Health & Wellness

Living with PCOS, can we do anything to help ourselves?

Q & A with Elenia Kolokotronis – Specialist Clinical Nutritionist

PCOS affects premenopausal women every day and the age of onset is most often around 16 years of age. Countless women find themselves hopeless, exhausting all conventional treatment methods and having to learn to live with this debilitating condition.

With last month being World Infertility Awareness month, we had the opportunity to sit down with Elenia Kolokotronis, Specialist Clinical Nutritionist and got her invaluable input on Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.

1. What are the symptoms of PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary or Ovarian Syndrome is a tricky and at times confusing condition that may or may not show symptoms depending on the severity of the syndrome.  Early signs during puberty may show menstrual irregularities, weight gain, Hirsutism – symptomatic of a disorder that leads to excessive hair growth, skin conditions such as oily skin, and or acne or pimple and rash breakouts as well as hair loss. In adulthood obesity and infertility is often a result of PCOS. However, this is not a concrete diagnosis for infertility as many women with PCOS conceive either naturally or with the aid of fertility treatment.  On an emotional basis I often see women diagnosed with this condition suffer extreme emotional stress due to lack of confidence, fear of never conceiving and or periodic bouts of depression and or anxiety as a result of poor self-image, fear of being infertile, embarrassment of excessive facial and body hair growth and difficulty losing excessive weight. It is important to note that Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a very common condition and is NOT a condition relating to ovaries but is an endocrine and metabolic disorder that affects the entire body and not only the ovaries.

2. What’s your PCOS story?

My history with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome was never a concern for me. As a teenager I was a very late developer and never had a menstrual cycle. Just before my 26th birthday I had a breakthrough bleed but then never again until after my second son was born at 33. Growing up I knew that my Cypriot grandmother had seven children naturally and always used to tell us, her granddaughters that she could count on her hands the times she had a monthly visitor because she was known in the village to be very fertile without having to suffer the strife of a menstrual cycle.  When I got married I visited a fertility specialist, being already diagnosed with PCOS by my Gynaecologist.  I never had excessive weight issues, hair growth or any insulin conditions resulting from my diagnosis. At the fertility centre, I was told I was infertile and needed treatment to even consider having children.  As I was already practising Clinical Nutrition and knew the successful end result of many of the people I had the honour of working with, I thought to put my own practices and logic in place for myself and after changing a few nutritional and emotional aspects I conceived both of my sons naturally who was born on the same day two years apart.

3. Can we do anything to help ourselves?

We are the most vital key to assisting ourselves on our PCOS path. Often we are made to believe our bodies are not profound enough to work through a condition. I have encountered couples that come to me depleted from massive amounts of chemical aid and expensive, invasive procedures, only to find that they were not questioned or advised on their nutrition, mental state or their capacity to help themselves.  Be realistic, informed and become knowledgeable with regards to your condition and what you can do about it. Change your eating regime to support your hormone and metabolic function, find an activity that allows you to stay active and stay committed to your end result, be it conception, a more stable emotional state or weight loss.

4. Is it possible to take a one size fits all approach when it comes to treating PCOS, or is every single case different?

A one size fits all approach is not a good place to start because everybody is unalike and needs different aspects for better health. For example, one woman diagnosed with PCOS might have the familiar effects such as weight gain, hormone imbalances, insulin conditions, excessive hair growth and irregular periods whilst another woman might only have irregular periods but no other symptoms.   I set aside at least an hour and a bit for each consultation because I need to know as much as I can about the patient as my approach is a spherical one taking into account not only diagnosis and blood results but also but also the patient’s emotional state and lifestyle factors.   Noting skipped menstrual cycles is not enough to ascertain a health and wellness path for the patient.  We need to take into account the patient’s emotional/mental state because it is very simple to chat for a while and say here you go, stick to this diet and you will be fine but if that patient is not in a good space, no amount of healthy food or chemical medication will assist her condition.

5. Does the quality and quantity of food we eat matter in terms of PCOS?

Absolutely yes! More than anything else, we need to look at the obvious.  PCOS is hugely influenced by hormone function and the only thing that either rebalances or severely hinders the body’s hormone function is food.  Foods that are highly industrialized, treated chemically and with excessive sugars and additives coupled with PCOS will only exasperate the system negatively and natural, clean foods high in antioxidants, minerals, roughage, vitamins, fibre and with lower levels of good natural sugars will inevitably assist the body to rebalance and become stable. Food is our greatest healer.  Personally speaking, the food we eat, portion size and when we eat is the answer to most of our healing, mentally and physically. We need to refrain from alcohol, smoking, highly refined foods, stimulants such as too much coffee and keep in mind that stress is a very negative contributor to our emotional relationship with food leading to bad food choices thus making our PCOS diagnosis more detrimental to our mental and physical state.

6. Are there any foods that can assist to rebalance hormones?

Absolutely.  Managing PCOS in its entirety, taking into account insulin production, resistance and needing to maintain balanced levels for this as well as hormones, weight and all other related symptoms, women with PCOS need to base their eating regime on low GI, high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, low sugar foods and the following foods hit the mark and are huge hormone balancing influencers, namely anything in its most natural and raw form such as good quality organic meat, high-fibre foods, any dark greens, vegetables or micro-greens, fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, cherries and kiwi. Certain organic dairies are also a great way to get necessary nourishment and do keep in mind good quality organic dark chocolate in moderation is great because it is packed with antioxidant and mineral ingredients.   and a plus is that it has less sugar than milk chocolate so one can have the best of both worlds but in moderation. Pcos ladies needs to refrain completely from anything with a shelf life that is high in fats and sugars or that is chemically treated. This will wreak havoc on your entire body and will have no benefit whatsoever.

7. Is there a connection between PCOS and diabetes?

Yes.  Insulin resistance is a major cause of physiological imbalances in most PCOS diagnosed patients. The reason why is because patients often have higher circulating insulin which is very prevalent in type 2 diabetes. However having higher than normal insulin levels does not necessarily mean one is diabetic.  The good news is that lifestyle changes can have huge positive effects and with the right nutrition, emotional state, exercise and less stress there is definitely a decrease in infertility effects, diabetes, heart disease, weight, depression and or anxiety.

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