I didn’t know much about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) when I was first diagnosed. The little I had heard of the condition was from googling symptoms when my cycle radically changed, before stopping altogether. I didn’t know that one in five women experience this endocrine and metabolic disorder, placing me within the company of 12-18% of young women with the condition. Nor did I know it was the effects of the hormones on the ovaries, not the ovaries themselves (as the name may suggest), that was producing my painful, confidence-slashing and erratic symptoms. But when informed that I was facing a combination of medical treatments to spot treat each of the individual symptoms, rather than address the root cause, there was one thing I did know: I would first try to reverse my PCOS, naturally.
I had landed in the doctor’s office requesting a hormonal check-up because I had a nagging sense that something wasn’t right with my cycle. I was experiencing symptoms common to many women: irregular or missed periods, painful bouts of cystic acne, plummeting mood cycles and noticeable hair loss with minor balding around the temples. While the combination of symptoms indicated PCOS, a diagnosis was confirmed by ultrasound results showing the presence of numerous cysts on both my ovaries and hormonal imbalances noted in blood tests.
Often, the first port of call when treating PCOS, from a conventional medical standpoint, is to go on the combination contraceptive pill to ‘regulate’ your cycle. For me, this wasn’t a possibility due to a medical contraindication, and it was my personal preference not to try any other hormonal contraception. Taking these issues into account and considering I already had a very fit and healthy lifestyle, I followed the resounding sense of intuition telling me it was possible to address this holistically, which led me on the pathway to reversing PCOS naturally.
Now, a year on since that initial diagnosis, I’m not only managing my condition, but I’ve begun to reverse my PCOS symptoms. And there hasn’t been a prescription script in sight. Here’s how…
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The first aspect addressed was my nutrition. In particular, shifting my mindset from eating to fuel my activity to utilising food to nourish my body.
Though I generally ate a well-balanced diet, I struggled with a gluten intolerance and IBS symptoms. So, under the guidance of a trained professional, I honed in on monitoring, then eliminating foods that sparked intolerance symptoms—such as common triggers of onions and garlic—and began following a low-FODMAP diet. This initiated the healing of my gut and ensured optimal function so that I could absorb all the goodness I was already fuelling my body with.
A self-professed caffeine addict, I began slowly reducing my 3-5x daily coffee habit—which was short-circuiting my already temperamental hormones—to reduce the digestive stimulation and allow my body to regulate its own cortisol levels, without relying on the fake energy boost of a flat white.
Next up was tackling blood sugar levels. A common feature for many dealing with PCOS is insulin resistance, whereby insulin—the hormone responsible for stabilising blood sugar levels—doesn’t respond properly to the receptor cells and doesn’t permit glucose to pass from the bloodstream into the necessary cells of the body. This triggers the body to respond by producing more insulin, which in turn can lead to the adverse effects of increased androgen levels, contributing to the symptoms of PCOS I experienced. To control insulin resistance, it was important to regulate the level of carbohydrates in my diet. As a vital aspect of any balanced diet, the type of carbohydrates I included needed to be low GI to stabilise blood sugar levels over a durational period and timed accurately around my activity patterns to avoid dramatic insulin spikes.
From here, I focused on adding plenty of nourishing, high-quality fats into my diet to keep me satiated and my energy levels high. My personal preference to maintain an intake of animal protein, including lots of fatty, omega-rich fish, ensured I was staying balanced across macronutrient levels.
To help the liver detoxification process, which enables the body to naturally eliminate excess androgens, I packed out the rest of my diet with a vibrant array of fresh, organic and fibrous produce, which additionally helps to provide plentiful micronutrients and vital vitamins.
Along the way, my priority has been consistently choosing organic, responsibly-sourced produce to eliminate GMOs, pesticides and excess packaging which can disrupt the endocrine system and influence the levels of inflammation present in the body.
Finding the light back in my happy place ✨ After a long stint away from attending Pilates classes, I’ve been lapping up all the correction, advice and most of all inspiration from all of the teachers here. Forever a student is one of the best mindsets to always facilitate growth and open learning PS isn’t @thepilateslab_perth studio absolute interior goals
Already super active in my work and personal life, my approach to treating PCOS with exercise wasn’t to increase my fitness activities but to alter them to reduce the stress that was unloading on my body. As incredible and vital as it is for us, the body still processes exercise as a stressor in the same way as it would any other emotional or traumatic stress experienced. Prior to diagnosis, I was teaching full days of Pilates and PT sessions, squeezing in HIIT workouts, trying out as many spin/boxing/gym classes possible, training to go on long runs, commuting through a busy city on a bike… in short, absolutely overdoing it.
