I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) at 21 years old and I had just had the worst period of my life. It was so bad, I went to the ER because I thought I was hemorrhaging. I tried every drug with no relief, and I simply couldn't take it anymore. I was ready to learn how to treat PCOS naturally.
I'll be the first one to tell you I'm a cynic. I shake my head at natural remedies most of the time, preferring to lean heavily on western medicine and cold, hard data. I mean, I'm a health and science writer — I read journal articles the way most people read Tumblr posts. Nothing is sexier than peer-reviewed research, right? Except one big area in my life where none of it has ever worked — my freaking lady engine.
The whole thing is crap, to be honest. I have pretty severe PCOS, endometriosis, and clinically-treated anemia. Because if my body likes to do one thing, it's screw with me. None of the drugs work for me because hormonal medication is out of the question after a complication I developed during my last pregnancy. Therefore, I had to turn to the woo. My PCOS got so bad that I would literally be willing to dance naked in a circle of women who worship clam chowder and Real Housewives if it meant relief. Fortunately, much of the treatments revolve around diet and exercise and require only infrequent, solo nudity.
The first thing I did was learn everything I could about PCOS — the causes (your ovaries hate you), the clinical treatments (weight loss and hormones), and anecdotal evidence that might point to relief (the fun stuff). I worked with both my general practitioner and my OB-GYN, as well as a nutritionist and a personal trainer, and you should, too, if you can. (I am fortunate that my insurance pays for all of this. I know how lucky I am.)
PCOS is complicated. According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, women with PCOS are prone to weight gain, diabetes, excess hair, arthritis, depression, anxiety, and a strange desire to scoop out their own ovaries with a grapefruit spoon. (OK, that last one may just be me.) Our bodies produce too much androgen and it makes our estrogen-powered ovaries go haywire and backfire by forming cysts. The androgen also makes us prone to store fat in areas typically seen in males, namely, the belly. As well as causing excess facial and chest hair growth, while screwing with our blood sugar, noted UCLA Obstetrics and Gynecology, and putting us at greater risk for cardiovascular diseases. The natural treatments mostly revolve around curbing those last two to assist the ovarian function overall.
When I was first diagnosed with PCOS, my weight was out of control. I'd gained 50 pounds in six months, and became severely depressed. Therefore, the first thing I did was get fit. This was not easy. In fact, I ended up having gastric bypass surgery because all of my attempts failed, and I was 315 pounds and pre-diabetic with high blood pressure at age 21. This is not uncommon. The World Journal of Diabetes noted that weight loss surgery for women with PCOS is often an effective treatment to jump start the body out of the homeostasis it falls into with PCOS.
However, it's not permanent. Right at this very minute, I am re-working my diet and exercise plan, and, wait for it, going sober, to pull myself once again out of PCOS's nasty clutches. My surgery was 12 years ago, and I really have to work at my diet and exercise to stay ahead of the game. Even more now that I'm over 30 and have a job that is fairly sedentary. For me, that means a vegan diet rich in soy products and fruits and vegetables, and low in sugar (so hard for me). Other women follow a more ketogenic plan to much success, noted Nutrition and Metabolism.
I also take a vitamin E and D supplement, as well as flax oil and chia seeds (in the form of pudding or in a smoothie) as recent studies have shown that they are beneficial for women with PCOS. They work together to lower insulin levels, which helps balance the androgen serum levels, and either helps keep weight off or helps you lose weight. It's cyclical.
Currently, diet and supplements are the only peer-reviewed natural aids for PCOS, but I know women who swear by Traditional Chinese Medicine, with a combination of acupuncture therapy and diet therapy. While there isn't as much peer data on this, there is thousands of years of anecdotal evidence, and that's a pretty strong case for it. Just make sure to talk to your OB-GYN or general practitioner to determine the safety of the treatments.
It's not an easy disease to control, and sometimes, it's overwhelming. But, there are PCOS support groups out there, and I find that it's really helpful to have someone to talk to about your disease. Plus, they might have more tips and tricks to help you out along the way. Talk to as many professionals as you can, and keep doing the hard work. It sucks, but it can get better, whether you treat it with prescription medication or make natural lifestyle changes.