When I joined the statistical 1 in 9 women with PCOS in mid 2016, my conventional medicine diagnosis was swiftly met with an intuitive, functional healing rebuttal. Grateful as I was to finally receive diagnosis for months of debilitating symptoms – cystic acne, plummeting energy, weight gain, skyrocketing anxiety, extreme hair loss, and painful, before altogether absent periods – a medical contraindication to the common “Band-Aid” treatment solution of The Pill, paired with strong gut instincts, made me determined to address the root cause of the condition and try to reverse PCOS, holistically.
Through trial and error, expert advice, research and most importantly, time, I set out to regain balance in my hormonal and metabolic systems. Fast forward 18 months, recent scans and bloodwork provided confirmation I have indeed reduced the number of cysts on each ovary, regained control of my symptoms, recovered my menstrual cycle and reversed my PCOS diagnosis.
Regaining Control Of My Condition
What to do when your hormones go haywire? Firstly, realise you do have control to establish healing protocols that can enable a reversal of diagnosis. Unknowingly, many of our modern day habits and lifestyle factors can result in troublesome symptoms. Toxic environments and routine choices, such as staying up late, skipping meals, too much stress or hitting one too many coffees in a day, can short wire your hormonal function. Over an extended period this may create an imbalance and, as it did for me, manifest as the presentation of PCOS symptoms.
The solution? Focus on implementing small but significant shifts that help, piece by piece, to regain harmony among the delicate systems of the body. Hormonal expert and holistic Health Coach, Alisa Vitti, puts it best in her bible for women’s health, Woman Code, “The only way your hormones can achieve balance is if your body does the job – and only if you safeguard and nurture it, with every meal and habit, every day, to optimize endocrine function.
- CHOOSE SLOW
In the age of the hustle mentality and social pressure to be “doing it all” I had to dial in my Type A personality and learn to switch off. Drawing inspiration from the rising ‘slow movement’ I began to preserve my precious time, space and energy by focusing on methods of self-care. Integral to kick-starting the healing process was re-evaluating my schedule and setting a intention to first focus on recovery. This meant learning to say “No” more often to all things that were not a “F*ck Yeah!”, scaling back my busy work schedule where possible, taking genuine rest days and prioritising time more efficiently. Moving from the glamorisation of the “I’m so busy” dialogue, helped to zoom into a slower pace mentality, and I constantly, and gently, reminded myself just how important it is to slow down – so when you are on the other side of recovery, you can dial the speed right back up again!
- LESS HIIT MORE ZEN
For women with hormonal conditions movement is highly important, however the right kind of movement is more so. Commonly PCOS is accompanied by high levels of cortisol and unstable blood sugar levels, which may result in carrying extra weight. Going balls to the wall may seem like the best option, however hitting top intensity when the body is already under attack just ends up overstimulating the adrenal system and hindering the recovery progress.
Shifting into a recovery mind-set, I was encouraged to exercise at a more gentle level and for shorter periods of time, with a focus on building up frequency and intensity as healing progressed. As a Pilates specialist, dancer and holistic personal trainer, movement is embedded in my DNA. Pulling back from attending as many HIIT studios, spin sessions and dance classes as I possibly could in a day, on top of training my clients, was as mentally challenging as it was physically. I genuinely craved moving my body and had to work hard to actually take rest as much as was needed.
However, this opened me back up to bodywork methods that I had subtly ignored in favour of the flashing lights of boutique studios. Relishing in the more nourishing methods of Yoga, Pilates, breath work and meditation allowed my body to move, but additionally brought back balance, mindful activation and an intuitive connection to the body.
For the chronic acute period of symptoms, I dropped back all HIIT styles and focused on incorporating LISS sessions, which is additionally a great stress management tool. I also maintained 2-3 resistance training sessions, including bodyweight workouts, assisted with Pilates props or strength training, to enhance insulin sensitivity, aid blood sugar stability, and to maintain muscle mass and composition.
- INFLAMMATION CONTROL
As PCOS is an endocrine and metabolic condition, how we fuel ourselves is key to the state of our hormonal balance. Of women with PCOS, between 50-70% are affected with Insulin Resistance [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3309040/], a syndrome by which the glucose we consume isn’t processed effectively, affecting the break down and elimination of excess hormones by the liver. As the endocrine system relies on stable blood sugar levels, the adrenal glands perceive mismanaged blood sugar as a stressor and responds with further cortisol and adrenaline, leading to higher levels of inflammation.
