Metformin and PCOS: Everything You Need to Know

Metformin and PCOS: Everything You Need to Know

Metformin is a type of medication used to treat Type 2 Diabetes. Because there is a strong link between diabetes and PCOS, metformin is now commonly proscribed to treat PCOS. But should it be? What is the real relationship between metformin and PCOS?

Metformin and PCOS: The Science

PCOS  is an infertility condition that often causes acne, facial hair growth, balding, low sex drive, weight gain, difficulty with weight loss, and mental health disturbances such as depression and anxiety in approximately 15% of women. It is also associated with a myriad of health conditions, spanning from diabetes to hypothyroidism and to heart disease.

PCOS is, in short, not a condition to sneeze at.

PCOS is a condition of hormone imbalance. With PCOS, male sex hormones such as testosterone and DHEA-S rise relative to the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. (…Roughly speaking – it’s complicated. For a full-blown account of the science of PCOS and how it affects you, see here.)

Elevated testosterone is very often the primary culprit in causing PCOS. (But not always! For one of my most thorough accounts of other things that can cause PCOS, see here.) Insulin causes testosterone levels to rise because insulin tells the ovaries to produce testosterone.

Basically, elevated insulin causes elevated testosterone, which causes PCOS.

This is where metformin comes into play. Metformin lowers blood sugar levels below what they would otherwise be after a meal (because it intervenes with the liver’s interaction with and production of glucose). Insulin is the body’s way of dealing with blood sugar. If blood sugar is lower, then insulin will be lower, and thus testosterone will be lower.

Metformin decreases blood sugar, which lowers insulin, which lowers testosterone.

Metformin for PCOS: Is it Effective?

That depends on who you ask, and what you are trying to achieve.

Statistically, metformin has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and triglycerides (perhaps even worse for heart disease) in patients with Type 2 Diabetes. It is hotly contested whether metformin has a significantly helpful effect on overall cardiovascular health for patients with Type 2 Diabetes worldwide, but it is definitely true that many people have benefited from metformin in terms of their ability to manage sugar and keep insulin levels in check.

In fact, metformin has been shown to help prevent Type 2 Diabetes in people who are insulin resistant and at risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. BUT – and this is a point I will make several times – it has been shown to be radically less effective than a whole foods diet and moderate exercise.  This study compared the two, and diet and exercise were shown to be 34% effective. Metformin, only 18.

Insofar as metformin can help mitigate the symtpoms associated with PCOS such as acne and facial hair, it is often quite successful. The evidence supporting this is robust. Metformin does help reduce symptoms of PCOS in women… at least for those who suffer from insulin resistance.

Metformin and PCOS: The Limits

There are three primary limits to the efficacy of Metformin for PCOS:

1) Metformin may not be the most effective fertility treatment

So far as your fertility is concerned, clomiphene may be more effective than metformin (and diet and lifestyle more effective yet than that). This is a hotly debated topic in the world of metformin and PCOS – so all fertility treatment options should be discussed with your doctor if fertility is your primary aim.

2) Metformin is not as effective as diet and lifestyle in the long run

Just as Metformin loses in long-term efficacy against diet and lifestyle (see my personal recommendations for diet and lifestyle in a blog post or in my PCOS program here) for insulin management and diabetes prevention, so it also loses in terms of managing the symptoms of PCOS.

3) Every person’s PCOS is different – Metformin does not work for everybody

Perhaps the most important point for me to make is that Metformin does not work for everybody.

Even while many women suffer PCOS because insulin resistance causes their testosterone levels to rise, this is actually only the case for about 70% of women with PCOS. For everyone else with PCOS, metformin’s effects will be minimal at best, and may in fact be harmful.

There are many different things that can cause PCOS other than high testosterone. Stress, low estrogen levels, low progesterone levels, birth control pill usage, excessive exercise, hypothyroidism, the MTHFR gene, IBS and other gut problems, and restrictive diets can all contribute to PCOS. If any of these are your primary problem, and not the excess testosterone that comes from elevated insulin levels, other treatments may in all likelihood be more effective for you.

If you do not know what is causing your PCOS, the first step towards getting better is to get some bloodwork done, educate yourself about PCOS and what your personal kind of PCOS may be, and find out!

Other Potential Drawbacks of Metformin for PCOS

While Metformin does not appear to cause any significant or life-threatening problems, it does come with a host of side effects that can affect you negatively in both the short and the long-term.

The most commonly reported side effects of Metformin are gastrointestinal: at least some of gas, nausea, cramps, bloating, discomfort, and diarrhea are reported in upwards of 50% of cases.  

