If you're reading this you probably have PCOS or maybe you're just curious about what it is. So let's start with the basics. What is PCOS and why don't more people talk about it?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS, is a health condition that affects about 10 million women in the world. It is the leading cause of female infertility and is responsible for a number of symptoms that can impact the body physically and emotionally. One of the most visible physical effects is crazy bloating, weight gain out of nowhere, hormonal cystic breakouts etc. Sounds slightly scary when you read it out like that, I know. But don’t worry too much! Yes this shit sucks, ESPECIALLY when you are an athlete, but there are ways to keep it under control without having to go on birth control. Which is probably why you haven't heard of many women talk about PCOS because the second you get diagnosed, your doctor will insist you go on BC and scare you with all the horrible things that can happen to you if you don't get on it immediately.
I am here to tell you there's a way to take the holistic route. I haven't figured out how to balance it perfectly while being a competitive athlete, and even though every doctor I go to just tells me to go on hormonal birth control to save me the struggle I just do not want to do it. YES, technically birth control will level out your hormones but its a temporary solution to a long term problem and does more harm than good in most cases.
Before I get into the holistic options of balancing out your hormones I want to quickly just explain why I am against hormonal birth control. I am not a doctor and any advice I give is based off of my own experience and what I've learned over the years.
Basically what the pill or any hormonal version of BC does, is shuts down ovulation by putting synthetic hormones into your system. You bleed every month but it's not actually a real period it's what they call a “pill bleed.” The pill depletes your body of lots of things like vitamins C & B, magnesium and zinc. It will also effect liver detoxification, and gut balance. A lot of woman have trouble getting back their normal period once they come off of their pill and nobody really knows how long it takes for the synthetic hormones to get out of your body. Every doctor I have seen pushes birth control on me, tells me it's the most effective way to take care of it and that if I want to be successful in my sport I have to sacrifice and take the pill or just suffer through the symptoms if I don't. WTF!?
I remember how angry I felt the first time a doctor told me this, a WOMAN doctor by the way. Luckily my mom is a Chinese medicine doctor and I was raised with a holistic background so I did not accept the doctors advice so easily, but as time went on and the symptoms were getting worse, I began losing hope. Most days I was severely fatigued after 10 plus hours of sleep, was overweight in the middle of my training season, had HORRIBLE mood swings, and was getting my period twice a month with unbearable cramps. So I finally decided to go to another couple of doctors asking for help again, did a full blood panel AGAIN to see if maybe I had another underlying health issue. Turns out I was as healthy as can be, it was just the hormones messing with me. So here I was again, asking for advice on how to help get this PCOS thing under control.
Shocker, the doctors fed me the same bullshit as the last one. This time, one doctor told me I was probably eating too many carbs and calories and that's where the weight gain was coming from, the other doctor told me I was being dramatic and that diet and herbs wont fix the problem. So you get the picture, I just felt so hopeless and scared and annoyed which made me decide to try the Mirena IUD because once you get to this point and about 7 doctors tell you the same thing you start to become desperate. From what I understood this form of birth control had the least amount of hormones, and because Mirena releases levonorgestrel into your uterus, only small amounts of the hormone enter your blood.
I was desperate the get my period back to normal as I was entering the summer when I start competing. It ended up being the worst thing I could have done. I hated the IUD. I was bleeding non stop for 9 months. My cramps became worse, it gave me even worse mood swings, and the cysts I was forming never went away. The reason why I kept it in for so long is because the doctor told me it takes 3-6 months tops for your body to get used to having the IUD in, but my body just never accepted it and I'm so happy it didn't and that I made the choice to take it out. I remember crying that day in the doctors office. My gynecologist told me I was making a bad decision taking it out and to come back in 3 months to put it back in once I realize that the pain I was experiencing was probably all in my head because of how stressed I was about getting it in the first place.
After that day, I decided to do A LOT of research about PCOS and hormones in general. There was no way that birth control was the only way. While researching I discovered that so many women are struggling with the same issue and it was shocking to me how little we actually spoke about this stuff!!! This motivated me even more to create a routine that works and will help us.
I got together with my mom, different holistic doctors, read lots of books including the woman code, and drastically changed my diet and lifestyle outside of the track to see if anything would help. After about a year now of trial and error I finally found a pretty solid routine. I still get flare ups given my lifestyle as a pro athlete, but I am so much better and have it under control.
Here is what I discovered works best for PCOS:
GET TO KNOW YOUR BODY.
Track your cycle.
Use a period app like clue or flo.
Take ovulation tests because a lot of times the apps aren't right about when you're ovulating.
Keep a journal specifically for how your body feels in each step of your menstrual cycle.
RESET YOUR BODY:
Eliminate inflammatory foods like dairy, sugar, gluten, coffee or processed foods from your diet for a month. You can even try out my 21 day reset to help you get on track and take out some of the guess work.
After resetting my body, I started to slowly bring back in all the foods I took away to see what my body had a bad reaction to. For me it was gluten, corn, processed food, sugar (including natural ones from fruit like banana & grapes) and cow dairy really messed me up.
I eat most of my carbs during breakfast and at dinner, and I make sure I load up on healthy fats and good quality plant protein around lunch time.
Try to finish eating your dinner early, no later than 7 pm, and intermittent fast as many days as you can.
Get rid of toxic cleaning products and skincare products that are endocrine distributors which leads to hormone imbalances. Even things as simple as not drinking out of plastic water bottles makes a huge difference as well!!
Adaptogens and herbs are going to be your new best friend.
Adaptogens help your body adapt to stress.
Here is a list of what I use:
-Ashwaganda: lowers blood sugar levels, reduce cortisol, boost brain function and help fight symptoms of anxiety and depression.
-Cordyceps: Lowers blood sugar, enhances exercise performance, fights inflammation, improves libido, endurance, and sleeping patterns.
-Schizandra: helps balance the nervous system, improve brain function, elevate immunity & supports all five major organs.
-He shou wu: balances our adrenals, restores optimal hormone function, boost low libido, and helps our body cope with stress.
-Chaga: rich in a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, supports immune system, lowers blood pressure, help prevent cell damage caused by free radicals or oxidants.
-Myo-inosital : helps to promote hormone balance and ovarian function.
Lastly, here is a list of things I do to support my hormones outside of the food and supplements. I will go into detail about these in a separate blog post if you guys are interested, but these are also super important to incorporate into your routine as well!
-LED red light therapy
-Blue light blocking glasses
-Lymphatic drainage massage
Hopefully this was helpful for you guys! Please reach out with any questions. You're not alone in this! Don't be scared to ask questions, and talk to your friends and family. I know it really sucks and is frustrating at times, but don't give up and don't let it control your life. There are ways to get your hormones back where they need to be and hopefully this helps you take a big step in the right direction! Shop my PCOS survival kit here.