Q&A: Living with PCOS

 

I've enjoyed your posts on PCOS. I'm struggling with that right
now. Do you think this condition contributes to my sugar cravings?

Jennifer

Definitely! But it's not just the PCOS, although that certainly contributes. I can think of 3 likely reasons for sugar cravings:

1) Unbalanced blood sugar and insulin levels, common in most with PCOS. When our blood sugar levels gets too low (and our insulin is off and thus not able to help balance it) the natural response is that we crave… yup, you guessed it. Sugar! It becomes a horrible, vicious cycle. Your blood sugar is low, so you crave sugar, you eat a donut, you feel great for a couple hours, then your blood sugar plummets, so you crave some chocolate, and on and on and on.

2) Most women (whether they have PCOS or not) have higher Candida or yeast levels in their bodies than is healthy. Basically, Candida is a form of yeast that feeds off of sugars, carbs, yeast, etc. that we eat You can imagine how much there is to feed Candida in a typical North American diet- all that white flour, sugar in nearly everything, yeasted white breads everywhere!

3) The fact that most of us are simply addicted to sugar and simple carbohydrates (white flours, pasta, store-bought baking, etc.).

What to do about sugar cravings?

The overall best thing is to move towards a whole foods diet, gradually cutting out more and more processed and packaged foods. Make your eating revolve around nutrient-dense animals foods (grass-fed meat and poultry, free-range eggs, whole and preferably raw dairy, wild fish), as well as whole grains like whole wheat flour, oats, brown rice and others (instead of refined, white grains), and plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit. Start replacing typical sweets and baked goods with homemade, more wholesome versions (and better sweeteners, like honey, maple syrup or Rapdura), or try eating fruit when those sugar cravings come instead. Seek out whole grain sourdough or sprouted grain breads, in place of store-bought white bread. And try to always eat a bit of protein with every meal or snack throughout the day, to keep that blood sugar balanced!

You will find, as I have (and I was seriously, completely addicted to sugar and white carbs!) that over time your taste buds will change and you will stop craving these sugars so badly. Your body and taste buds will begin to be much more satisfied with these wholesome foods, and you will start to feel better… so much better! Less headaches, less cravings, less fatigue, less digestive issues, less breakouts, less roller-coaster emotions. It's a very. good. thing. :)

I'm curious about the PCOS thing, which I also have. Did u take any
medication or supplements to help you be more fertile after u went off
the pill? My cycle is SO irregular, i haven't got the foggiest clue
whether or when I ovulate. I'm becoming quite depressed and
despondent, because we really want kids. But every time i miss a
period, it seems to be just my messed up cycle. I thought u might have
some advice.

God bless
Liz

Liz, I'm so sorry. I know the discouragement you're feeling and it's hard. Huge hugs to you!

The biggest thing that I did when I went off the pill (which I would never, ever recommend- avoid it like the plague!) was to switch my diet over to a whole foods diet as I've just talked about above. I think that this was really helpful for me in starting to replenish many of the nutrients that the pill had sucked out of my body, begin to balance my blood sugar and insulin levels, and to start to nourish my body more fully so that it could get back to cycling more regularly.

I'll tell you the truth, that it didn't happen overnight. It has been a process of about 6-7 years since I began to deal with PCOS, over the course of which my body has gradually begun to cycle more regularly on it's own, allowing me to conceive more easily. Even after having my first baby, when my cycle came back it was still incredibly irregular and it took us a year to conceive our second child, which eventually happened with the help of a mild ovulation medication (Clomid, also not something I particularly recommend).

A few suggestions… one is to add a really good quality B vitamin into your diet. Make sure that it has all of the B vitamins, but especially B6 and B12, which are crucial for hormones and reproductive function. These are really depleted while being on the pill. Another suggestion is to start tracking your cycle by charting it. This will really give you more of an idea of what's actually happening in your body, which is priceless. Third, look into Vitex, which I will talk about below.