Metformin increases homocysteine levels in the long-term. Homocysteine is a by-product of the body’s natural detox processes, and it is toxic in high levels. Elevated homocysteine has been shown to be associated with inflammation, heart disease, cancer, and just about every non-communicable disease out there (including PCOS!).

Metformin appears to influence thyroid hormone levels, though the mechanism and implications are poorly understood.

Metformin reduces testosterone levels, which can upset hormone balance. I personally suffered severe depression – suicidal depression – when I experimented with taking Metformin. I only had to take it for six days for the storm of sobbing and suicidal thoughts to hit. I stopped taking it, the depression went away, and then I tried again and the depression came back. Obviously everybody is different – but this is a real risk. Anxiety is another threat, as is low libido, poor memory, and sleep quality.

It is also worth noting that in the case of weak kidneys, Metformin can cause kidney failure due to lactic acidosis.

The Real Reason Doctors Proscribe Metformin for PCOS

There are many reasons doctors use metformin to treat PCOS. Most importantly, they know that it has been demonstrated to be helpful for a lot of women with PCOS. Yet it is also important to remember that doctors tend to over-proscribe medication as a general rule.

Doctors and patients both know that it is easier to take a pill than it is to make changes. (It also happens to be more profitable for the doctors, but they are not the only ones to blame here, since patients are usually the ones asking for the pills.)

But is it better?

It has been demonstrated over and over again that the most effective way to treat PCOS, by a long shot, is to eat a whole foods diet and to exercise a few times a week. You can get very specific about the ways in which you do this, and I do go into great depth on these strategies in my program on overcoming PCOS here.  Nevetheless the most important point here is to remember that dietary changes are healthy, natural and long-lasting.

 

What are your experiences with metformin and PCOS? Do tell! I’d love to hear if it has worked for you – or what you like better!

Metformin and PCOS

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

I Failed, Gained 15 Pounds and Saved my Life (Or Something)

I Failed, Gained 15 Pounds and Saved my Life (Or Something)

The one thing that we talk about most in this community is how to be in hormone balance. How to be fertile. How to enjoy being a woman instead of constantly fighting the basic facts of natural womanhood.

Every day I send emails to women making recommendations regarding food choices, lab tests, and self-love and body image issues. I thought it perhaps best, then, to share with you the differences I have experienced at different points in my life regarding my hormone balance.

Pre-weight loss; pre-exercise-binger; pre-paleo

As an adolescent and very young adult, I had some but not extreme acne. I weighed 137 pounds at my “heaviest,” which at 5’2 is approximately a size 7, and on my larger days a 9. I was also quite stressed out so did not menstruate super regularly, but still menstruated on a fairly regular basis. My periods were not always, though sometimes, incredibly painful, and lasted approximately 6-8 days. I do not have any good photos from the time (and I deleted off of my facebook any of the ones that actually showed my body fatness… choosing to leave tagged only those photos that were most flattered). But here is what I looked like, more or less:

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(College “I’m drunk meditating on the side of the road in Beijing” phase)

 

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(College “I’m dressed as a fairy holding the ‘make out’ hat” and “this photo is actually super flattering” phase)

Yet I dug up one from another angle in which I appear a bit less flat:

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(Yes, I’m kissing someone, not a phase.)

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(College  “I’m a crunchy hippy” phase)

———-

Enter “success”

In the fall of 2009 I finally achieved the momentum I needed on my low fat, low calorie, vegetarian diet, 90-minute-sprint-workouts-every-day regimen to shrink down to, at my lowest, I think I was probably around 105 pounds. I bounced back up to 115 for the next few years but I still wore size zero, 25 inch waist pants.

In this time period, I experienced:

-the complete cessation and continued absence of anything resembling a sex drive

-an vagina that was, all of the time, as dry as Oscar Wilde (if not more so-if such a thing is possible)

-a completely absent menstrual cycle

-cystic acne

-constant hunger (though I did not know it at the time since I had yet to experience the real cycle of intuitive eating yet)

These five bullet points might not look like much – but when you’re a woman who prided herself on her voracious sex drive and then it completely vanished, and you became infertile, and had acne… the thing was, I always suspected that my weight was to blame for my acne, at least in part, but I always thought it still worth the trade off. I’d rather have acne and be thin than be fat with clear skin.

Sad.

