Is PCOS Piling on the Pounds?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is one of the fastest growing reproductive disorders in the world today. Affecting around 10% of the world’s female population PCOS has hit the status of epidemic. It’s even effecting celebrities like Victoria Beckham and Jamie Oliver’s wife, Jules Oliver. But there is hope; new schools of thought are finding simple tools that can help reverse this debilitating syndrome.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
PCOS is the name given to a reproductive condition that is responsible for inhibiting ovulation (anovulation), promoting ovarian cysts and low fertility, as well as symptoms such as facial hair, male pattern baldness, acne and often obesity. It is common that women suffering from PCOS also suffer from diabetes and low bone density. Hormone specialist, Dr Bridget Briggs, a functional medicine GP from California shared her wisdom at the 2015 Amipro seminar in South Africa, she explains, “We now know PCOS isn’t isolated to the reproductive system, but is also a metabolic imbalance linked to insulin resistance.”
For healthy ovulation the body needs to release the correct surge of hormones at the right time, much like a fine-tuned orchestra. Recent research has found that high levels of oestrogen, low progesterone, high cortisol or high insulin are all capable of inhibiting the ripening and release of a healthy egg (ovum) each month. If the ovaries are not producing a ripe ovum, the brain increases oestrogen and testosterone to further stimulate the ripening process, without enough progesterone present, this solution falls on fallow ground. Each unripe egg becomes lodged at the follicle mouth as a cyst. With the lack of ovulation the ovaries are unable to produce the essential surge of progesterone that keeps the cycle in flow. Without intervention the cycle can spiral into higher oestrogen and testosterone and lower progesterone levels, resulting in the typical PCOS symptoms.
What causes the weight gain?
Progesterone is our fat burning hormone along with being an antagonist for oestrogen. Even though oestrogen is an essential steroid hormone is also has the job of creating adipose fat storage. With PCOS the low progesterone and high oestrogen can easily result in decreased fat burning metabolism and increased fatty deposits around the thighs, buttocks and belly.
Causes of PCOS
- Chemicals equal Oestrogen Dominance. Our environment contains many man-made chemicals that mimic oestrogen within the body, they are known as xeno-oestrogens. These chemical oestrogens have a far stronger action on the body than natural oestrogen, between 15 and 100 times the potency. Xeno-oestrogens are found in petroleum based body products, cleaning products, plastics, meat and dairy. These oestrogen-mimicers are fat-soluble and accumulate in our fatty tissue, fooling the body into thinking there is an excess of oestrogen in the system. The addition of this cumulative, synthetic steroid hormone is believed to have dire consequences within our bodies, by directly interfering with the normal function of our endocrine, reproductive and neurological systems. Weight gain, anxiety, depression and mental fog are common symptoms of oestrogen dominance. Briggs says, “Oestrogen dominance is becoming an increasingly important medical concern for womens health. It is the cause of 50% of fertility issues in women and men. We have to think about the fact that a woman puts 1500 chemicals on before she walks out the door each day. Estrogen makes you fat and inhibits you from tapping into the fat store to make fuel. Caloric restriction can’t reduce body fat if you are oestrogen dominant. Less calories simply equals a lowered metabolism.” Symptoms of oestrogen dominance include: fluid retention, low blood sugar, blood clotting, thyroid problems, allergies, depression, increased fat, increased cholesterol and triglyceride levels, mood swings, fatigue and breast pain.
- Processed Food equals Excess Insulin. The hormone insulin stimulates the ovaries to produce large amounts of the male hormone testosterone, which can prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg each month, thus lowering progesterone and causing infertility. The human body experiences excess insulin from the consumption of processed foods, refined carbohydrates like sugar, and for some people (depending on your genes) even high quantities of saturated animal fats can cause insulin spikes. The increased testosterone can lead to facial and excess bodily hair as well as acne, this is known as androgen (masculine hormone) Too much insulin can also increase the conversion of androgens to oestrogens resulting in oestrogen dominance and possibly PCOS. Insulin deposits glucose into the cells, when there is too much it binds the glucose to fat and safely deposits it in our tissue. Therefore insulin can increase weight gain. Briggs says, “As long as insulin is high in the blood the body cannot relase stored fat, or use fat for fuel. Exercise has an adverse affect!”
- Stress equals Excess Cortisol. The stress hormone cortisol can sustain us through long periods of stress. But cortisol is made from progesterone. Therefore if we live a high pressure lifestyle our body can go into a state known as ‘progesterone steal’ where most of your progesterone is shunted to the adrenal glands to make cortisol, leaving your ovaries high and dry. Cortisol can also add to this hormonal compromise by blocking the progesterone receptors in the reproductive system, thyroid, brain and nervous system. Without enough progesterone one is then prone to oestrogen dominance and PCOS. Briggs explains that, “ High cortisol increases insulin and oestrogen, plus it decreases thyroid hormones, all of which add to fat production.”
Dr Briggs PCOS Advice
- Whole food plant fibre is important as it scrubs the colon and detoxifies oestrogens.
- Probitoics are essential for a balanced gut, detoxification and healthy hormone production.
- Lowering animal fats lowers estrogen! Eating soy, corn and wheat can also mimic oestrogen in the body.
- Rosemary, turmeric or kudzu help oestrogen detoxification.
- Omega 3 and Vitamin B’s are essential for oestrogen metabolism.
- Broccoli sprouts contain I3C (indol-3-carbinol), an oestrogen detoxification molecule, also found in supplement form.
- Dark green leaves or algae’s such as spirulina or chlorella are essential for oestrogen metabolism.
- Natural Progesterone – An integrative doctor that specializes in hormone balancing will often prescribe natural progesterone cream. Unlike the contraceptive pill and other synthetic hormones natural progesterone is 100% identical molecule to the progesterone produced by your ovaries. Briggs says, “Progesterone regulates blood sugar and restores hormonal balance. It helps us burn fat, increases thyroid function and reduces insulin. Progesterone also stops cell division and is therefore essential in protecting against cancer.”
Integrative health practitioner Alisa Vitti has a wonderful PCOS success story. She was half way through medical school, training to be an Ob-gyn in the States when she discovered she had PCOS. Weighing 200 pounds and suffering from insomnia and cystic acne, she realized the Pill and antidepressants were not the answer. Vitti decided to drop out of medical school to find a way to heal her PCOS. Today she is a slim healthy mother and PCOS free. Vitti now runs the natural hormone balancing company Flo Living.