PCOS is an increasingly common gynaecological condition in women of childbearing age. It’s a major cause of infertility, period disturbances, hirsutism (excess body hair), weight gain and even obesity.
It involves multiple cysts on the ovaries, which cause these symptoms to appear together. What happens is this: the ovaries have follicles that take turns every month to release eggs (ovulation). This is controlled by the pituitary gland in the brain, which sends messages via follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). With PCOS, the production of these follicles is upset and you can get multiple follicles growing. PCOS is caused by a hormonal imbalance and is associated with insulin resistance. There may also be a genetic component plus, stress of any kind, combined with weight gain, can make everything worse.
As the cysts grow the follicles get squashed, preventing ovulation. The unhealthy ovarian tissue can’t produce the normal levels of oestrogen and progesterone, which disrupts the normal monthly cycle, so periods may become very irregular or stop entirely.
Now to hirsutism and weight gain: every woman has some male hormones (androgens), and the follicles in the ovaries are surrounded by cells that produce testosterone – the principal male hormone – and androstenedione. With PCOS, these hormones become unbalanced, leading to an excess of male hormones. (The adrenal glands may also produce excess androgens, adding to the problem.) Raised levels of testosterone and other androgens in women can lead to facial and body hair, and some times, conversely, to male-pattern balding.
Additionally, because the female body doesn’t like an excess of androgens, it tries to convert them into a form of oestrogen, a process that takes place in fat cells. So in specific areas of the body, – below the belly button, buttock, thighs and under the breasts and arms -white cellulite fat is deposited so that the male hormones can be convened into female ones. These fat deposits are not simply due to a poor diet and lack of exercise – although these certainly make the situation worse – but principally because of unbalanced hormones. However, some gynaecologists urge women with PCOS to go on stringent diets without addressing the whole condition. Although weight control and a good diet are vial, they are unlikely to reduce cellulite on their own.
Before you start, consult your GP to make sure that you do have PCOS. Medical treatment may be advisable, depending on your symptoms, but my advice is to avoid the contraceptive pill, which masks the problems and brings periods on unnaturally.
Here are my suggestions:
- Take one Shatavari tablet twice daily for four months, for plant (phyto) oestrogen.
- Take one Mexican yam capsule daily for four months, to mimic progesterone.
- Take two homoeopathic pulsatilla 30 tablets three times daily for three dap mid-cycle every month, to help reduce cysts. Consult a qualified homoeopath or doctor who practises homoeopathy.
Follow these dietary guidelines to help you lose the excess weight, but make sure you don’t skip meals, especially breakfast:
- Eat lots of protein (lean meat, game, fish, eggs and tofu).
- Eat non-citrus fruits as snacks between meals.
- Eat lots of vegetables, particularly green leafy vegetables.
- One portion a day of low-glycaemic-index carbohydrates is sufficient (eg, a serving of porridge, or whole-wheat pasta, or brown rice, or two potatoes). Avoid high-glycaemic-index foods such as sugary snacks.
- Massage your neck and shoulders to improve blood flow to the brain and help the pituitary gland and hypothalamus function better. I believe this helps regulate hormonal functions and reduce food craving: because the appetite centre is in the hypothalamus.
You can massage your self for ten minutes every other day, or ask a friend to help and/or have professional massages as often as possible. There are detailed instructions on my new DVD Dr Ali’s Lifestyle video. Also, consult a u 5 qualified acupuncturist.