This is what I looked like in this time period:

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(“I cover my face because the sun burns my acne” phase)

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(“I have eight pack abs, so what, b*tches?” phase)

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(“Thigh gap!” phase)

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(“Holy crap I’m so comfortable in this tiny body please don’t take it away” phase)

———-

Lots of women probably menstruate at the size I was in the photos above. They probably had sex drives. I did not. All I had managed was to salvage my skin, mostly by reducing the fiber and protein contents of my diet, as well as by adding a topical probiotic to my daily regimen and ceasing to use conventional soaps and such. I had also managed to ovulate a few times, mostly by radically reducing stress or by having a particularly potent sexual encounter, but I did not have a true menstrual cycle, not by a long shot.

I also ate paleo the whole time, so anyone who says all you need to be healthy is a paleo diet is woefully uninformed.

———-

Enter “failure”

Then came a time in which I prioritized my work and energy over everything else, and was extraordinarily stressed out. I gained weight. fast. And surprise of surprises, I menstruated. (Literally, it smacked me right out of the blue.) My sex drive had steadily increased up until that day, and has remained not just “oh thank god sex doesn’t disgust me anymore” or “well sure I’ll kiss you I guess” but “holy crap I want to do it now” since then. I have continued to cycle since. And my skin has cleared, almost entirely (to be fair: my stress has also been radically reduced), and I have, to my mingled dismay/resignation/fear/acceptance, continued to gain weight.

This is what a Stefani that can menstruate looks like:

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(“I’m such a big deal I do photoshoots and holy crap I’ve got hips” phase)

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 (“Holy crap back fat stomach fat” phase)

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(“Bear in mind that the camera on my phone elongates and I’m not nearly this tall or slim” phase)

If you want to see a video of me partner dancing in a body that menstruates (which is, still, a size or two smaller than I am now, I am more than happy to invite you to do so, here).

———–

Looking at these photos, you might hardly see a difference. So what, you say. “She’s not overweight.” 

No, of course not. I agree. I mean — there is definitely a difference, and just about everybody in my life has remarked upon it. My thighs are about 3 inches thicker, each. My face “fuller.” My abs, gone. My periods, pain free, and quite short (thanks to paleo!). I used to be a size 26 jean, and last night I wore a 30. I can no longer wear any outfit with carefree abandon — I now have to worry about placement and what the most flattering cut is and how to handle the parts of my that jiggle. 

Some people say I look better. I don’t know. Can I compare? I don’t know. I know I look different, and that’s all that has mattered, and all that made this, while on one hand the best thing in my life, also, on the other hand, one of the harder things I have done (at least in 2014 🙂 ). 

It’s been a small difference, but I had to read my own writing, and reach out to others for reassurance, and make a deliberate effort to arm myself against the tides of psychological baggage that tells me putting on weight makes me a failure, marks me as lazy, and renders me unfit for love. I believe so strongly in allegiance to our natural bodies, but that does not mean that I still did/do not have to fight for it on my “bad” days. Only because the gains I have had have been so great — I’m never giving up sex again — and because I have such loving, supportive people in my life, and because I’m currently finishing editing a book all about self-love, was I able to fall asleep peacefully at night rather than in a fit of frustrated, frightened tears.

Our society makes it hard. Even at my own relatively small weight gain and size. It makes it hard to “lose ground.” It makes it hard to “backslide.” But that doesn’t mean we give up. We remind ourselves of our own inherent worth, and we push through, and we change the face of womanhood one woman at a time.

I am no longer a fitness champion. I can no longer compare myself to Victoria’s Secret models. But I am different. I’m a new kind of sexy (more about which in coming days). I am me. And I am happy, and fertile, and healthy, and alive.

Hell. Yes. 

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

Ask Stefani: PCOS Edition

Ask Stefani: PCOS Edition

More questions about PCOS this afternoon!   No surprises here.  Below are some thoughts on endometriosis and PCOS, quinoa, feeling restricted, allergies, and moving forward with hypothalamic amenorrhea.

If you find that a question you asked me is below and I have not stripped it enough of your personality to post it here, please let me know.

 

Help!  I have both endometriosis and PCOS.  I don’t understand– I thought endometriosis was a condition of high estrogen levels, and PCOS a condition of low estrogen levels.  What gives?

 

There are two ways to answer this question.  First, PCOS patients can have high estrogen levels, and in fact many of us do.  For this reason, you can have both endometriosis and PCOS without rocking the boat of your theory.   On the other hand, I also believe it is entirely possible to have endometriosis and to have low estrogen levels.  This is because endometriosis and endometrial pain is related to high estrogen levels, but there are a variety of other factors in the development of endometriosis.  Having an impaired immune system and inflammation are two big ones on the list.  Once those things happen together, and you plant endometrial tissue somewhere in your abdomen (and in all likelihood aided by having high estrogen levels), then you have endometrial tissue that is going to be very difficult to weaken.  That is just the nature of the tissue.  It does not just shed off effortlessly.   In this time period your estrogen levels can drop and your immune system can improve, but your tissue may still cause you pain.  This is how you can have low estrogen and endometriosis.  The solution is to mitigate the problems as best you can, reducing stress and inflammation, healing your gut, boosting your immune system, and eating a hormone balancing diet such as the paleo diet.