I have really enjoyed your series on PCOS and have
even ordered Nourishing Traditions. I have a quick question about
Vitex. You mentioned that this was one of the most effective things
that you have taken for PCOS. I was wondering how often you took it
(i.e. every day of the month, only before ovulation stopping after you
ovulated, etc.). I've been wondering if I should stop taking after I
ovulated and wanted to hear what your experience has been as far as
that goes. Thanks!

Great question! For those who don't know, Vitex
(also known as Chasteberry) is a herb that is traditionally known to help balance hormones, specifically Follicle-Stimulating and Lutenizing hormones (crucial for ovulation). Many women, especially those with PCOS, have found that it helps to balance things enough to encourage ovulation and more regular cycles.

This was the case for me. I have used it both during the year that we tried to conceive our son, and also for several months before conceiving the baby I am carrying now. Both times I found it effective.

The thing about Vitex is that it requires a little bit of patience. In both instances, it took about 3 months to start to notice the effects from it and to begin to ovulate. This is considered very normal when using Vitex. It is recommended to use it steadily for 3-4 months before expecting to see any (or at least many) changes.

I have used both a tincture form, as well as capsules because they were cheaper. I found the tincture slightly more effective, but both worked. You can buy it at almost any health food store, in their herbs section. Look for it under both Vitex
and/or Chasteberry.

It should always be used daily in order to be effective. As for specific dosage, that will depend on which type, brand, etc. that you are using. Consult the package, or speak to a naturopath or a herbalist for more on dosage.

In all my research, I have never read anything suggesting that it is dangerous to continue on with it after ovulation, in case of conception. I would discontinue it as soon as I had a positive pregnancy test, but if you continually stop each time you ovulate, you will never be able to take it regularly enough to see it's effects. If anyone has any really solid information on a reason why it should be discontinued after ovulation, I'd be really interested to hear/read it, but my personal opinion is that it's not harmful.

For those with PCOS, is any of this helpful? Does it spark further questions or comments? Any other issues you would like to have specifically discussed?

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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Comments

  1. Gabriela Hopkins says:

    My 16yr old daughter has been diagnosed with pcos. I am very discouraged. I have consulted two doctors and have gotten two different treatment options. One is to put her on birthcontrol pills the other is to put her on a 5day dose of Provera at the biging of the month. The endocrinologist went as far as telling her she might not be able to have kids. I am so confused!!!!! she has no cysts on her ovaries. She is holding some weight around her middle and is underdeveloped in the breast area. She also has struggled with acne and as a last resort she was put on accutane wich has helped but has not compleatly resolved the problem due to the higher levels of testosterone!!! Please help! I don’t know who to trust except of course God.

    • I know your post is from 2011 but I still thought I would send a reply. My Mum is the Executive Director of the Marguerite Bourgeoys Family centre in Toronto. I have included the link to her website. While I am no expert at all, my mum’s centre has helped people struggling with pcos. There are other centres in the states as well that she can set you up with.

  2. willie mitchell says:

    I just discovered your site a week or so ago and it is wonderful! I have, on sme days sat for an hour or more just reading the different things on your site. I have battled pcos for years (i’m now 63). Lost one baby to miscarriage after 1 1/2 years marriage, took 5 1/2 years to get pregant with our first son, then another son was born 21 months after him. To get to my point, I am morbidly obese and have been looking into whole foods. Something you said above made my heart sing. You said that whole foods would help with the sugar/carbohydrate cravings. How long does it take?

    • @willie mitchell, Welcome, Willie!

      If you stick to truly whole foods, and limit the sugars (even the good ones) the cravings will begin to die down within a few weeks, and they will become much more manageable. It took several months for my taste buds to really switch over to the new tastes and then I began to really prefer whole foods! Add in lots of good fats and protein, because this will help to keep you full longer and to desire all the carbs/sugars less. It takes some work and commitment, but the change really does happen and it feels so very good. You can definitely do this. :)

  3. Wow, I’m learning so much here! I have PCOS. I lost three babies before i conceived my third little guy (10 months now). We want to have more kids too, but I haven’t started a period yet so I don’t know that I’m ovulating. Is it ok to take the VITEX while nursing? I’d like to get pregnant again sooner than later since I’m already 32.

