How to reverse the symptoms of PCOS for better hormonal health
We meet Lauren Reynolds, founder of The Complete PCOS Plan, who explains how she’s empowering women to take charge of their hormones and live better than ever.
PCOS – polycystic ovary syndrome – is a hormonal condition affecting nearly 1 in 10 women of reproductive age.
Statistics by the World Health Organization suggest that between 8-13% of women worldwide have PCOS, yet 70% of those remain undiagnosed. Along with a host of challenging symptoms like excess facial hair, acne, weight gain and irregular periods, it’s also a leading cause of infertility.
Yet, despite its prevalence, it can take many women years to get a diagnosis, and even longer to get an appropriate treatment plan to alleviate symptoms.
“It wasn’t until I went back to school to study nutritional therapy and homeopathy that I managed to heal my symptoms,” says Lauren. “My journey with PCOS started when I was a teenager – there was little information available and I was simply told that I might struggle to get pregnant.
“Now, several years later, I’m proud to say that my symptoms are under control and I have a 20-month-old daughter. I’m passionate about supporting other women with PCOS – you shoudn’t have to retrain as a nutritionist to know this stuff!”
What causes PCOS?
While the exact cause of PCOS isn’t known, it’s often categorised into four different types:
- Adrenal (due to an abnormal stress response)
- Insulin-resistant (where our cells become less responsive to insulin)
- Inflammatory (chronic inflammation of the body causing hormone dysregulation)
- Post-pill PCOS (symptoms can occur after coming off the contraceptive pill)
Researchers think that there may be a genetic component to the condition, but other lifestyle factors, like eating too much sugar and feeling stressed, can also exacerbate symptoms.
“It can be useful to know what type of PCOS you have, but this can oversimplify things,” explains Lauren. “I tend to think of it as a scale, rather than putting each type into a separate box. For instance, a woman with PCOS might have insulin resistance, but that doesn’t mean that she won’t have inflammation either.”
Instead, Lauren prefers to focus on a holistic approach to tackling PCOS through a structured plan of diet, exercise and stress management.
Learning the protocol
While it often goes unsaid, what we eat can have a huge impact on our hormones and how well we feel. This, as Lauren explains, is where many women with PCOS should start on their journey.
“Research suggests that around ¾ of people with PCOS have insulin resistance,” she says. “With that in mind, balancing blood sugar is key.
“I suggest that everyone starts by prioritising their blood sugar, as it’s just a good habit to get into. So, first thing in the morning, rather than grabbing carbs, I say go fibre first. Opt for some leafy veg, it helps you to stay full and then follow that with protein and fats. I’d never suggest cutting anything out, but we perhaps don’t need as many carbs as what we’ve been led to believe.”
Balancing our diet can be a quick and easy way to start gleaning some hormonal wins. Within a matter of days, we might notice a difference in our energy and sleep, along with small changes to our weight too.
“Balancing your blood sugar can contribute massively to reducing bloating,” says Lauren. “Many women with PCOS tend to carry fat around their belly due to excess cortisol [a stress hormone]. This goes down really quickly when we focus on balancing our blood sugar.”
Tapping into exercise
There have been mixed messages over the years in regards to how much exercise women with PCOS should do, with some experts saying that over-exerting ourselves could be stressing the body out even further, making symptoms worse.
“The best workout you can do is the one you most feel like doing,” says Lauren. “People with PCOS tend to have a dysregulation in their nervous system and have raised levels of cortisol. Signs of this might be feeling ‘tired yet wired’ at nighttime, or regularly feeling anxious.
“There are no hard and fast rules, but if you’re feeling stressed, avoid HIIT and do some slow weighted workouts instead. Listen to your body and move in a way that feels right for you.”
Other hidden nasties
Our modern world has made it more difficult than ever to lead a healthy lifestyle – our food and water quality continue to decline, and we’re becoming increasingly surrounded by plastic and artificial chemicals. It is, as Lauren explains, a hormonal nightmare.
“Endocrine disruptors are compounds that can interfere with our hormones, and these can make life for those with PCOS even more challenging,” she says. “We’re surrounded by them in plastics, beauty products, laundry detergents, fragrances and even our food storage.
“It’s important for those with PCOS to limit their exposure to endocrine disruptors, but it can feel overwhelming to know where to start.
“My first tip is to stop with plastic – and definitely don’t heat anything with plastic like a ready meal. Endocrine disruptors can leach into our food. Swapping plastic food containers for glass ones is an easy switch to make.
“Another big source of endocrine disruptors are synthetic fragrances. Switch to more naturally scented products, and use essential oils instead of artificial perfumes.”
Protection for the future
In balancing our hormones now, we can help to safeguard our health for the long-term. Those with PCOS are at a higher risk of other conditions like cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver. All the more reason to prioritise our hormones as soon as we can.
“Plus, anything we can do now to help our hormones will ease the transition to menopause,” says Lauren. “When we go through menopause, our adrenals largely take over from the ovaries for producing our sex hormones. By looking after our adrenals and balancing stress now, we can work towards a healthier menopause with, hopefully, fewer symptoms.”
Find out more about The Complete PCOS Plan (and don’t miss Lauren’s 50% off Black Friday sale! Available until the end of January, 2024)