I wrote about endometriosis at great length here.

 

I stumbled upon your website researching the Paleo lifestyle and was pleasantly surprised to see the tie in to PCOS! I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m commenting on this article but being an avid consumer of marijuana, I had to click and read. Admittedly, I was quite disappointed in what I read not about marijuana but more about seeds, nuts and quinoa. I was under the impression that quinoa was NOT a grain but rather a seed. I’ve successfully omitted all grains, beans, soya from my diet and this was a major bummer to read.  I am feeling very deprived right now thinking of the possibility of having to omit this as well. Thank you for the great article however and keep up the great work.

 

Quinoa is in fact not a grain.  It is called a “psuedo cereal” because it does not come from grains or grasses, but is rather the seed of a plant.  It is gluten free.  That being said, it also has many properties that seeds do, such as having a relatively high amount of phytoestrogen content (and will contain many of the phytates inherent to legumes, beans, and grains all).  Phytates are also a bit of a problem for PCOS because they have the potential to limit calcium and magnesium absorption– two ions quite crucial for the development of healthy and fertile corpus lutea.  All of which is to say that seeds are not great for PCOS, but unless you are eating buckets they will not make or break your case.  Probably, at least, in my opinion.

My thoughts about restriction are of course always complicated.  If quinoa is something that is necessary for you to feel good about food and your body, then I advocate keeping it in your diet at least for a while.  Clean up as much as you can, and relax into your food choices.  Try eating less whenever it seems easy to do so.  If it’s a battle, don’t fight it.  Just phase it out only as you can let it go with peace.  This will happen over time with patience and with love.  And if it does not, I really think that’s okay, too.  Take care of your brain first and foremost.   It is going to be your most important tool by far for taking care of your body for the rest of your life.

 

I have question. I had a hysterectomy in May 2012. I struggle with endometriosis, hashimoto’s, Sjögren’s syndrome & celiac. I’m on estrogen therapy & the autoimmune protocol but my allergies are getting worse! I eat meat, non starchy vegetables & fruit. I can’t tolerate any spices or starches & my allergies continue to worsen. Any suggestions?

 

You may wish to try eating a GAPS diet to heal your gut further.   Allergies are not my specialty– but I highly recommend first doing everything you can to assist your immune system, since this is where allergy problems are rooted.  This includes reducing stress, getting as much sunlight and/or vitamin D as possible, eating organ meat often–I’d advocate at least once each week–getting as much sleep as possible, and potentially getting your micronutrient levels checked to see if you have any deficiencies that are hindering immune function.    Boosting immune function will help your immune system react appropriately to foods without leaping into panic mode.  It also depends very much on what your allergies are and how you are reacting to them.   Are they definitely allergic reactions, or are they food intolerances?  This is a crucial difference.  An allergy is rooted more in immune issues and food intolerance is rooted more in the gut.  Allergen-specializing docs are probably the best place to go for troubleshooting this sort of issue.   You also want to make sure you are taking care of your hypothyroidism appropriately — are you supplementing with thyroid hormone?  because with Hashimoto’s you may need to be, so speak with your doctor about it — because thyroid hormone is crucial for immune function, for cellular repair, for probably energy usage, and just about everything else cells do.

 

I have had HA since february, since I stopped taking the birth pill. I am really underweight (5’10 and 100#). I lost a lot of weight when I started crossfit and doing a low-carb diet for two years. I am now trying to conceive.   My hormone levels are all very low.  I haven’t worked out for several months.   I only walk daily for one hour. I started seeing a therapist about my anxiety, who is helping me gain weight.   She makes me track my calories in order to gain weight. I have to eat more than 2,000 calories but rarely go over.  I am a bit scared of carbs.  Gaining weight is not working although I eat more and stopped working out. I keep counting the carbs and feel bad having potato chips and a cookie (too much carbs).   I do eat a good amount of fat (teaspoons of coconut oil, nut butter bacon, greek yogurt etc…).   What should I do?

