Are you, or women you know, struggling with irregular periods, acne, excess hair growth on the face or body or even trouble conceiving? If so, PCOS may be to blame. PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome – a very common disorder that results from certain types of hormone imbalance.
The definitions around PCOS have changed over the years, so it’s important to know what it means (and doesn’t). You do NOT need to actually have polycystic ovaries (seen on ultrasound) to qualify as having this syndrome. Many women with this syndrome do not have polycystic ovaries, and many (particularly young) women without PCOS have a normal but higher number of cystic ovarian follicles.
Many docs still don’t know that!
So what is PCOS?
PCOS is typically defined as:
- Clinical (visible) or lab signs of elevated androgens (aka high male sex hormones like DHEA, androstenedione and/or testosterone). This often looks like excess hair on the body or face, acne or thinning scalp hair.
- Ovarian dysfunction – which shows up as irregular ovulation or no ovulation (aka irregular periods, long cycles or missing periods). Polycystic ovaries seen on ultrasound (>12 small antral follicles on one ovary) can sometimes be included here but it’s a nuanced issue that has been way overemphasized (per above).
- Ruled out other endocrine disorders like Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia
Other signs and related issues of PCOS include:
- Obesity or overweight, particularly in the midsection
- Glucose intolerance & high insulin (often the ovaries themselves are insulin resistant in PCOS)
- Infertility or difficulty conceiving
At Rhode Island Natural Medicine, we consider PCOS to be primarily an issue of endocrine (hormone) miscommunication, blood sugar dysregulation and disrupted metabolism. Everyone is different and so are the nuances – but the really good news is that there’s LOTS we can do naturopathically to support and reverse this condition!
How does a Naturopathic Doctor treat PCOS?
First and foremost – we address the individual patient and try to get clear on what “type” of PCOS she has (or if this is even the issue at all) and what may have caused it. Some women have PCOS from the get-go when they start menstruating (likely with a genetic component), while others experience this after coming off hormonal contraceptives like “the pill” and still others see it creep up later in life along with other metabolic issues like diabetes. Figuring this out helps guide the treatment approach. We also want to consider what obstacles may be “blocking” a particular woman’s ability to heal.
Once we figure out the individual factors at play – through case review (i.e. listening to her WHOLE story) and appropriate labs and workup – we then get to work!
We utilize our varied natural medicine toolkit which can include any of the following:
- Dietary counseling and targeted nutritional therapies (especially looking at balancing blood sugar and lowering inflammation)
- Lifestyle counseling to support healthy hormones, metabolism and weight (think movement, stress management, proper sleep, etc.)
- Detoxification support as-needed to promote balanced hormones and proper endocrine communication
- Herbal medicines to help with endocrine gland function and hormone communication and balance
- Nutraceutical supplements to support metabolism, blood sugar, hormone balance and detoxification
- Homeopathic remedies to help stimulate healing on an energetic level
As you can see, Naturopathic Doctors have LOTS of tools in our toolkit. We also treat each patient as an individual. Therefore, one woman’s PCOS treatment plan will likely be different than the next. The cool thing is these things WORK, have side BENEFITS, and help PREVENT future health issues (such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes).⠀
Are you struggling with PCOS or similar symptoms of hormone imbalance? Get in touch or schedule an informational consult with Dr. Casey at Rhode Island Natural Medicine to see if working together makes sense for you!