DR. WENDY CUNNINGHAM: Natural help for PCOS

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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common hormonal disorders in women and the number one cause of infertility. Today’s estimates are that 10-20 percent of young women have this condition. Experts believe this number is actually much higher because many women with PCOS are never diagnosed correctly.

PCOS occurs when a woman does not ovulate, which causes a disruption in the normal, cyclical relationship among her hormones. The lack of ovulation alters levels of estrogen, progesterone, Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), and Luteinizing Hormone (LH). Estrogen and progesterone levels are lower than usual, while androgen levels are higher than usual.

Extra male hormones disrupt the menstrual cycle, so women with PCOS get fewer periods. Symptoms of PCOS include weight gain, excessive hair growth on face and body, male pattern baldness, acne, missed periods, insulin resistance, mood changes, decreased libido, fatigue, and trouble conceiving. Early diagnosis and treatment can help control the symptoms and prevent long-term problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

Doctors do not know exactly what causes PCOS. They believe that high levels of male hormones prevent the ovaries from producing hormones and making eggs normally. Genes, insulin resistance, and inflammation have all been linked to excess androgen production. Also, up to 70 percent of women with PCOS have insulin resistance, meaning that their cells cannot use insulin properly.

Current medical treatment generally involves birth control pills and diabetes drugs can help treat the hormone imbalance and improve symptoms. However, this approach does nothing to correct the underlying causes of PCOS, so these women find themselves struggling with the same symptoms and infertility when the medication is discontinued when they decide they want to get pregnant.

By far the biggest lifestyle contributor to PCOS is poor diet. Young women with PCOS tend to eat far too much sugar and highly refined carbohydrates. These foods cause an unhealthy rise in insulin levels. Insulin stimulates androgen receptors on the outside of the ovary, causing the typical PCOS symptoms of excess facial and body hair , thin hair (on the head), and acne. Eventually, this type of diet will cause obesity, which will cause insulin resistance, which will aggravate the PCOS even more. A diet focused on nutrient dense food while eliminating simple carbohydrates, processed foods and sugar can eliminate some of these problems.

Acupuncture, massage therapy and herbs can often help. These can help relieve stress and restore proper “energy” to the body, by lowering stress hormones and improving a sense of well-being. There are a variety of herbs available to help hormone imbalances, stress, and blood sugar balance including licorice, white peony, black cohosh, chaste tree, ashwaganda, and gymnema. Natural progesterone may be helpful on a short-term basis. A holistic health practitioner will help determine what is appropriate for the patient and guide dietary changes.

For more information, contact Dr. Wendy at haydenhealth@gmail.com.

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