Ever since my first year working as a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner, I’ve known that it is possible for a woman to reverse the effects of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome through diet. Both my step-sister Emma and one of my earliest clients were told they had PCOS and that there was nothing they could do about it. And, that among other things, it would affect their ability to get pregnant. Yet both of them tracked their cycles, changed their diets, returned to having regular periods, and went on to conceive children in their first month of trying. Many of my clients have been prescribed hormonal birth control to manage their PCOS symptoms, but the reality is that the pill simply suppresses a woman’s symptoms and does nothing to treat the underlying cause. Even worse, women are typically told PCOS is incurable and that there is nothing they can do – which isn’t true! Although there is unquestionably a genetic component to PCOS, women do have the power to make dietary changes that can effect blood sugar levels and therefore reduce (or eliminate) PCOS symptoms. I have long struggled to find resources that would support me and my clients to understand the role diet plays in the management of this condition. There were few books on PCOS, and even fewer that offered holistic recommendations.
That is, until now. As some of you may know who follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, this month I’m embarking on a project called #30DaysofUterusLove in celebration of the official launch of our six month online natural birth control program, Eco-Contraception. Given that one of our primary mandates at Red Tent Sisters is to educate, I started the month out deepening my own knowledge by reading Alisa Vitti’s new book WomanCode. Alisa made an international name for herself when she gave a compelling TedTalk in 2011 about how she cured herself of PCOS. She currently runs a clinic in New York assisting women to balance their hormones naturally, and her book provides a comprehensive step-by-step resource on how, and why, to eat for hormonal health. Her explanations are backed by easy-to-understand yet sound scientific explanations of the underlying physiology of our hormones and their connection to diet and blood sugar management. This ensures that every woman who reads the book will understand why her recommendations work. Alisa engages her readers to want to care for their hormonal health as much as she does.
Obviously, if you are a woman suffering from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, you will want to make sure you read the entire book yourself, get support for coming off the pill, and ideally enlist a holistic practitioner to assist you in this transition. However, here are five points from Alisa’s book to get you started and help you realize that you, too, can take empowered action to manage, and perhaps even eliminate, this “incurable” condition:
- “Every meal, every day”. Skipped meals have a cascade reaction that leads to a total disruption of all hormones in your body, including the sex hormones responsible for regulating your menstrual cycles. Maintaining blood sugar levels is imperative. Alisa's message is clear - don’t skip meals, ever.
- Balanced meals. Eating meals with an excessive number of carbohydrates (think big bowl of pasta, double servings of potatoes, or multiple slices of bread) causes a spike in our blood sugar levels. This in turn causes our body to rush to try to get all that sugar out. Often our body is too effective, whisking away all the sugar from our blood and essentially causing us to feel tired and starving again. This can lead to us feeling “hungry” very soon after eating a full meal. We may then turn to caffeine, sugary foods, or another meal – leading to excess calorie intake and again causing a similar cascade of reactions – termed reactive hypoglycemia. To prevent this, eat meals that are balanced with protein, healthy fats, and lots of fibre.
- Support your liver. Constant yo-yoing of your blood sugar levels puts strain on the liver, which is also responsible for processing out used hormones, including estrogen. Thus, a strained liver will often result in excessive amounts of estrogen and other hormones in the body, one of the key factors in causing the irregular cycles and reduced ovulation associated with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
- Stay regular. The hormones that get processed out by the liver are dumped into the digestive system for elimination via the bowel. However, if we are constipated (even mildly – Alisa cautions we should feel the urge within 20 minutes of rising every morning), those same hormones can get reabsorbed through the lining of the intestines and end up back in circulation, further contributing to excessive and misregulated hormonal levels in the body. Thus, we need to be eating plenty of vegetables and fibre to ensure regularity.
- “Nurture your adrenals.” Your adrenal glands have many roles, but one of them is the “flight or fight” response that we get when we are under stress. This is a great thing to have when you are fighting off a saber-toothed tiger, but not such a helpful thing when your stress is that looming deadline or a screaming toddler. Chronic stress disrupts hormonal balance, and finding healthy ways to manage stress is imperative to healthy menstrual cycles. Nurture your adrenals through proper sleep habits, maintaining blood sugar levels (as above), and finding healthy outlets for external stressors such as meditation or exercise.
Kim & Amy Sedgwick love to discuss sex, periods, and all the other things we’re not supposed to talk about. The co-founders of Red Tent Sisters and ecosex.ca, they’ve been featured in every major Canadian news outlet and have become a trusted resource for women seeking natural (effective!) birth control, a more joyful sex life, and an empowered journey to motherhood.