I think we can all agree that last year was an emotional rollercoaster. Amid the pandemic, I like many others, tried to stay positive, that is until I learned a serious fact about my health. I was living with a chronic hormonal endocrine disorder known as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). If I’m being completely honest, I had no idea what that meant, and hearing the words “chronic” and “disorder” in the same sentence was a hard pill to swallow. On the other hand, I was relieved because there was finally an explanation as to why I was feeling the way I was and why my body was changing so rapidly.
These changes included an irregular period cycle, unexplainable weight gain, and acne. I didn’t deal with any of these things when I was younger, and I originally credited it to getting older, but I just knew something was off. So, I trusted my gut and headed to my OB-GYN to get my hormones checked and explained what was happening with my period cycle. She immediately thought that my testosterone levels could be higher than usual, which is associated with PCOS. Low and behold, when my blood test results came back, she determined that I did in fact have PCOS. She was also sure to let me know that it does affect between 10 to 15 percent of women—needless to say, I’m not alone in this. But, it is one of the most common reasons women experience fertility issues in their child-bearing years.
The next steps were unclear, because there’s no real “cure” for PCOS, and it involves a lot of trial and error to manage and mitigate your symptoms—emphasis on a lot. While my OB-GYN was perfect for determining the cause and giving me some clarity, I decided to lean on an integrative clinical nutritionist, as well as a functional medicine doctor to help guide me through some lifestyle changes. Ahead, a little bit more on what’s been working for me.
A Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Diet
I worked closely with Antoinette Liviola through Parsley Health. Antoinette gave me a recipe kit, along with a list of pantry staples that will benefit my diet. Now, I’ve always been a relatively healthy eater, but my carbohydrate intake was definitely affecting my PCOS. While I’m on the path of living a gluten-free lifestyle, that doesn’t mean that I ramp up on more gluten-free carbs and I’m still very mindful. There are women with PCOS who need to eat more carbs to manage their symptoms, but that isn’t the best solution for me. On the other hand, I’ve avoided dairy for quite some time now as a personal choice, but the protein in dairy can spike insulin levels leading to more testosterone production. Below is a sample of what I eat on a typical day.
- Protein Smoothie: Greens, frozen berries, hemp milk, sunflower butter, and protein powder.
- Grains Salad: Kale, quinoa, avocado, red onion, tomato, sunflower seeds, broccoli, olive oil, lemon juice, pink sea salt + black pepper. (optional: roasted chicken or wild salmon)
- Protein + veggies: Seasoned wild salmon filet with a side of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, and onions.
Less Caffeine and Alcohol Consumption
This was by far the hardest step because I love coffee. I would typically have two to three cups of coffee per day, but Antoinette advised me to cut it back to one cup per day and to stay away from any energy drinks. I’m also a wine lover, but unfortunately, the sugar in wine can really trigger PCOS symptoms. The best alternatives for me are tequila or mezcal with seltzer and lime—in moderation, of course.
Daily Supplements and Digestive Enzymes
Dr. Sharon Ng helped me a lot when it came to understanding supplements, probiotics, and digestive enzymes. My vitamin D levels were incredibly low compared to the average person, so I have to actively work on keeping those stable. Because I tend to bloat immediately after eating, she recommended taking digestive enzymes with each of my meals. Some other supplements I take include a daily probiotic, Myo & D-Chiro Inositol, and CBD.
Slow, Weighted Workouts
I love working out, but it turns out that I was doing the wrong workouts for quite some time. I stuck to cardio and HIIT workouts, with strength straining in between, but slow, weighted workouts are more ideal for those with PCOS. Yes, you can still do the others in moderation, but they can spike stress hormones and reduce insulin resistance. Slow, weighted workouts are great for improving insulin resistance and preventing the over-production of testosterone (again, high insulin levels cause the ovaries to produce testosterone). I currently exercise about four times a week and am planning on bumping it up to five.
I was never a great sleeper, and it became increasingly worse as I got older. Working through fatigue or waking up feeling frantic will only trigger your symptoms. The main reason I wasn’t falling asleep peacefully was because of my level of screentime. I was definitely a “doom-scroller”, and before I knew it the clock was ticking well past midnight and I had already lost a few hours of sleep. I consciously started putting my phone down and listening to guided sleep meditations to help me relax. I’m also a big fan of ASMR, and really credit it to helping me fall asleep at night. As I mentioned above, I am a fan of CBD gummies and even cannabis-infused drinks (not CBD) to help me manage stress and unwind, and these have definitely helped me get some more sleep at night.
If there’s anything you take away from this, please let it be that you’ll listen to your body. I sat on these symptoms for over a year and gave them room to get worse and become more difficult to manage. If you’re in your mid-to-late twenties, I highly recommend getting your hormones checked if you feel like your body is changing or you suspect that something could be wrong. There’s nothing better than having a clear answer and being able to take the right next steps in your health journey. What’s worked for me isn’t guaranteed to work for you, so it’s important to always seek help and advice from licensed professionals. And if you’re also struggling with PCOS, I’m right there with you, and remember that it takes time, patience, and a whole lot of self-love.