PCOS. Polycystic ovarian syndrome. Cysts in your ovaries. Endocrine (hormonal) disorder. I had it. I beat it.
I’ll be the first one to say that PCOS is a super frustrating diagnosis. I was diagnosed when I was 16 at my first OBGYN appointment. I remember the doctor telling me that I’d probably always struggle with my weight because the hormonal disturbances caused by the disease make weight loss extra hard. Over the years, doctors put me on various medications that they claimed would help me lose weight and perhaps improve my PCOS. None of them worked. I was frustrated. They had no answers.
Then there were the infertility challenges. I am, quite frankly, not willing to share that with the world yet. Just typing that sentence makes me incredibly emotional. Fortunately, I don’t believe those will ever be a challenge for me again because I overcame PCOS. Without the help of doctors. Without the help of drugs. With a TON of research, persistence and hard work. But I have the benefit of an educational background in nutrition & biochemistry. Most people don’t have that. I’ve tried to write this post before but it’s such a complicated topic that it always ended up in the drafts folder. Until today. I’m just going to keep typing until I’ve got my thoughts out and then I’m hitting “publish”. Come what may. I know it’s a sensitive topic.
PCOS is a super complicated disorder so forgive me if I oversimplify, but we’re gonna talk nuts and bolts. PCOS is often caused by estrogen dominance. I am convinced that was the case in my situation. Now, estrogen dominance doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an overabundance of estrogen in your body. It MIGHT mean that. But it could also mean that your estrogen is too high relative to its counterbalance hormone, progesterone. So your estrogen levels might be “normal” but if your progesterone levels are low, you are considered “estrogen dominant”. You might also have an imbalance in the TYPES of estrogen. Yup, there are several different types of estrogen – some good, some bad. You need to have appropriate ratios of these estrogens. Or maybe you are producing estrogen correctly and you have the right ratios but you are impaired in your ability to metabolize estrogen so it can be removed from your body. What happens then? It accumulates. Or, as if those weren’t enough options, your body could be producing too much estrogen. That happens in many overweight or obese people (men and women) because our body fat cells actually can produce estrogen! Talk about a compounding problem!! We’re not done though….your body might not be the problem. You might be CONSUMING an excess of estrogen. Wait, we can consume estrogen?! Yup, sure can….
Some of the most obvious ways we “consume” estrogen are birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy. But there are also environmental estrogens and estrogen-like compounds in TONS of things to which we expose ourselves DAILY. They can be in the water we’re drinking, leaching out of the plastics we eat and drink out of, in our cosmetic products, cleaning products – even in the foods we eat.
Fortunately for us, there are specific things we can do to reduce our overall estrogen load. These include changes in our diet & lifestyle. These are the changes I made to go from more than 20 cysts in each ovary to absolutely zero. These are the changes I made to go from never having a menstrual cycle to having a cycle that is like clock work. And, as I made these changes, I lost 140 pounds.
- Consume estrogen detoxifiers.
Certain vegetables are natural estrogen detoxifiers. They improve our body’s ability to metabolize and excrete estrogen so we get rid of the excess and prevent estrogen accumulation. I’m talking about cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc. I started adding 2-5 cups of cruciferous veggies to my diet every single day.
- Get off birth control pills.
If you have an issue with hormonal balance, birth control is only going to compound the problem. This is pretty obvious. There are better ways. Use a condom or whatever else you need to do to be safe but your health is a priority.
- Skip the soy.
Soy contains phytoestrogens which have estrogen-like effects in your body. If PCOS or estrogen dominance is an issue for you, stay away from soy.
- Eat organic.
Conventionally raised proteins (beef, chicken, etc) are often treated with hormones to accelerate their rate of growth and maximize profit for the rancher. Do NOT willingly introduce those hormones into your system. That is a very common way we introduce excess estrogens. This is also true for fruits, vegetables & dairy. Pesticides & herbicides can have estrogenic effects. Make it a priority.
- Don’t use plastic products.
I’m talking mostly about eating and drinking from plastic products (bottles, tupperware, etc). Plastics contain estrogenic compounds that transfer to our foods. This is compounded when we heat plastics. At an absolute bare minimum, do NOT ever heat your food or drink in plastic containers.
- Wear gloves when you handle cleaning products.
We’ve talked about the estrogen-like compounds in chemicals. Avoid them.
- Get a water filter for your kitchen and your shower.
Check out your city’s water supply quality report. It is incredibly common for hormones and hormone-like compounds to be found in our water supply. Play it safe and get a filter.
- Balance your blood sugar.
Our hormones are all inter-related. When one is out of balance it impacts the rest. When our blood sugar is out of control we are more likely to store extra body fat. Extra body fat produces more estrogen. The easiest ways to control your blood sugar are by cutting out processed foods, wheat, oats & grains. This step, along with cruciferous veggies, had the most significant impact on my overall hormone balance.
Bonus tip: control your stress levels. When we are chronically stressed, our body will use the hormone progesterone to manufacture more of the stress hormone cortisol. Use progesterone in that way obviously lowers our overall progesterone levels and that alone can create (and worsen) estrogen dominance because estrogen & progesterone need to be in balance.
Listen, I know that PCOS is frustrating. I get it. I thought I’d never lose the weight. Yeah, it’s hard. It’s harder than it should be. It’s harder than it is for people who DON’T have PCOS. But it’s not impossible. There is hope.
For more specific strategies on balancing hormones naturally via food, check out the new Primal Potential podcast here:
Plus, you can check out the Hormones & Fat Loss ebook! 50 pages of diet & lifestyle strategies to help you naturally optimize your hormones and get into fat-burning mode!!