Today I want to talk about how to balance your hormones naturally so you can ovulate when you have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
I’ve met lots of women who have PCOS and for women who don’t have children yet or who would like more children, ovulating and regulating their cycle to improve their fertility is an important issue.
There are a few tips I want to discuss with you and a lot of them come back to the underlying pathophysiology of PCOS – what causes it in the first place.
First Thing To Understand
The first thing I want you to know is that it’s a genetic condition – so you need to have a heredity predisposition in order to develop PCOS. That link is clear in the research that investigates the underlying basis of the condition.
If you don’t have the genetic predisposition it doesn’t really matter what you do you won’t end up with the condition however you might end up with something else. We all have our genetic health weaknesses.
There seems to be an evolutionary basis for this genetic predisposition for PCOS. We know that in times of famine and high stress; when a lot of other women would stop ovulating and their bodies would no longer allow them to reproduce – for women with PCOS their fertility actually increases.
Why Insulin Resistance Is Important
If you have PCOS and are wondering how you can balance your hormones naturally so you that you ovulate and improve your fertility the first step is looking at insulin resistance.
Insulin Resistance is a state in your body where your system becomes less responsive to insulin and your body needs to release more insulin in order to regulate healthy blood glucose levels. For women who have a genetic pre-disposition to PCOS, we now think this is the underlying trigger that causes the hormonal imbalance in the first place.
So, if you have PCOS you want to try and support healthy blood glucose regulation as much as possible because that can help to control the underlying mechanism that will allow your cycles to come back to a normal, regular pattern.
There are a few tests that can diagnose insulin resistance. The fasting glucose test, the fasting insulin test and also the oral glucose tolerance test.
For women who only have the fasting glucose and fasting insulin test conducted, the diagnosis of insulin resistance can sometimes be missed. However, the research is now telling us that the oral glucose tolerance test is a pretty good marker for insulin resistance for most women who have PCOS.
You can talk to your GP about organising those tests. If you find out that you do have insulin resistance there are some really important strategies that you can utilize to support blood glucose regulation naturally – which in turn will help support your hormonal regulation and allow your body to ovulate.
Lifestyle Adjustments Help
Looking at lifestyle first as we always do – exercise is so important. Exercise is fantastic for improving insulin sensitivity. There is really interesting research looking at the impact of resistance training exercise on insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance. Resistance training or strength training can help to improve insulin sensitivity. So, consider heading to your local gym more or seeing a personal trainer and getting a weight training program sorted out for you.
If you do weight training 2-3 times a week it can really help to improve insulin sensitivity.
Any other type of exercise you choose to do will be beneficial as well even if it’s just brisk walking – something that you enjoy. Try and find ways to move your body that you actually enjoy to help keep you motivated and inspire you to keep going. Any exercise is great but resistance training specifically is fantastic for improving insulin sensitivity.
Nutrition is also important. It’s very helpful to have a small serve of protein with all of your snacks and meals. That will help to keep your metabolism up and slow down the release of glucose into the blood stream. Try and minimize your intake of processed carbohydrates foods or simple sugars if you can but low GI whole grains/legumes are ok in moderation for most women with PCOS. If you’re going to have bread make sure that it is very grainy – the grainier the better (lower GI). Some women with PCOS find they do better on a low carbohydrate diet, combined with high fat and moderate protein intake. The key here is to find a dietary approach that is sustainable for you and does not lead to feelings of deprivation. Extreme dietary restriction can trigger episodes of binge eating and other eating disorders.
Try to include a broad range of foods in your diet but really focus on green vegetables. Green vegetables are a fantastic source of phytonutrients and antioxidants which we know can support both healthy blood glucose regulation and also hormonal balance. So increasing your intake of green vegetables is fantastic.
Food as Medicine
Look at other foods or spices that you can include in your diet as food as medicine. For example we know that cinnamon is a fantastic spice that you can include in your diet that will help to support healthy blood glucose regulation. Even just including one teaspoon of cinnamon per day in your diet is an excellent thing to do. You can pop it in a smoothie or add it to your porridge – a great thing to include in your breakfast.
What About Supplements?
When we’re looking at supplements, there are a few supplements that are great too – both herbal and nutritional.
Chromium is a mineral that has a lot of research and evidence supporting its use in the management of issues with blood glucose regulation and insulin resistance – so chromium would be a good one to look at.
We’ve already spoken about cinnamon, but gymnema is another wonderful herb that supports blood glucose regulation. Even cocoa or cacao has some great research on its impact on healthy blood glucose regulation. Just remember that cacao is also quite high in caffeine so you can use it as a part of your diet as food as medicine, but try and avoid having it in the evening so it doesn’t disrupt your sleep patterns.
There is another fantastic Chinese herb called Phellodendron. It contains really high levels of a phytochemical called berberine, and there is also some great research looking at the impact of berberine on insulin resistance for women who have PCOS. You can’t really use this one as food as medicine as you would need to take it as a therapeutic supplement.
Treating insulin resistance is a really important part of controlling the underlying mechanism in your body that’s preventing ovulation. So, if we can improve insulin sensitivity, then getting your body ovulating regularly is much more likely to happen.
There are some other herbs we can use to support ovulation for women who have POCS. There is a fantastic herb called Bulgarian Tribulus and there is a lot of research on the impact of Bulgarian Tribulus on the reproductive cycle. We now know that if you take it on days 5-14 of your cycle it can help to trigger ovulation.
