September is PCOS Awareness Month!

Ah, PCOS – the annoying syndrome that most people have never heard of that wreaks havoc on almost every part of an affected woman’s body. Hair loss, hair growth, weight gain, anxiety, depression, acne, darkening skin, thyroid problems, fatigue, irregular or absent periods, infertility… it’s the gift that keeps on giving. But, the good news is, that PCOS is treatable, and though fraught with frustration, it can *kind of* be reversed with weight loss and medication. The problem is, losing the weight you need to lose to reverse it feels near damn impossible, but people tell me it IS possible, so I’m going to be optimistic and believe that.

I always try and blog at least once in September about PCOS, because I think more people need to know what it is, and we need to beat down the doors of stigma. When I first found out I had PCOS, I was MAD – mad because for years, I was the hallmark poster child of the syndrome, but never once did my doctors think to look beyond a sluggish thyroid or blame it on my own lack of efforts that no matter what I did, my weight continually ballooned upwards. It was only diagnosed after gaining seven pounds on a doctor-ordered liver cleanse (where I pretty much ate nothing but green veggies and drank only supplement liquids) that I demanded every single blood test and scan of pretty much every metabolic function in my body. Sure enough,  after an ultrasound, I had plenty of cysts, in addition to highly elevated androgen levels that explained my metabolic dysfunction, my tendency towards anxiety, and why I’ve always lost fistfuls of hair. I also was unable to breastfeed my daughter for more than three months as my body simply never produced enough milk, despite trying every single method known to lactation consultants and witch doctors alike.

I’ve seen several doctors over the years, and while I am fortunate to be in good health, the weight is one nut I cannot seem to crack. However, more science is being done every day on how this syndrome can be treated, and with the help of experts like Dr. Fiona, I do believe we’re getting closer to finding solutions that will work for every varied and complex case of PCOS. Many people want to write off this syndrome as something that’s not important, an ‘invisible illness’ that ‘fat people use as an excuse to stay fat’ (I got those gems from the trolls of the Internet), but the truth is, it can have devastating effects. One in 10 women has PCOS, and for many, PCOS means years of challenging fertility treatments, medication to control blood sugar before it leads to full-blown diabetes, and an exasperating growth in emotional imbalance leading to panic attacks and depression.

I’ve bought many books over the years including A Patient’s Guide to PCOS, The PCOS Diet Plan, and PCOS for Dummies, but I have a new favorite. Dr. Fiona McCulloch’s 8 Steps to Reverse Your PCOS is packed with the scientific data and reasoning behind so many methods for treating and reversing PCOS, and at times it felt like I was having lunch with a very smart yet very cool doctor who “gets it” as she explains why such and such causes such and such to happen. I also liked that in the first few chapters, there are several quizzes and lists that help you identify which type of PCOS you have; splitting it into four categories of A,B,C, and D, to help you determine what areas you need to focus on.

Dr. McCulloch is a self-described ‘data junkie’ and you can really feel that in her writing. As a nerdy former grad student myself, I like digging into numbers and statistics. One of the most helpful resources she provides to readers is a chart that details insulin counts. If you have PCOS, you’re likely insulin resistant, which means that your cells are less sensitive to the actions of insulin, so you tend to hold onto fat and sugars in the bloodstream much more than a “normal” person. Dr. Fiona details an extensive chart of food that you can work into your diet based on a low-insulin count for breakfast, and modified insulin counts for lunch and dinner. For example, a piece of chicken has an insulin count of 20 (good) whereas a low-fat blueberry muffin has an insulin count of 116 (not so good). I’m going to be incorporating some low-insulin-count foods into my current low carb eating plan, and see what happens when I start to play with the numbers a little bit.

I also like that she lists some supplements you can try to help with the various issues of PCOS. I have never tried a supplement approach for my PCOS, and I’m thinking about checking out Myo-Inositol and Holy Basil per her recommendations. I was sent a free copy of Dr. McColloch’s book to review, but am not under any obligation to mention it at all. I just found it helpful and wanted to share.

If you think you might have PCOS, ask your gynecologist or endocrinologist to test you for some of the hallmark symptoms. It can explain a lot of frustrations with your health, and with new advances in sciences, I do believe we’ll get closer to finding a way to reverse PCOS for everyone.

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