September is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Awareness month. This topic is very personal for me because I have PCOS. My hope is that awareness can continue past just this month.
What Is PCOS?
PCOS is basically a hormonal imbalance, involving key hormones in getting pregnant and staying pregnant. Many women may not even know that they have PCOS as the symptoms are unique and vary among each woman. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, between one in 10 and one in 20 women have PCOS. Please refer to this PDF fact sheet from the womenshealth.org website for details. (I do not have experience with all of the treatment options mentioned and personally do not believe in using medications without diet and exercise changes first.)
My Early Years
I can remember since high school having symptoms, though I had no idea at the time that anything was wrong. I never realized how bad I felt until years later. That what I was feeling was not normal. Weight issues were never a problem for me until after college, but I definitely had issues with food.
I was constantly hungry and once the feeling of hunger came on, I had to eat immediately. Even a few times in college, I became sick from not eating soon enough. I would get shaky and light-headed; it was an intense hunger pain that would quickly turn to nausea if I didn't eat right away. Later I found out this was my blood sugar peaking from high-carb/high-sugar foods and then bottoming out and then eating more of it again. My typical breakfast in college was toast with orange juice or oatmeal with orange juice. Now, I don't even touch orange juice.
My second year in college and I still had issues with irregularity, moods and fatigue, so my mom decided it was time to see a doctor. The doctor put me on birth control to "fix" the symptoms and my diagnosis was "irregular periods." It definitely fixed everything. Although it took several weeks of serious side effects and changing brands before I felt better. But even then, I still felt moody and anxious. And I also still had the food issues - how was I supposed to know they were related at this time?
The pill may have given me regular periods and eliminated acne, but the pill alone did not reduce my increased risk of diabetes and heart disease with having PCOS - both of which also are in my family history.
When It Was Time to Start Trying
Not only was it heart-breaking to learn nine years later when I stopped taking the pill and wanted to start a family but that I most likely was not even ovulating when I did have periods and the pill had not "fixed" anything (for those that don't know - the short version, you can have a period without ovulation - anovulation, but you can't get pregnant without ovulation; and if you ovulate and do not get pregnant then you most definitely will have a period of some degree).
Finding the right doctor is key in working to manage PCOS. Diet and exercise can make a huge difference alone. It seems as though people are in so much of a hurry to use a quick fix, for whatever the ailment or issue, when making changes to their environment can prove just as effective.
While weight gain is a more common symptom of PCOS, it is not always the case. I was a very skinny kid in high school and college. And my periods also did not return despite losing the 40 pounds that I had gained after college. I had what my doctor called "lean PCOS."
I was an unhealthy skinny, which is just as bad as being overweight.
I honestly cannot say how I got pregnant because my cycles were not what you call normal. I had stopped checking my basal temperature because it was too depressing and stressful. I had been taking several herbal supplements to help balance my hormones and lower my testosterone naturally.
It was obviously God's timing and that is why I got pregnant when I did, but I believe that part of it was me getting my body healthy before pregnancy. I truly believe having my body as healthy as it had ever been kept me from gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and other pregnancy complications. My Pregnancy Story has more details on my journey of trying to conceive.
The Genetics Card
It is believed that genetics plays a role in PCOS. Based on stories from my mom and grandma, I would not be surprised if they both have PCOS. I saw my grandma's health deteriorate and it was devastating. She had congestive heart failure, diabetes, kidney failure, and she was also overweight. I want to avoid that fate if at all possible. Not only that, I want to teach my daughter healthy eating habits early and make her aware of how good her body is supposed to feel. I want her to be able to make choices and understand what eating certain foods can do to her body.
Of course, I also want this for my son, too. Some research suggests sons of PCOS moms can have higher risks of insulin-related diseases as well as daughters (PCOS Is a Family Affair, Hyperandrogenism and Hyperinsulinism in Children of Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Controlled Study).
The Paleo diet was suggested to me to try when my PCOS was confirmed. This is a grain and dairy-free diet made up of whole foods and nothing processed. All grains includes, wheat, oats, rice, corn and any other grain such as barley or rye. I did include dairy, but only in the form of whole fat cheese or whole fat greek yogurt. I did not drink milk as it contained sugar and I did not want any extra in my diet.
My goal was to stabilize my blood sugar as much as possible. I read every label and kept my servings of "added sugar" or grains down to one to two servings per week. I lost a little more weight, but more importantly I felt great. My severe hunger pains went away and I had normal "growling" when I became hungry. I was more focused, and I did not feel light-headed if I got too hungry. It was hard, but it was completely worth it. (This is the book I read while learning about Paleo and more about PCOS - The Paleo Solution.)
I am not a one-size-fits-all or believe in magic diet. Eating healthy is a lifestyle and each person has to determine which foods work best for their body - and that can only be determined by you! My nutrition soapbox is another post. ;)
I pray and beg you, if you or someone you know has any of the symptoms listed above or are overweight and has trouble losing weight, it is so important to talk to your doctor and talk to your moms, grandmas and sisters. PCOS isn't just about infertility and it isn't about just getting on birth control to fix the problem.
The potential for health issues is still very relevant even after having a child. Health issues not addressed now will be concerns of your children's if they turn into serious conditions or diseases in the future.
I share my very personal experiences in hopes to be a source of awareness and education, but also encouragement. Prayer is a very powerful thing, and I pray for each of you.
Please check back often as I am adding or modifying pages as time permits.
Scripture/Quote of the Week:
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7
Who Am I?
Hi! I am Pam. I am so glad you stopped by to take a look at my blog. I am a Christian, wife, stay at home PCOS mom to three amazing kiddos and I'm all about all natural living and eating....realistically.
New to the Site?
There are several pages with information on what works for our family, references and my passions. Hop over to the About section for more details on my story and I hope you will follow me in this journey! I'm always open to comments!