So for women who are having a cycle, but it’s a really long cycle perhaps stretching out to 45 days or 60 days, taking the tribulus on days 5-14 will really help to shorten the cycle and improve the regularity of ovulation. It will help you to have a really strong ovulation which will assist in improving progesterone production in the second half of your cycle and it can help to bring the cycle length back into 28-32 days which is much better. If you’re trying to conceive, the more opportunities you have over a 12 month period the better – the more likely it’s going to happen.
There is also some research looking at the impact of using Bulgarian Tribulus in conjunction with a medication called clomid. Clomid is an ovulation inducer. The research indicates that if you use both at the same time or in conjunction with each other – ovulation statistically is more is likely to occur.
Clomid is usually prescribed days 1-6 of your cycle and then you use tribulous on days 5-14. When you are looking at tribulus it’s really important that you use the right type. So if you go into the pharmacy or health food shop and try to purchase tribulus over the counter you don’t know what part of the world it’s coming from, you don’t know what part of the plant has been used to manufacture the product. There are really strict guidelines in the use of tribulus for PCOS and you want to make sure it’s Bulgarian Tribulus, that it’s high potency and coming from the right source so probably best to see a practitioner who specializes in herbs and PCOS to work that one out.
PCOS and Healthy Weight Management
Lots of women find that they gain weight as a result of the disruption of the endocrine system that occurs from PCOS.
Like I said before, that evolutionary process means that women who have that predisposition to PCOS and were in a famine state are more likely to ovulate. We now know even reducing your body weight by only 5% can be enough to trigger ovulation and the return of regular cycles for some women who have PCOS.
So, if you have gained weight as a result of your PCOS and you know that’s part of the picture of what’s going on, even a very modest weight reduction of 5% of your total body weight can be of great benefit.
So don’t feel that you need to lose 10kg or 15kg or 20kg in order to get your body back into balance so that you can ovulate. If you’re significantly above your most health weight that may be helpful, but even a very modest weight reduction of only 5% can lead to significant health improvements. Particularly for fertility. So, consider that.
Reduce Exposure to Xenoestrogens
It’s also very helpful to reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogenare synthetic estrogen mimickers and can disrupt your own hormonal regulation. Xenoestrogens are found through chemical exposure, herbicides, pesticides, BPA and plastic products – these are the most common products in environmental pollutants.
When looking at your diet one of the best things you can do to reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens is to try and make sure that any animal foods that you consume are certified organic. Herbicides and Pesticides get concentrated in saturated fat in animal foods and there is not much you can do about that. So, the best thing you can do is try and make sure that those foods are certified organic.
If you can make your whole diet and lifestyle certified organic that’s amazing, but at least with fruit and vegetables you can wash and peel them – there are things you do can help to reduce herbicide and pesticide residue whereas with animal foods it’s very difficult.
Try and use glass food storage containers and stainless steel drink bottles and avoid plastics. Especially those that don’t say “no BPA”. If a plastic food storage contain does not say “does not contain BPA” it basically means it does contain BPA and we want to try and minimize your exposure to that as much as possible.
Plastic film or cling wrap is another source of BPA in our diet so if you’re using a microwave at all (which I don’t recommend) but some people still do use microwaves the most important thing you need to make sure is that you don’t use cling wrap to cover the food when heating it in the microwave.
If you heat cling wrap or plastic film the BPA leeches straight into the food that you are consuming so you want to avoid heating cling wrap or plastic film as much as possible. If I was you I wouldn’t even have cling wrap at home. If you don’t have it in the house you’re not going to use it.
Support the Pathways of Detoxification and Healthy Gut Flora in Your Body
The final trick in how to balance your hormones naturally so you can ovulate when you have PCOS is to support the pathways of detoxification in your body.
You also want to focus on promoting healthy gut flora. The bugs in your gut help your body to digest food and absorb nutrients, eliminate waste products and also eliminate excessive hormones in your system.
We know that high levels of circulating hormones are one of the markers of PCOS. So, replenishing those healthy bugs in your gut can help to prevent the re-absorption of hormonal metabolites from the bowel back into the blood stream.
You want to make sure you are supporting the pathways of detoxification through your liver as well. It’s another good reason to minimize your exposure to chemicals but also alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine – all of these products utilize the same pathway of detoxification that your body requires for hormonal detoxification.
Your body will down regulate the detoxification of hormones if you are exposed to other chemicals at the same time. So, if you can give your body a rest from the other chemicals your system will naturally upregulate the detoxification of hormones. Which is fantastic for women who have PCOS.
Making sure you contain lots of brassica vegetables in your diet is important too. When I was talking about insulin resistance I mentioned green vegetables. Don’t forget the brassicas like broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale etc – contain a phytochemical called indole-3-carbinol which helps to support the detox pathway through the liver. So, including those foods in your diet is beneficial. Just make sure you cook these vegetables rather than consuming them raw (which can slow down thyroid function and the last thing we want to do is fix one problem and cause another).
So, these are some simple strategies that you can bring into lifestyle and your diet but also using food as medicine and some supplementation to help to restore both healthy blood glucose regulation and hormonal balance to support your body’s natural healing processes to in turn stimulate ovulation and get your cycles regular again.
I really hope this information has been helpful for you, let me know if you have any questions.
Thanks so much, bye for now.