As insulin resistance and low-grade inflammation were key marker of my diagnosis, it was integral to focus on reducing the inflammatory response and to sort out a troublesome digestive system – which was limiting the absorption of nutrients I was already nourishing with. I focused on fuelling my body with a balance of whole foods and fresh, organic and nutrient rich proteins and fats. I incorporated plenty of low GI carbohydrate sources, such as sweet potatoes and brown rice to stabilise my blood sugar levels and a plethora of anti-oxidant rich, vibrant fruits and vegetables including dark leafy kale and blueberries, to provide plenty of nutrients and vitamins, while helping the process of elimination.
At the same time, I focused heavily on promoting good gut health. Under the guidance of expert practitioners, I removed trigger foods that were leading to IBS symptoms, reduced my caffeine intake to relieve the adrenal system and incorporated key supplements, such as liquid Silicea and Slippery Elm, which soothed and healed an overburdened digestive tract.
- CLEAN BEAUTY
You may have heard of endocrine disrupters before, these common substances hijack our hormonal systems and disrupt the way in which our bodies process and manage hormones. We are all exposed to endocrine disrupters, every day, however our lifestyles choices and genetic predispositions can make our reactions vary. When healing PCOS, eliminating exposure to these chemical loads is imperative to assist healing and stabilising already volatile endocrine balance. One of the most common places we find these blocker is in our beauty cupboards. A study in UK found that women who use makeup absorb almost 5 pounds of chemicals into their bodies each year [https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1555173/Body-absorbs-5lb-of-make-up-chemicals-a-year.html] and it’s through the process of derma-absorption we absorb much of what we place on our bodies.
Rethinking my bathroom countertop was the first step to ridding myself of common chemical laden products. Paying particular attention to items that you soak in (bath addict over here!), put on and don’t wash off (such as beauty oils or creams), wash over the body (including shampoo & conditioner) or is applied closely to lymph nodes (such as deodorant) was my first round of swaps from regular options to natural, organic and chemical free variations. From there, I began to make consistent shifts in my beauty bag, replacing repeat buys with new vegan, all-natural alternatives. With a growing number of conscious companies focusing on this sector, it is easier than ever before to find vegan, cruelty free makeup and personal care products that support both your body and the world around you.
- GREEN SHIFTS
Moving from the beauty cupboard to the rest of the household, reducing the toxic exposure in my controllable environment was an important step to stabilise my endocrine system and lower inflammation. Air pollution, chemical interference and unknowingly being exposed to many of these substances is common, particularly in inner city living. Admittedly, some drastic changes were made in this period, such as relocating out of a busy, polluted city to a greener, cleaner region, but even without being so extreme, there were many simple shifts towards a greener lifestyle which supported the reversal process of PCOS.
I began swapping out plastic cling film and Tupperware for beeswax wrappers, reused jars and glass containers for food storage, carried my BPA free water bottle around to refill and decked out my apartment with vibrant green houseplants (conveniently making feel like an domestic goddess) for clean fresh air. Stocking up on vegan candles, environmentally friendly cleaning products and selecting organic produce to stock up the fridge, were other simple, yet effective methods of reducing the toxic load around my home.
TAKE YOUR TIME
Most importantly, in the entire process of reversing my PCOS diagnosis, was the understanding that it takes time. The “big picture” commitment and consistent choices, were far more beneficial than any other quick fix could have been for my personal long-term results. The duration also rewarded me with a deeper, more intuitive understanding of my body. This I now carry on and I feel empowered and equipped to maintain balance and regulate my symptoms, if they should pop up again, rather than being at the mercy of some haywire hormones that felt desperately out of control 18 months ago!
ALT/ gynaecologist Anita Mitra shares a few words on PCOS, hormonal health + Rosie’s story:
There isn’t a great deal of awareness that lifestyle factors can have a real impact on female hormones and reproductive health. Creating a menstrual cycle every month requires a great deal of syncing between your brain, adrenal glands and ovaries, requiring a communication between far more hormones than just oestrogen and progesterone. That’s why stress, exercise and diet are just some of the major factors that can throw a spanner in the works. Rosie’s experience is a perfect example of simple, yet effective steps that can be used to take matters into your own hands. Although, as she quite rightly points out it took a lot of time, effort and patience, it’s clear that it’s been worthwhile. There is unfortunately no pill or magic potion that can do all of these things, so the more people that read Rosie’s story the better in my opinion. And this doesn’t just apply to people with PCOS. Anyone with a uterus can benefit from her advice for general hormonal health.”