer from anxiety, but I think if you do look at it as this heightened awareness and know that you need to take extreme self-care, and that’s something that I really preach about on PCOS Diva, that you have to take time to nurture yourself and take care of yourself so that you can reduce those stress levels, but knowing how to work within the framework that you’re living in and trying to take advantage of those positives, it’s going to make a huge difference in your life for the better.
|I like to use the word alert, alertness. We are more alert and I also like to encourage my clients and my patients to turn that alertness, that heightened attention, to an ever great skill at self-monitoring, checking in and learning the difference between an anxiety that has some basis in shared reality and anxiety that is more … this is a physical feeling that I get and when I check into it, I note that there’s really nothing connected to it.
|I will start connecting things to it if I start to have this feeling in the center of my gut that … that behind my sternum. I can start thinking about the bills that I need to pay or the patient who isn’t quite responding like I thought or the fact that, “Oh my God, there’s ten days of dog poop in my backyard.” I can find things to worry about but I can also learn the difference by paying good attention to myself when the anxiety is something that is actually connected to something that … Actually I better get out in the backyard, those are my reminder or it’s just I’m running this chemistry because I’m this kind of gal, and I have this chemistry, “Oh okay, do something with it instead of sitting here worrying about it if you will.”
|One thing that I found working with women with PCOS over the last several years is that we are highly creative, and I think that when we’re not expressing that creativity is often when the PCOS symptoms are at their worst. I was just wondering if you’ve had that experience with women with PCOS being creative?
|It’s similar to the examples that I was just giving. We have energy, we have this mind that goes, and we seek mental work if you will, to match the energy that we’re experiencing and if you live in a culture that only narrowly defines what you are allowed to do or what is acceptable for you to do with your energy and attention then that does become perverted- too many avenues are suppressed. I have listened to so much suffering.
|I remember a young woman, a client who lives in a large metropolitan city who just suffered enormously having acne because of how important it was in her work situation to have a certain appearance, and she would be completely organized around scheduling dermatologic appointments at which she would pay $150 to have steroids injected into facial regions in order to rapidly resolve an appearance.
|She was spending an enormous amount of money, an enormous amount of time trying to manage her appearance in that way, and she wasn’t using those material and intellectual and emotional resources on expanding her sense of self so that she was able to not be so enslaved, if you will, to the idea that her appearance rather than her creativity and her contribution and her generativity was what was important about her.
|Was that something that you worked on through your consultation?
|Yeah. We did and … Education is so, so important for young women to understand what their physiology is and understand what enhances certain aspects of it and what will suppress it so for instance, obviously, what we are driven to do with our food habits when we are experiencing depression and anxiety and what our culture encourages as solution to those things versus what really works for us.
|If there’s a woman listening out there that’s really struggling with her PCOS right now, what would be some steps that you would have her take to alleviate the suffering and do you have something that … recommendations that a listener could take away from our call today?
|Back to information, becoming very well-educated about the foundation of the physiologic foundations of the expression of PCOS whether it is in irregular menses or in acne or the majority of us do struggle with excess weight, not all of us do, and parsing that out where is your tendency and what are you doing on a daily basis that either contributes to or make better those aspects so getting educated and I’m so amazed at the resources that are available to women now for learning about what PCOS is in the past decade or so, just an absolute explosion of information and all sorts of media are available.
|Education number one and number two, connecting up with emotional support whether it be through any of the very excellent online support groups that are available or locally depending on the size of your town. You may have the opportunity, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be PCOS specific, there are … one of the things that just delights me now and is this rise in activism among young women in their 20s who are rejecting the limiting ideas about what is acceptable for human female.
|Diversity activist of all kinds are just standing up and saying, “This is me. This is how I came into the world, and the idea that I need to spend the majority of my creative energy and my time and my resources and alter myself in order to be acceptable to other people is we’re done with that. We’re celebrating who we are.” Two women who I particularly admire Harnaam Kaur who is a young woman of the Sikh community who lives in London and a woman named Mariam who lives in Germany.
|Both of these women are vocal diversity activists and have responded to being fed up with working so hard and putting so much resource into altering their appearance, they decided to stop doing that and they both grow very full, very luscious, very gorgeous beards, and they literally are now making their living as women who are wearing their beards proudly and fully. Harnaam has recently been invited to be in a fashion show, and she’s modeling gorgeous jewelry and she’s a very, very lovely woman with a gorgeous full beard.
|I am touched, I’m so deeply touched by their courage, and I want all young women who are newly diagnosed or women who are realizing that they are high androgen women to take comfort from the fact that there are way more of us than you probably understand. That’s one thing. In some populations, high androgen women are as few as 4%. In other populations, we are as many as 25%, that’s another part of my understanding that because we have hidden our hirsutism so successfully so long because most cultures are most comfortable with females who are … whose appearance is reassuringly young and underdeveloped, not fully adult females are the most reassuringly safe type of females in a lot of cultures.