The first step was to reduce any extensive training sessions. I eradicated any cardio or HIIT workouts over 45 minutes, which were draining my energy system when repetitively performed over consecutive days without adequate rest. I then boosted the amount of replenishing, mindful movement practices I was doing—such as Pilates, Yoga and sculpting classes—and focused on low-intensity steady state cardio, which enabled my body to keep moving but simultaneously unwind and recover.
After this initial phase of acute healing, I did begin to incorporate weight training and some HIIT sessions back into my weekly workouts for their valuable metabolic and cardiovascular health benefits, but I now pay close attention to monitoring my energy responses and ensure I include appropriate mindful recovery work and rest to counteract the stress spikes experienced in the workout.
“Busy” is a way of life for the majority of us now, as we hustle harder and are working on a 24/7 cycle. The result? Excess stress with increased cortisol levels, which can lead to a higher level of inflammation in the body.
As my PCOS symptoms had been attributed to this toxic combination of heightened stress and chronic inflammation in the body, it was necessary to lower my stress levels and manage my cortisol rhythms effectively. The realisation that rest is essential has been an important part of my healing. This meant learning to say “no” to additional commitments outside of those which were vital, shifting my work schedule to better suit my natural circadian patterns and scheduling in time purely for rest and recovery.
In a bid to seek more balance and switch off from the pressure of always being “on”, I placed a high emphasis on rest and sleep. I implemented sleep rituals such as reducing screen time before bed and using aromatherapy oils in my bedroom to improve both the quality and quantity of my recovery time.
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In the same way that I was careful about non-organic produce entering my body, I applied this concept to what went on my body. Cleaning out my beauty cupboard and bringing in certified organic, natural and non-toxic beauty and personal care products limited the number of endocrine disruptors present in my bathroom and makeup bag, which could be absorbed dermally through the skin.
Perhaps the most crucial pathway to healing was seeking the advice of trusted professionals who had experience managing the condition. While I wasn’t receiving medical treatment, I still maintained regular doctors’ appointments to obtain medical testing for an accurate diagnosis and check-ups. From there, it was possible to share those results with trusted and reputable alternative therapists, notably a Herbalist and Acupuncturist, who could treat me on a holistic level.
Acupuncture, from a Traditional Chinese Medicine standpoint, works on healing PCOS by removing stagnation in the reproductive centre, reducing inflammation (thought to be causing the cysts) and generating open energetic pathways to support the elimination of toxins.
Herbal Medicine treats this condition by analysing dietary and lifestyle factors that cause adverse effects on the individual, before providing herbal remedies, tonics or tinctures created for the individual’s needs. Treatments vary, but for me, I received a mixture of tonics—western herbs combined with a liquid base—taken throughout the day and prior to bedtime, to help support stress, sleep, digestion and hormonal function. Being an all-natural method of treatment, these tonics are designed to support your system and assist the body with its own healing process.
Stocking my pantry with some key supplements to mix into smoothies, baking recipes or morning oats has aided recovery and helps me manage symptoms, while reducing inflammation levels with minimal fuss. Top favourites on my shopping list include: Maca—the hormonal balancer and energy booster; Cinnamon—the blood sugar stabilising, metabolism-boosting kitchen staple; Glutamine—to help repair and restore the lining of the gut; B12—to support energy and mental clarity; Melatonin—to help monitor circadian rhythms and enhance sleeping patterns; and Ashwagandha—an adaptogenic herb with antioxidant properties to help balance stress levels.
The pathway to healing hasn’t been linear. With numerous adjustments and countless changes, it has been a process of trial and error, which will undoubtedly involve continual refinement into the future. I have had to place my trust in the guidance of medical professionals and alternative modalities, constantly tune into my own intuition and hold conviction that these small yet notable shifts in lifestyle and mindset will allow me to get the condition under control and healing to begin.
A year on and not only am I feeling and physically seeing my symptoms reversing, but the results from doctors are consolidating that I’m moving in a positive direction towards PCOS remission, proving to me that my body has the capacity to heal itself when fuelled with the right attention and perhaps, more integrally, intention.
This story is one person’s experience with an alternative medical treatment. Always seek out professional medical advice for diagnosis or to discuss personal symptoms, and consult your practitioners before including any new supplements or trialling new treatments.