Is PCOS yet another disease that is caused by the S.A.D (Standard American Diet), and cured by the Paleo Template?
PCOS or Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome is listed as a “rare disease”, although as much as 10% of the adult female population of childbearing age (20-40), are diagnosed annually with the disease. Approximately 1 woman out of 40 will have the disease, and approximately 30% of them display symptoms. With statistics of this type, one category is often left out, and that is the amount of women who have symptoms and yet remain undiagnosed.
Here is the low-down on PCOS, according to PubMed Health:
“Polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition in which there is an imbalance of a woman’s female sex hormones. This hormone imbalance may cause changes in the menstrual cycle, skin changes, small cysts in the ovaries, trouble getting pregnant, and other problems.
Changes in the menstrual cycle:
- Absent periods, usually with a history of having one or more normal menstrual periods during puberty (secondary amenorrhea)
- Irregular menstrual periods, which may be more or less frequent, and may range from very light to very heavy
Development of male sex characteristics (virilization):
- Decreased breast size
- Deepening of the voice
- Enlargement of the clitoris
- Increased body hair on the chest, abdomen, and face, as well as around the nipples (called hirsutism)
- Thinning of the hair on the head, called male-pattern baldness
Other skin changes:
- Acne that gets worse
- Dark or thick skin markings and creases around the armpits, groin, neck, and breasts due to insulin sensitivity
Signs and tests
During a pelvic examination, the health care provider may note an enlarged clitoris (very rare finding) and enlarged ovaries.
Diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are common findings, as are weight gain and obesity.
Weight, body mass index (BMI), and abdominal circumference are helpful in determining risk factors.
Levels of different hormones that may be tested include:
Other blood tests that may be done include:
- Fasting glucose and other tests for glucose intolerance and insulin resistance
- Lipid levels
- Pregnancy test (serum HCG)
- Prolactin levels
- Thyroid function tests
Other tests may include:
- Vaginal ultrasound to look at the ovaries
- Pelvic laparoscopy to look more closely at, and possibly biopsy the ovaries
Losing weight (which can be difficult) has been shown to help with diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Even a weight loss of 5% of total body weight has been shown to help with the imbalance of hormones and also with infertility.
Medications used to treat the abnormal hormones and menstrual cycles of polycystic ovary syndrome include:
- Birth control pills or progesterone pills, to help make menstrual cycles more regular
- Metformin, a medication that increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin, can improve the symptoms of PCOS and sometimes will cause the menstrual cycles to normalize. For some women, it can also help with weight loss.
- LH-releasing hormone (LHRH) analogs
Treatment with clomiphene citrate causes the egg to mature and be released. Sometimes women need this or other fertility drugs to get pregnant.
Medications or other treatments for abnormal hair growth include:
- Birth control pills. It may take several months to begin noticing a difference.
- Anti-androgen medications, such as spironolactone and flutamide may be tried if birth control pills do not work.
- Eflornithine cream may slow the growth of unwanted facial hair in women.
- Hair removal using laser and nonlaser light sources damages individual hair follicles so they do not grow back. This can be expensive and multiple treatments are needed. Laser removal can be combined with other medicines and hormones.
Glucophage (Metformin), a medication that makes cells more sensitive to insulin, may help make ovulation and menstrual cycles more regular, prevent type 2 diabetes, and add to weight loss when a diet is followed.” – PubMed Health
One of the things that strikes me as most significant about PCOS is the similarities that it shares with Type II Diabetes. The statistics show that up to 70% of the women with PCOS also have insulin resistance, which is of course a precursor for diabetes. It’s no surprise then that, women who have PCOS also have a significantly higher chance of being obese, and developing diabetes. For anyone that knows anything about nutrition and metabolism, it should be obvious that the common link between insulin resistance, obesity and diabetes, is the over-consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugar.
Is it a far stretch of the imagination then, to think that the same elements that cause diabetes, through this cascade of problems that result from over-consuming these crazy carbs, could also be that cause of PCOS? Inflammation, oxidative damage, and insulin resistance all work together to create some serious endocrine disruption, and result in wide reaching health consequences such as this.
I honestly wouldn’t be at all surprised if PCOS turned out to be another symptom of gluten intolerance, or Celiac disease. A quick Google search turned up a whole ton of blog posts, forum posts and speculative articles on the link between gluten and PCOS.
The Paleo Diet & PCOS
Because the Paleo diet, or the Paleo Template as some of the cool kids are calling it these days, is naturally devoid of all offending grains, and other refined carbohydrates, it is a great course of action to take to bring the symptoms of PCOS under control. Many women with PCOS already know that a low-carb type of diet helps to alleviate the inflammation, and also enables them to bring their insulin and blood sugar under control, but a Paleo type of diet would be even more beneficial.
A woman with PCOS, starting out on the Paleo Template, would be advised to avoid all grains, dairy, legumes, and most fruit, in order to really bring their blood sugar and insulin under control. It has been reported that most women who basically go low-carb, regain their normal menstrual cycle, and sometimes fertility returns within only a few weeks of starting such a regimen. Controlling this disease with diet, should always be the first point of call, before resorting to drugs. Having said that, Metformin is a drug that helps to reverse insulin resistance, and has been shown to be mostly harmless. Metformin can certainly be a tool in your arsenal, but diet should be the primary weapon.
Check out this success story from a woman who beat PCOS with Paleo, from Robb Wolf’s blog.
Once again, the science and the anecdotal evidence proves that if you have a serious condition or disease, you should always try to combat it with the magic of a healthy Paleo type of lifestyle. Don’t immediately toss out your medications though; eat in the Paleo way, and maybe you will find that after a while, you no longer have a need for your medication. Good Luck!
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Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.
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