 

Since your primary concern– and biggest obstacle– in getting pregnant is convincing your body that you are fed, you want to err on the side of eating more rather than less.  This should be the case all of the time.  Also, I recommend that you eat whatever you want.  Anything you want. I personally eat a very high carobhydrate for extended periods of time to zero ill effect. Do your absolute best to stay within the range of non-toxic foods (ie, skip the gluten, deep fried foods) and eat heartily. The more frequently you can hit your 2000 mark, or even better, go over, and the less you obsess, the faster you’ll regain hypothalamic health.

I cannot stress to you how much all of the factors of relaxing, reducing your anxiety, and gaining weight are all important for your ability to conceive.  This takes a lot of work.  You are going to have to have patience, and to forgive yourself as much as possible for all of the difficulty you are having moving forward.  The thing is that it is not your fault.  You have become inordinately thin as a result of psychological pressures put on you by an external environment, and now you are stuck with fighting that.  Keep your chin up and move forward as lovingly as possible.  Accept yourself as a natural body with natural needs.   When you look in the mirror, don’t obsess.  As a matter of fact, don’t look in the mirror.  It is way too easy to start seeing ourselves as bigger than we used to be– and even while we need to gain weight to be and even look healthier, by the simple fact of being “bigger” we think we look huge.  Don’t let your brain trick you into such radical subjectivity.   Do your best to put your evolutionary need and your fertility at the front of your mind, and be excited when you see yourself put on a bit of weight.  Do it slowly and make sure to protect your brain in all of this, but embrace your needs.  You are a woman with some strong ovaries and the power to carry children.  Nourish yourself as your body is crying out for, and take as much pride in that as possible.   Being thin doesn’t make you worthy.  Being a badass and tackling these problems with as much love and determination as possible does.

Eat carbohydrates!!!!  Carbohydrates a) do not make you overweight, they just don’t, period, and b) are supremely healthful for you, especially in a state of metabolic distress.   Start eating them slowly and learn bit by bit the lessons I am telling you.  You will see that they make you feel and look better without making you balloon in some ridiculous fashion.  They are just food, same as fat and protein.  Period.  Eat them whenever, however, and however much of them as you want.

Be patient, however, love.  These things can take time depending on how much damage has been done and how diligent you are about allowing some weight gain and calorie intake.   Increase what you are doing as much as possible, and make sure that you are erring on the side of nourishing yourself more rather than less.  Believe it or not you have already made radical progress.   You have started therapy– something most women never do!– and you have admitted that you need to work on some of these issues.  And you have really cut back on your exercise, and you are working on eating more and gaining weight.  These are all awesome things.  You are doing it, and you have so much to be proud of moving forward.  You will get there, especially with love, forgiveness, and harmony with your natural body on your side.

 

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You can read more about my work and opinions and plans for PCOS in the manual PCOS Unlocked.

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

Ask Stefani: PCOS Edition, and Cyber Monday Part II!

Ask Stefani: PCOS Edition, and Cyber Monday Part II!

Due to a lovely letter and set of questions I received from a reader last week, I have decided to respond to a set of reader questions about anything on a bi-weekly basis.  These questions will also occasionally be devoted specifically to PCOS.   Today is the first of the series, huzzah!

I have also decided to run Cyber Monday back again!  From 9AM EST Monday morning (this December 17) until noon EST (December 18) PCOS Unlocked: The Manual will be available for half off the half off!   How enormously fun. !

How to get the discount:

Go to the PCOS Unlocked page.  Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page where you can purchase it beneath the title “for discounts.”  Enter “december2012” into the discount box, and away you go!

 

 

 

And here we go!

 

1) I lost my period at about 8 stone 10 pounds. I am 5’5.

Over the many years I have suffered form HA I regained my period on quite a few occasions – sometimes for a few cycles. Previously it was always at that weight that I regained it – and then, like a fool, I would try to lose a few pounds. However, I stopped getting it at that weight nearly two years ago – and I have since gained more weight (I have been 9 stone for nearly 6 months) and I still don’t have my period back.

Is it possible that every time you have your period, and then lose it, your ‘set weight’ at which you get your period back increases? Or do you think it is more to do with the diet I am currently eating/ have eaten before?

 

In my opinion, the best way to think about amenorrhea is to think of it as an algebra equation.  Remember from the 8th grade chalkboard?

 

 aX + bY + cZ + … = Result

 

Think of X, Y, and Z as variables that affect amenorrhea.  X could be weight status, Y could be phytoestrogen intake, Z could be your stress level… other variables might be genetic predispositions, ovarian health, different hormone levels, how much you exercise, what you eat, your micronutrient levels, your degree of sexual activity, your age, whether or not you’ve born children… everything.

