In Treatment: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Discover your best options for alleviating Polycystic Ovary Syndrome symptons with our panel of Canadian health experts – a dietician, a doctor, and a fitness instructor.
“I was recently diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal disorder that apparently affects up to 10 per cent of Canadian women. I’m taking meds to regulate my symptoms, but are there lifestyle changes that I can make?” – Bethany Cooper, White Rock, B.C.
1. Avoid Estrogen-like Compounds
Dr. Zoltan Rona, MD: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) appears in women of reproductive age and is characterized by multiple cysts that surface on the outer edge of the ovary. Symptoms include menstrual irregularities, infertility, depression, hirsutism (facial hair), acne and obesity. Although the cause is unknown, PCOS does tend to run in families. Excessive insulin-which boosts ovarian androgen production-estrogen dominance and progesterone deficiency are thought to play a role.
While conventional treatment includes birth control pills, androgen blockers and the hormone stimulant Lupron, diet and lifestyle changes can also help to manage the hormonal imbalances and corresponding symptoms. Structuring your diet to avoid estrogen-like compounds (called xenobiotics and found in pesticides and insecticides) and non-organic beef and poultry, due to their estrogen residues, can help control insulin’s dominance.
Also, consider using natural progesterone cream from Day 14 to 28 of your menstrual cycle for six months.
Dr. Zoltan Rona, MD, practices complementary medicine in Toronto, edits The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing and is the author of the bestseller Return to the Joy of Health.
Each medical situation is unique. Be sure to consult your physician about the specifics of your condition.
2. Exercise Regularly
Amanda Vogel, Fitness Instructor: Stubborn weight gain is one of the symptoms of PCOS. Along with healthy eating, a regular workout can help you shed pounds. But research shows that physical activity can also help to bring down the high insulin levels associated with the disorder, because exercise causes the body to absorb the hormone more quickly. Researchers in Melbourne, Australia, analyzed eight studies on PCOS and exercise. In all of them, moderate exercise-tested for 12 to 24 weeks-helped to reduce insulin resistance, increase weight loss and boost ovulation.
More good news: the improvements occurred regardless of exercise type. So find something you enjoy and stick with it, carving out five 30- to 60-minute workouts each week. For a well-rounded program, be sure to include weight training during two or more of those sessions. And for times when trekking to the gym is a non-starter because of a painful period, consider at-home workouts, such as a fitness DVD. I recommend the 10 Minute Solution series. Each DVD includes five short workouts that you can easily squeeze into your day.
Amanda Vogel, MA human kinetics, is a Vancouver-based certified fitness instructor and author of numerous books, including Baby Boot Camp: The 9-Minute Fitness Solution.
3. Add Fibre to Your Diet
Julie Daniluk, Nutritionist: A healing diet can greatly improve PCOS symptoms. The first step is to reduce intake of all refined carbohydrates (baked goods, pasta, candy) to help lower blood insulin levels. The cells of most women with PCOS have become resistant to insulin, which is the hormone needed to move sugar into the cell so it can be burned as fuel. As resistance increases, the pancreas produces more and more of the hormone, causing weight gain and hormone disruption.
The high fibre content of fruits, vegetables, legumes and seeds (such as leafy greens, fennel, lentils, flax and chia) can help curb cravings and balance blood sugar. Aim for seven to 10 servings-½ cup (125 mL) cooked or 1 cup (250 mL) raw-a day. Broccoli and kale provide the phytonutrient indole-3-carbinol, which stimulates detox enzymes, assisting the liver in balancing hormones.
It’s also best to avoid foods high in saturated or trans fat, such as meats, dairy and anything fried, because they can increase hormonal imbalances. And upping your omega-3 (found in fish and chia) and omega-9 (found in olive oil) intake can help to reduce insulin resistance.
Have a question for our panel of experts? Email it to [email protected] and it could be answered in a future issue of Reader’s Digest Canada.
Toronto-based certified nutritionist Julie Daniluk co-hosts the reality cooking show Healthy Gourmet on the Oprah Winfrey Network and recently published her first book, Meals That Heal Inflammation.