Get your hormones in check and checked out

As a freshman in high school, I was very irregular – yes, I’m talking about my menstrual cycle. My doctor reassured me this was a normal thing for many young women.

I was constantly under the impression I was pregnant because of late or missed periods.

In 2004, my doctor finally decided to investigate my family medical history and took blood work.

She told me I had high levels of active testosterone hormones. She referred to them as active sex hormones.

To my 16-year-old understanding, she was saying that I was a sex addict.

As I got older it became extremely difficult for me to lose weight, but easy to gain it.

On top of the weight gain, I started developing acne – something I never had to deal with earlier.Photo Graphic By Caitlin Clow

My body hair was also gradually getting darker. Then I started growing hairs in strange places.

I quickly plucked them, freaking out thinking I was transforming into a man.

Little did I know, there was a lot more happening inside my lady bits, and all of these symptoms were caused by the irregularities in my hormone levels.

Dr. Kerissa Nielsen – a homeopathic doctor who specializes in hormones and in women’s health at the Nielsen Homeopathic & Integrative Clinic in Calgary – explains polycystic ovarian syndrome – or PCOS – as a “hormonal, reproductive and metabolic disorder, where there are abnormal levels of testosterone, progesterone, estrogen, glucose and insulin in the blood.”

That abnormality, in turn, leads to the formation of cysts in the ovaries.

How did my doctor miss this? She had been seeing me for most of my life.

Dr. Nielsen explained that PCOS is often misdiagnosed because the symptoms are plentiful and have roots in a variety of other conditions.

Dr. Nielsen said PCOS affects five to 10 per cent of women in their childbearing years and it’s the most frequent cause of infertility.

She said symptoms can include not ovulating, not menstruating, heavy periods, spotting, irregular periods or cycles, infertility, weight gain, excessive hair growth, acne, changes in skin, dandruff, insulin resistance or high insulin, high cholesterol and hypertension.

Dr. Nielsen said, “The etiology is unknown,” but she said it is most likely related to genetics. That means PCOS may be hereditary. Thanks mom.

It wasn’t until 2009 – when I saw Dr. Nielsen – that I was diagnosed with the condition.

She suggested I take this diagnoses to my medical doctor to get more blood work and an ultrasound.

My doctor seemed surprised when I brought up the idea of PCOS but said it could explain most of the issues I had brought to her in the past.

At the age of 20 the idea of possibly not being able to conceive was terrifying. So I pushed the tests back to the bottom of my to-do list.

It wasn’t until early 2012 that I was officially tested, with my new doctor confirming I did, in fact, have PCOS.

This syndrome is not a pretty one, nor is it very apparent to people. But when I look in a mirror I see a lot more. This syndrome basically strips me of my femininity.

Morning routines are different for women who suffer with PCOS. They have to worry about plucking stray, dark hairs on their chin and neck, and covering up pimples that are constantly popping up.

The invisible syndrome

PCOS affects many women. But they may not even know they have it.

This could be a result of the lack of awareness surrounding the syndrome.Photo Graphic By Caitlin Clow

Although the origins of the syndrome are unclear, Dr. Nielsen believes PCOS is related to diet, genetics, stress levels, hours of sleep and outside influences of hormones – such as the birth control pill or other pharmaceuticals.

One of the tell tale signs is fast weight gain.

It is still unknown whether or not the weight gain causes the cysts that lead to PCOS or vice versa.

Dr. Nielsen said, “The question is like, which came first the chicken or the egg. No one really knows this answer.”

How to regain control

There is no real “cure” for PCOS, but the symptoms can be controlled.

Often birth control is the main pill prescribed to help level progesterone, estrogen and testosterone levels.

But Dr. Nielsen said it only takes care of half of the issue and there are more natural steps the individual can take to get control.

By losing as little as 10 per cent of total body weight, periods will quickly become more regular.

Dr. Nielsen said, “Watch what you are eating, staying away from sugars, bad carbs and high estrogenic foods,” this will help “Control insulin and hormone levels.”

Dr. Nielsen said another good way to regulate hormones is to “Have intercourse, and primarily have an orgasm, minimum, once a week.” This will exercise your hormones.

When hormones start to balance out, symptoms will subside. But they’ll never go away completely.

Round out the treatment

Dr. Nielsen said that because PCOS is on the rise, more doctors are beginning to immediately test for additional symptoms leading to faster diagnoses.

Medical doctors will treat the condition’s symptoms. But Dr. Nielsen recommends also seeing a homeopathic, naturopathic or Chinese medical doctor.

Dr. Nielsen said, keep your “solid foundation” solid, meaning eat well, sleep lots, work out, and keep stress levels under control.

“Please do not try to ‘fight’ this on your own,” Dr. Nielsen said. There is a lot of ways to seek out help and there are tons of support groups online such as soulcysters.com.

So be your own medical advocate, ask your doctors questions and tell a loved one. Tell your mothers, your sisters, your girlfriends, about this syndrome.

More people need to know about PCOS, especially since it affects so many of us.

cclow@cjournal.ca