Then a, b, c, the multiplying factors, would be how important each of those factors are, and how strongly they are present in your body at any given point in time.  With an enormous value at b, you may not have any problems at all save for stress.  Or perhaps your stress levels are moderate, but your insulin resistance is moderate, so those two factors coupled together increase your “Result” enough to push it over the edge into amenorrhea.

I find it plausible that as you stress your system more and more, your body requires more and more “help” from other areas in order to have optimal fertility.   This does not mean that your set point is increasing– it may be, but I could not ever say for sure– but it does at least mean certainly that variables and stressors on your body are changing shape.   Diet is certainly important– but that depends entirely upon what you are eating at any given point in time.  Keep the toxins out, eat whole foods (check out my book for more on this), get plenty of calories in all of the macronutrient categories, repeat.

 

2) Coffee. I am loathe to give it up, and I have mensturated in the past whilst drinking. However, I will stop if this is a big issue. I can’t see any reference to coffee in the manual. Do you have an opinion?

 

Excellent question!  I do have an opinion.  I would refer you again to the equation I described above.  You may have menstruated while drinking coffee in the past, but perhaps coffee has always been a stressor on your body and you were just able to overcome it at that point in time.  Now it may be a stressor that your body is not capable of bearing.  I would call this a legitimate concern for women who struggle with stress and adrenal health.  If you think your PCOS problems are related to stress, I would consider cutting the coffee.  Or at least reducing the intake and seeing if it helps.  Coffee has the potential to wreak some very serious havoc on our stress responses (really it prevents the body from calming down) and that can disrupt the HPA (hypothalamic pituitary adrenal) axis.  With a dysfunctioning adrenal gland, the hypothalamus and pituitary glands can go off the rails as well.

That said, some women handle both coffee and stress quite well.  It’s an issue of individuality.  I will say however that I believe it is worthwhile to experiment with removing the coffee, simultaneous with increasing your sleep quality and duration, and doing as much stress reduction as possible.

3)  This question is a bit more random – but one Im really interested in.

I am currently married and met my husband a few years ago. When we first got together I began mensturating regularly, although I had suffered with HA before. I also gained a bit of weight so that I was about 8.5 stone, instead of 8. I mensturated for a few months and then lost a bit of weight and lost my period.   I have experienced periods ONLY after instances in which I was quite happy about and excited with my sexual situation. I would also regain my periods after shortlived affairs during periods where I was single.

I do realise many factors that come into play; when I engaged in happy sexual activity I would often eat heavily the next day. However I have also done this without getting my period back. I also appreciate that it may be that oestrogen levels peal and I, in turn, become more attracted to people when happily sexual.

Have you ever heard of the theory that oestrogen levels are spiked by sexual attraction? I knew a girl with PCOS who didn’t mensturate, but when she started an affair she started to.

I’ve heard rumors of such things before and I like the theory.  A quick (quick!) search through some academic databases hasn’t yielded much, especially because you are asking about sexual attraction rather than sexual activity.

I have heard many anecdotes of women who have regained their periods after beginning to engage in regular sexual activity.  I consider this the best method for correcting hormone imbalances.

What these women have claimed to me is that “you lose it if you don’t use it” — or at least that it is true in their cases.  I haven’t been able to learn much about this scientifically.   I can guess, however, how the hormonal cascade might work — dopamine levels, oxytocin levels, and other happy molecules such as serotonin rise relative to baseline when engaged in sexual activity (perhaps to a degree even when just flirting or snuggling.)  In fact, it has been shown that snuggling has a very real effect on hormone levels: oxytocin is produced while cuddling and is also known in the popular press as the “cuddle hormone.”   So this increase in happiness with a sexual edge may very well be like giving your pituitary gland a hug.

Neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin have not been well studied with regards to PCOS.  It has been proposed however that hormones such as LH rise due to the activity of excitatory neurotransmitters such as dopamine.  It stands to reason that when you are engaged in sexual attraction, flirtation, feelings of comfort, or feelings of excitement, your dopamine and other excitatory neurotransmitter levels increase.  These, in turn, may help boost your pituitary function.

All of which is to say that these things– glands, brains, hormones– are still largely a mystery to us.  If you have found a pattern in your life, I suggest running with it.  Learn from it as much you can, and do your best to achieve that kind of happiness / pleasantness as much as possible.  If it’s good for your heart, chances are quite good that it’s good for your body.  Convincing your body you are in prime reproductive condition via regular sexual engagement doesn’t hurt, ever.