|That leaves both of us who are strong and who are powerful and who experience ourselves as competent and with much to offer feeling like we have to bump up again. We’re going to have to make a choice are we going to be women or are we going to be something that people don’t understand and are afraid of. I think that refusing to participate in our own oppression and joining with each other for comfort and mutual support and also to suggest in very lighthearted way, say, “Well, you know,
|this is the way I came out, and this is not important actually. Here is what is important about me. Those are the … that’s what I hope to encourage young women who are first learning that they have the aspect of themselves that they can develop. We are human beings with highly androgen influenced nervous systems and fundamentally feminine emotional hearts which is a very beautiful and very powerful combination of characteristics that can be developed and celebrated rather than suppressed and hidden.
|What a beautiful message. It’s taken me so long to come to this place but I think once you can celebrate your own authenticity and say I am enough just how I am and I often say if you can really learn to love yourself as you are with the hair, with the acne sometimes, with the extra weight, it’s from that place of self-love that the real healing begins. You’re right, these women are brave pioneers for this next generation and so many of us that are listening have daughters like yourself.
|I have a seven-year-old little girl and time will tell if she has PCOS, but it’s going to be, it’s a different place than it was certainly for me ten years ago, and that’s a really good thing.
|One of my favorite author is a man named David Schnarch, S-C-H-N-A-R-C-H and he wrote about our personal development, about our what’s called individuation or differentiation, and basically that is the human being becoming fully who she is and all of her aspects matured and developed. No one becomes fully differentiated ever, it’s always a process, but he talks about the concept of “meaningful endurance” and what he means in that is when we are enduring pain, when we are enduring oppression and prejudice and bias against us, what makes that meaningful is when we understand that the problem is outside of ourselves that when we are oppressed, it is a problem with the culture, not with us. That the inherent uniqueness of every single individual human is what is interesting and valuable about each of us.
|The idea that we have to smush ourselves into these homogenized boxes of acceptable appearance or acceptable behavior and how that occupied us and prevents us from our personal growth and development, and it steals from all of us our contributions, the contributions that we would make to our society are abbreviated and diluted because we’re so … when we are so busy trying to comply with definitions that are too small for us.
|That’s a powerful thought. I was wondering if you would be able to touch a little bit upon … I know you were just given a talk last month it was called A Natural Woman, The Mental and Spiritual Wealth of PCOS. Tell us about your vision and what you think of as this … I know we’ve talked a little bit about the mental but the spiritual wealth of PCOS.
|I guess I can’t … if that’s a very personal assessment, I can’t really separate my spiritual wealth from my mental health and my physical well-being, so the … we can be lifted out of the narrow focus on the material world, if you will, on the everyday economy of how we make our way into the material world when we have a spiritual context whether it be an organized religion or a personal practice of connection with the divine or that which is greater than us looking for comfort, frankly, or purpose in something larger than and outside of ourselves, helps us detach from the suffering that we end up grappling with constantly when we are absorbed with the idea that there’s something wrong with me and I am handicapped or crippled as a result. My contributions are not as valuable or my capacity to contribute is permanently abbreviated or hampered because of those things.
|When we can lift out of our own singular and personal concerns and experience ourselves as part of something larger, we just have more room, there’s more room in our lives, there’s more room in our hearts and there are more if you will practices of peace. Most of us, in order to be in contact with what you might call our spiritual selves or our relationship with the divine, do that by separating out a little bit.
|We got to church or we meditate or we have some time out of time, if you will, where we engage with our awareness that this is not all there is, and that we can practice being in touch with that sense of something greater than ourselves that literally soothes our nervous system, literally increases our metabolic well-being when we have those experiences of peace, if you will, that we can enter into when we deliberately engage into practice that sets aside time on a regular, reliable basis that both our mind and body come to rely on for the benefit of it, the material metabolic and emotional benefit of practices.
|As I mentioned earlier in the call that you really … this pioneer in this holistic approach to living with PCOS that like you said, the spiritual part isn’t separate. It’s part of the whole and part of the healing I believe. I think during this call you really reframed the way I look at working with women with PCOS. I’ve always thought of the work that I do with my private coaching clients is helping them move beyond the pain and struggle with PCOS so that they can live the life they were meant to live and fulfill their mission in life without PCOS holding them back, but it’s almost like getting in touch with those strengths that is the PCOS rather than moving beyond, it’s really taking advantage of what God has given us, and PCOS is part of that.
