September is PCOS Awareness Month
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) affects 1-in-10 people with ovaries. It is the leading cause of female infertility and can lead to lifelong complications and conditions including severe anxiety and depression, obesity, endometrial cancer, type 2 diabetes, liver disease and cardiovascular disease. Some medical professionals have labeled PCOS as Diabetes of the ovaries and use Metformin and birth control to treat symptoms of PCOS. While there is no cure for PCOS, there are ways to manage symptoms.
Research is finally starting to give us some clues as to how PCOS first manifests. We already know that stress affects the whole body, but research is showing just how toxic stress and trauma affects our reproductive organs. “Many women first experience symptoms of PCOS in the midst of anxiety-inducing change, severe stress, or trauma,” says Dr. Leela Magavi, regional medical director for Community Psychiatry. When we experience severe stress or trauma, Cortisol (the stress hormone) is increased in our body. This is our body’s way of trying to protect us and prepare us for fight-or-flight. Our body is great at protecting us, but that Cortisol also increases inflammation throughout our bodies, and this is where we see PCOS symptoms begin. So how can we manage PCOS symptoms? We must start with managing our stress and lowering our cortisol levels. Here are some steps that you can take to decrease cortisol levels and manage PCOS symptoms.
- Eat foods that lower inflammation while limiting foods that increase inflammation. A balanced diet high in fiber is a great step in lowering inflammation. A balanced diet for PCOS should include increased protein (limit red and processed meats), healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds, fish), complex carbs (whole grains, oats, potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, beans), fruits and veggies. Limit caffeine, added sugar, and processed foods for optimal results. Many PCOS sufferers notice improvement with a decrease in carb intake; some notice improvement after cutting dairy and gluten from their diet. Find what works for you and stick to it.
- SLEEP! PCOS often causes sleep problems. Aim for 6-8 hours of sleep a night. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, please reach out to a medical professional.
- Move your body. Moderate cardio reduces our risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Mind-body exercises like yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi can help burn calories while also reducing our stress levels. Because PCOS is caused by increased Cortisol, it’s important to be mindful of exercises that increase cortisol in the body. Participating in high intensity exercise can cause us to work against our bodies! This is a delicate balance. While participating in high intensity exercise occasionally may not cause long term effects for some, others may benefit from avoiding it. It’s important to listen to our bodies. If you are participating in high intensity exercise and notice an increase in weight (particularly around the mid-section), acne, severe fatigue, difficulty concentrating, high blood pressure, insomnia, increased anxiety, and irritability your body is exhibiting signs of increased cortisol and it may be time to take a break from high intensity exercises and focus on moderate cardio and mind-body exercises. A simple 30-minute walk 3 times a week has been proven to be just as effective in treating depression and anxiety as an antidepressant.
- Find what helps you manage stressful situations. This is different for everyone. Try a calming walk around the block, meditation, calming mantras, deep breaths. If you struggle with managing stress, speaking with a therapist may be beneficial.
- Try supplements. Inositol, Fish Oil, Vitamin D, CoQ10, B Vitamins, and Magnesium are all beneficial supplements for PCOS as they fight inflammation and balance hormones.
PCOS sufferers are more prone to stress and depression, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. https://www.pcosaa.org/ is a great resource for finding support. Joining a support group in your area or on social media is a fantastic way to connect with others! If you are local to Florence Crittenton Services of Topeka, stay in touch! Our Stress Management clinic is full of resources for learning how to manage toxic stress and keep our cortisol levels low. If you find yourself in crisis, please text PCOS to 741741. This crisis line is accessible 24/7.
Written by Chelsey Shirrell, PCOS Ambassador. Chelsey is currently studying Dietetics with an emphasis in PCOS and infertility.