4) Over the past six months I have gained weight, stopped exercising and I think I am eating a very nutrient rich diet. I eat lots and lots of eggs, butter, liver and coconut oil. I also dont think I am very stressed. Since my period has not returned – and I am very light boned anyway – I feel like Im now getting stressed. At what stage might would you recommend going on birth control or HRT to protect bones?

 

That’s definitely something to talk with your doctor about– but I would say when your estrogen levels drop below what is typically established as “healthy” or “dangerous.”  That should be indicated on your blood tests, and OBGYNs generally know boatloads about estrogen and bone health standards.

That said, however, there are a wide variety of factors that go into bone health.  Also, if your estrogen levels are low only for a short period of time, you may want to discuss with your doctor the possibility that you continue to try naturally before working on the estrogen with HRT.   I would not stress about it, personally.  That’s largely because I wouldn’t stress about anything so long as I could avoid stressing.  Also this is a matter of personal opinion and understanding the risks.  What you need to know is that your risk for bone porosity increases as your estrogen levels decrease, but your general health and nutrient status is important, too, and short term fluctuations should be fairly well tolerated by most women.   It is also a risk happily born by some women.  I don’t recommend that, but I’m not recommending anything here.

 

5) The final loaded question, which is about calories.

I know it is a question of food quality and not so much of calories. But, like I said, I think I eat a really high quality diet. At 5’5 how many calories would you shoot for as a baseline? After years of undereating, and then a good few months of stuffing myself I think my leptin receptors might not be working that well. I think my metabolism may also be a bit out of whack so it is harder for me to just leave it to hunger or set weight. I can eat about 1200 calories per day and feel satisfied.

Do you have any very baseline calorie recommendations?

 

It’s interesting that you start with the statement “I know it’s a matter of quality more so than quantity…”  Because while that statement may have serious wisdom in it, calorie intake still is vital for women who are type II — that is, under metabolic stress — PCOS.

I understand your problem in calibrating your hunger and trying to figure out how much you should be eating.  It’s a struggle for anyone who has dealt with dieting, regimented eating, or even mindful eating in the past.  What I would say to you with regard to that is to always err on the side of eating more rather than less, and to never try and “go without” food.  If you think you might want to eat, you should eat.  Period!  🙂

1200 is a very serious minimum for a woman who is 5’5 and recovering from an issue like Type II PCOS or Hypothalamic Amenorrhea.  I would shoot for 1500 at minimum, but honestly push something closer to 2000.  The important part is to not just “get by” but rather to be seriously satisfied.

Your metabolism very well may be a bit confused right now.  The way to heal that is to eat as intuitively as possible and continually give it as much fuel as it needs– forever.  Wild swings in under and over eating can cause weight flucutaitons, sure.  A constantly satisfying diet over a long period of time is the only way to assure your body that you are being fed.

You also mentioned a lot of nutrient dense foods, which is awesome.  Be sure that you are including some carbohydrate in there.  Carbohydrate is the most readily available energy source, and it also happens to be crucial for the production of thyroid hormone.  Start with a few pieces of fruit or servings of potato / rice each day and see if that helps you find a bit more balance.

As a quick final note, it is possible that you are finding yourself sated in that fasting sort of way on a ketogenic diet (if you happen to be on one), and therefore severely under-eating how many calories your body truly needs.  I speak with a lot of women who confess to eating very few calories but not feeling hungry on ketogenic diets, and then hating adding carbohydrates in their diet because they feel some hunger again.  That hunger, however, may be an important signal for a woman dealing with type II PCOS / starvation / hypothalamic amenorrhea.   (Honestly I think the claim that carbohydrates beget unreasonable hunger is itself more or less unreasonable, and at the very least a matter of personal context.)  Carbohydrate intake is a touchy issue for many people.  What I prefer to leave the conversation with, therefore, are a) the fact that many traditional cultures eat high percentages of carbohydrate with no apparent health defects relative to lower carbohydrate cultures, and also b) the notion that personal experimentation with our bodies and hearts is the most important thing for our health and happiness.  If you eat carbohydrates and find that your body works better, then they are probably for you.

 

 

I’d also really like to finish with the comment that I am willing to try anything   I listened to your podcast with Diane and Liz and your words about not over emphasising stress/ adrenal fatigue etc – because 75% of it is diet –  made so much sense to me.
I know exactly what you mean when you said you would ‘try anything before gaining weight’ – I used to be exactly like that, but I really am not anymore. Now I’m just confused. To kind of summarise I am now half a stone heavier than the weight Ive mensturated at, doing stuff like drinking coconut mlik from the can and no longer exercising. I don’t think I’m picking at the details any more and I would really just value your opinion so much. I have even considered losing a bit of weight – the healthy way! – and then trying to regain it, just to give my body a bit of a shock. Im worried though that would be just like going backwards.