|There’s one little piece I would really like the opportunity to say here about when you asked me about what would I say to a woman newly diagnosed; what would I want her to know so much of our pain and distress comes from the perception that we are, as I said earlier, a cosmetic minority that is women with PCOS and inherent influence resistance whether you have a lean silhouette or whether you are clearly overweight, you will have a higher percentage of visceral fat.
|That is how we are designed, and that design is what had metabolic advantages in the time in human history when our food supply was unreliable and there’s lots of science about that, evolving science about that started out with the idea of the 50 genotype and it developed since then we’ve got a much greater understanding, but clearly it is an advantage in circumstances that don’t exist anymore in most of our cultures because of the nature of our global food supply and how that’s changed.
|A point I want to make is that the cosmetic ideal in most cultures, highly, highly influenced by eurocentric culture, is the hourglass figure. When we actually look at human females all over the world, it is very clear that the hourglass figure on the human female is a very small minority. It looks like only about 8% of women in the world have the genetic potential to express that phenotype and interestingly, the genetic subgroup where that 8% dominate is, guess what, European, the northern European gene pool.
|Everywhere else in the world, most women have a higher waist-hip ratio than that fugitive ideal. We have just have a fabulous Madison Avenue kind of job at convincing everybody that this way of … this appearance, this particular body silhouette is the most valuable, and you too can attain it if only you will buy this device or eat this diet, or do this kind of exercise and that is so ridiculous and so offensive, and it is continuously perpetuated by research scientists who don’t seem to … have not seem to understand that they’re basically labeling 92% of human females at risk for abnormality or abnormal because of our waist-hip ratio.
|It’s just mind-blowing when you actually look at the data and see what, if you will, the truth is about who is a normal human female. That is another really important aspect that I want all young women to understand that every one of us is a proper and appropriate and normal expression of what it is to be a human female on a very, very wide continuum of diversity. We are all different and in fact most of us are not hourglass shaped, never will be, shouldn’t try to be.
|We will hurt ourselves if we try to be. That is actually the cosmetic minority. I also want young women to understand that. I don’t want young women to be cavalier about obesity. It’s been fascinating to me when I was growing up, I lived the classic story. I wasn’t particularly fat, but I felt like I was, and I wore camouflaging clothes as a young woman. I always wore very loose tops and preferred to wear my father’s shirt and blue jeans.
|That was my uniform. However, when I looked around me now, it’s just so common to see young women who have very large abdomen wearing very revealing clothing, and that seems to be the norm, and I am so glad for them that they are not suffering the idea that they need to hide themselves, and I also don’t want them to suffer the consequences of being over fat. That’s an interesting dynamic tension that I just want to admit to.
|We have to grapple with the fact that a high androgen inherently insulin resistant woman is going to get fat easy. It’s easy for us to get fat. It’s also actually usually easy for us to get unfat when we are able to enact certain behaviors. It’s not mysterious. It’s not hard to understand. It can be hard to actually perform, to actually do depending on what support you have to make the necessary changes, but it’s not mysterious and in fact, it is probably the primary cause of most fertility issues for young women, not being high androgen, but rather being high androgen and having excess body fat.
|That’s why just a small percentage of body reduction and weight body mass can make a difference.
|I want to know if somebody’s listening and wants to learn more about you, wants to work with you, how can they reach out?
|I have a website, it’s pcosconsultations.com, pcosconsultations all one word, and that’s a good place to go and read more about how I think and what I offer, and you can also communicate with me through that website.
|I want to highly recommend the book. Even though it’s ten years old, there’s just so much so much wisdom and wonderful information in there. Is that still … Is that available through your website or…?
|It is available to my website for free and if you make yourself a member of my … I guess the right word is member, make yourself a member of my health ways store. If you sign up there, then you will have the opportunity to download an electronic version of that book. We no longer print it, we haven’t printed it in many years, primarily because it was published in 2005. It took about five years to write.
|There has just been … as I said earlier, just an explosion of research and greater understanding about PCOS and particularly PCOS and nutrition, so it just did not make sense to me to continue to print a book that is aging, the information is aging, but the actual “do this instead of that” remains valuable so people who would like to download an electronic copy of that can do so through the website.
|Oh that’s fantastic. I just want to thank you again for all of the work that you’ve done on behalf of women with PCOS. You’ve really changed so many women’s lives for the better. I was looking, actually reviewed this book back in 2009 on my site, and I was looking at the comments and there were several on my page just saying what an impact this book has made in your make has made so behalf of all of those women, thank you, thank you.
|Oh, you’re very welcome. Nothing matters to me more than my daughter’s happiness and well-being, and she has been the primary motivation for all of this work and I am so deeply grateful to her for putting up with me and my insistence of focusing on this and it’s been a very fulfilling professional path as well so you’re welcome.
|It’s been a blessing. Thank you everybody for listening, and I look forward to being with you again very soon. Bye-bye.