How to Treat PCOS with Functional Medicine

PCOS, short for polycystic ovary syndrome, affects 1 in 10 women. It is one of the most common hormonal disorders in women of childbearing age. 

A typical PCOS treatment plan from traditional medicine is Metformin (a medication used to treat abnormal blood sugar in diabetes) or birth control pills in an attempt to balance hormones and treat the blood sugar and insulin problems characteristic of PCOS.

These approaches are not wrong, but are you wondering if there is a better way to treat PCOS? 

With functional medicine, the root causes of PCOS are uncovered so that you can reverse the problem, not just cover it with medications that manage symptoms.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

Symptoms of PCOS can vary, but most women experience lack of menstrual periods (called amenorrhea), excessive hair growth in unusual places for women (like face and chest), and weight gain. Many women who don’t experience these typical symptoms find out they have PCOS when they start struggling with fertility, which is also more common in women with PCOS.

Which tests are used to diagnose PCOS?

An ultrasound of the ovaries is the gold standard for diagnosing PCOS. We look for a specific pattern of cysts in the ovaries, which is diagnostic of PCOS. Most women do experience an ovarian cyst in their lifetime, but women with PCOS typically have multiple, small cysts in their ovaries. The cysts form a particular pattern we look for in the ultrasound. 

Blood tests are also essential for diagnosing PCOS, including:

  • Testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone–testosterone is often high in PCOS and estrogen and progesterone are often low.
  • DHEA-s–this building block for hormone production can be high in PCOS
  • Fasting insulin–often high in PCOS
  • Hemoglobin A1c, or glycohemoglobin, which helps us determine how your body is handling your blood sugar and is often elevated in PCOS.

Are PCOS and diabetes related?

Yes, PCOS and pre-diabetes are related.

Because of the cysts in the polycystic ovaries, the release of the egg, called ovulation, does not occur normally. This disrupts the production of estrogen, making testosterone a more dominant hormone than it should be in women. Weight gain can occur, which in turn affects how your body utilizes insulin. When left untreated, a patient could become insulin-resistant. This is the first step toward developing type 2 diabetes. 

Does weight gain cause this hormonal imbalance? Or, is it the other way around? It’s sort of a “chicken or egg” scenario. And what’s more–not all cases are the same. For instance, some PCOS patients are not overweight and do develop type 2 diabetes. However, women with PCOS are roughly four times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than women without PCOS.

Is there a specific diet to treat PCOS?

If you look online, you’ll probably find lists of foods to include or stay away from if you have PCOS. But this is not a one-size-fits-all condition. Everyone has different nutritional needs, and no two women are exactly alike in their hormonal imbalances. 

Generally speaking, there are a few main categories of foods a woman with PCOS should avoid or eliminate. These are: 

  • Simple carbohydrates such as white flour and refined sugar
  • Processed foods
  • Soda
  • Fried foods

Unfortunately, much of the standard American diet (SAD) is harmful when it comes to hormonal balance. With an abundance of processed foods, our diet often doesn’t promote health, but instead creates inflammation and obesity.

For women with PCOS, a whole-foods-based diet can actually reverse the disease process by promoting healthy hormone balance and weight loss. More vegetables, healthy grains (like quinoa and brown rice), legumes and seeds, and healthy proteins and fats go a long way to healing the underlying causes of PCOS.

Is it possible to reverse PCOS?

As you might have guessed, yes it is possible. The primary focus in treatment with a functional medicine doctor will be to bring your hormones back in balance. Through natural treatments like lifestyle changes and nutritional coaching, you can restore insulin sensitivity and normalize ovarian function. 

Nutrition changes are extremely effective for reversing PCOS, not just covering it up.

What if I already have an OBGYN? Why hasn’t my gynecologist recommended anything else besides medications for PCOS?

Time constraints in traditional medical practices leave very little time for doctors to educate their patients and explore various treatment options. In addition, many OBGYNs simply haven’t been trained in nutrition. As a result, doctors may simply be unaware that there is a way to reverse PCOS and other conditions through a variety of treatment modalities.

How is the functional medicine approach to treating PCOS different?

Functional health doctors focus on the whole person and the root cause of symptoms. Starting with the appropriate depth of testing, they seek to comprehensively understand the problem, then approach the issue as naturally as possible. With nutrition as the cornerstone,they recommend treatment options that are unique to each patient’s needs.

They collaborate with you to lay out achievable goals, teaching and encouraging you so that you feel supported and motivated on your journey towards wellness.

Ready to feel better? Book an appointment with a functional medicine provider today to get started.

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