Uh, right.  Don’t do that.  🙂   Give your body some love and patience, and trust your body to heal itself.  Don’t panic about it.  Believe it or not, stress about this, even if it seems like it’s not all that much, really might be a significant factor for your physical health.  The fact that sexual attraction has played a role in your menstruation indicates to me that your HPA axis always benefits from some tender loving care.   Give yourself a few months and eat intuitively– you may drop weight naturally, or not, but I think you should be totally psyched about being 9 stone and 5’5– that’s a SEXY weight!– and see what happens.  Get yourself tested again and see if anything has improved.  If not, perhaps revisiting some tests and issues (such as hypothyroidism?) or vitamin supplements would be important at that point.

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

Interview and in-depth discussion of my views on PCOS on Sean Croxton’s Underground Wellness

Interview and in-depth discussion of my views on PCOS on Sean Croxton’s Underground Wellness

Sean and I took the time a couple of weeks ago to sit down and really dig into the nitty gritty details of Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome.  It was a delightful interview and I encourage anyone interested in female hormones to take a listen.

In it we discuss the primary causes of PCOS and why it causes infertility, the different impacts of PCOS on overweight and underweight women, what I believe the different types of PCOS are, why women suffer health problems such as depression, anxiety, acne, and gut issues at twice the rate of men, and what hormones are necessary for a raging female libido.

Grab it at iTunes here!

 

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

Announcing PCOS Unlocked: The Manual: The First 50 go for 50!

Announcing PCOS Unlocked: The Manual: The First 50 go for 50!

Today is the day!  PCOS Unlocked: The Manual is available.  I could not possibly be more excited.  This is important information, and I’ve finally got it in an accessible, digestible, comprehensive package.  Here we come, world!   We’re healing PCOS holistically, for all women with as many different hormone profiles that we can possibly conceive of.  I love this manual, and I think you will really love it, too.

And, both because I’m so geeked about this release, and also because my birthday is tomorrow and I am swimming in a pool of effusive love, the first 50 copies of the manual are half off!!   People started finding sneaky ways to buy them last night, so grab them while you can.  I’m hoping very much it’s PfW community members who get the half price editions.

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So PCOS Unlocked is, essentially, my brain dump.  It’s everything I know about PCOS and hormones, and synthesized in an organized way.

PCOS Unlocked is a thorough explication of what PCOS is, and why you have it, and how to overcome it.

Most importantly, in my opinion, however, is that it takes into account all of the factors that go into causing PCOS.  Most medical professionals, alternative health practitioners, and authors of PCOS books only really account for insulin resistance as a cause, or focus on it to the point of exclusion of everything else.  However: insulin resistance is not the only problem.  Overweight is not the only problem.   Not even close.  Dietary and lifestyle problems abound.

So in PCOS Unlocked, I address those problems.  I share with you why and how they occur, and I teach you how to recognize them in yourself, both by looking at your diet and lifestyle and also by looking at your blood tests.  I help you understand the shape of your PCOS, and I guide you through the healing process.  I share with you the proper diet, but then I also describe specific strategies for eating and living that you might want to consider in light of which category of PCOS you fall into.

To do all of those things,

PCOS Unlocked contains:

The 130 page manual, detailing…
           What PCOS is
           Why you have PCOS: Including a breakdown of the three primary types of PCOS
           How to overcome your PCOS
An exploration of alternative treatments such as drugs, supplements, and herbs
The 7 supplemental self-empowered treatment guides
The Food Guide
The PCOS Type Summary Cheat Sheet
The Stress Checklist
The Hormone Glossary
The Type Specific Indicators Guide
The PCOS Typing Flow Chart
The Blood Test Interpretation Tables
24 audio tracks explaining everything in detail
Totalling 2.5 hours of instruction
10 video break down guides
More than an hour of breakdowns and instructions in dynamic form

See the table of contents here.

So purchase the manual if you think it’ll help inform your brain and your life!  I put many furrowed brows and beads of sweat and too late nights into the project the aim of doing so.  I’d like to think I succeeded.

I am of course receptive to your feedback, and excited to hear what you think, so please let me know in the comments here or via email at stefaniruper@paleoforwomen.com.

It’s going up to 97 dollars as soon as we get to the 51st copy!  If you want one, grab it!

 

 

Or see it at it’s home, PCOS Unlocked: The Manual.

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.