PCOS: A Functional Medicine Approach

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PCOS is an abbreviation for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. This name is a little misleading because it entails a constellation of symptoms. Cysts on the ovaries are only one of many components to this complex syndrome. It is also misleading because it creates a label that feels like it can’t be changed and can lead to a hopeless feeling once the diagnosis has been given. This is similar to how diabetics get labeled and then often times succumb to the false notion that this is their lot and medical therapy is the only hope to try to keep the disease process at bay. Though medical diagnoses are needed and can be helpful, they can also often be very paralyzing and prevent people from finding ways to heal their body and prevent progression without always needing to rely solely on medications.

PCOS is an area where functional medicine shines. The conventional approach to PCOS relies on a medication or two in an attempt to try to manage the symptoms of blood sugar instability, elevated testosterone and DHEA levels and often increased acne and facial hair.  When the approach is solely medical, it is easy to miss the opportunity to get deeper and address things at the root cause instead of putting on band-aids that only cover things up.  If you or someone you know suffers from the side effects of PCOS and has not had much improvement with medications alone, please read on and pass this on to others.

PCOS tends to have several commonalities across the board. There tends to be several digestive issues going on. Though women may not be plagued with severe digestive symptoms, often there are multiple underlying food intolerances.  Gluten is often the worst and most common one. Grains of any kind also tend to cause a worsening of the inflammation that is going on in the GI tract. Therefore removing all grains for a period of time often provides significant healing opportunities. Much work can be done on the gut without even the need for lab testing and medical therapies. However, often it can be very helpful to get a few tests done to see what additional therapies would be beneficial and speed up the healing process. The majority of female hormones are made by the ovaries and therefore cysts in the ovaries could obviously cause a hormonal mess. The secondary place female hormones are made is in the adrenal glands which also manages our stress hormones. PCOS can lead to loads of stress, affecting adrenal function and further disrupting female hormone balance. Testing the adrenals and also getting a month long saliva test of estrogen and progesterone levels will show just how imbalanced the hormones are and likely show several areas where bio-identical progesterone at specific times during the month could show huge improvements in symptoms, including fertility!

As mentioned earlier, the GI tract has a huge potential for improving or perpetuating symptoms. Therefore testing this body system would also be very wise and could reveal a number of problems including dysbiosis (bacterial imbalance), pathogens (bugs) or bacterial overgrowth. The last body system to consider supporting is the body’s detox pathways. The main test for this is a urine Organic Acids Test. It not only shows detox issues but also nutrient needs, methylation concerns, neurotransmitter markers and mitochondrial energy markers. Amazing test but I’d probably do that one last if not in the budget up front.  Let me summarize the recommendations below:
 

PCOS Action List

  • Clean up diet - Remove grains (including gluten), dairy, soy, and sugar
  • Highly consider doing a Whole30 (see whole30.com) as a jump-start
  • If not significantly improving with dietary changes alone:
    • Meet with a functional nutritionist
    • Get functional lab testing done with your functional medicine practitioner
      • Adrenal Stress Profile
      • Month long female hormone panel
      • GI Pathogen Screen

I hope this short blog proves helpful for you or someone you love. If we can be of any service to you please send us a message and schedule an appointment to start looking deeper into how to support your body’s healing processes.