    • @spring, My holistic nutritionist was the first to recommend that I take Vitex, even while nursing. I have used it once my babies are nursing a bit less and are really eating solids well. Usually past a year old. Also, taking it before you get a cycle back may or may not help it to come back. Some mom’s cycles just take a while to return while they’re nursing. So you could try it out now, but you might not see results until your body is more ready for your cycle to return, PCOS or not.

  4. I just found out that my PCOS is what has been causing my acne! Has anyone else heard of this? There is a great article on it here: http://www.wellnesswithrose.com/articles/PCOSandAcne.asp

  5. Has anyone heard that PCOS causes breakouts and acne? I just found this great article about it? http://www.wellnesswithrose.com/articles/PCOSandAcne.asp Just thought I would pass this along!

  6. Christine says:

    There is quite a bit more to the subject of Candida. Please take time to read:

    Candida Causes Cell Membrane Defects
    http://www.healingnaturallybybee.com/articles/cabout1.php

    How Candida Causes Symptoms, Diseases, Defects & Malfunctions
    http://www.healingnaturallybybee.com/articles/cfd5.php

    How Candida Overgrows & The Only Way to Handle It!
    http://www.healingnaturallybybee.com/articles/cfd1.php

    Candida is a Modern Medicine Disease
    http://www.healingnaturallybybee.com/articles/cabout2.php

    In Christ,
    Christine

  7. Yep, PCOS here as well :) It might be worth talking to your doctor about the sugar-related condition – it is called “Insulin Resistance” and functions very similiarly to diabetes – although for the exact opposite reasons. That craving sugar and then crashing cycle you are describing is the pancreas not recognising that there is insulin being released into the bloodstream, so it produces more and so on and so on until the ‘crash’. Doctor’s in Australia recommend a low-gi diet – similar to what you have described here, and also recommend a weight loss of up to 5% to help with symptoms and increase fertility.

    Some further info;
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulin_resistance
    http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/insulinresistance/
    http://www.managingpcos.org.au/component/option,com_frontpage/Itemid,1/

    These sites are my recommendation – not related to Keeper of the Home blog, but I hope they are helpful

  8. I don’t have a question about PCOS, but you brought up the topic of birth control. I’m not a big fan of the pill, though not for the reason that you are (though that’s something to think about along many other things on your blog). However, I was wondering what method(s) you prefer. We have 4 beautiful children and many someday have more, but now is not the time – for many reasons. We are trying to figure what method would work best for our family, so I thought I would ask what you have used – or have you not since going on the pill? Sorry – personal question, but you’re blog has been very insightful and thought provoking for me.

    Thanks:)

  9. I’ve had PCOS for years and I’m still learning about it. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Robin
    Food and Sugar Addiction

  10. Keep spreading the word on natural alternatives to dealing with PCOS! I wish I had information about alternatives for dealing with endometriosis when I was younger. Perhaps I would have made some different choices had I known some were out there.

  11. Thanks for the info about chaste berry. I’m not married, and my doctor has me on the pill, which is expensive to get each month and I don’t really like eating hormones every day that keep my body from functioning like it’s supposed to. I don’t have the money or insurance to see a naturopath, so I’m trying to scrape information together until I feel safe enough to go off the pill on my own.

    What I don’t understand is that I went on the pill because of irregular periods (among other symptoms) but if they aren’t normal cycles like they’re supposed to be, what’s the point?

    Did you have cramps before/after you were on the pill?

  12. PCOS here, too. I second both Vitex and charting. Both of these allowed us to conceive our daughter naturally. I don’t have all of the typical PCOS symptoms, but do have the “string of pearls” cysts. I think nutrition plays a big role. We conceived when we were living at a quaker boarding school (husband was their accountant) where they grew all of their own organic food, had free range cattle and chickens and the students did the cooking for us from scratch (yes, we were spoiled). I really think that played a huge role…

  13. I have PCOS too!

    What boosted my fertility most was losing weight. It also regulated my monthly cycle.

    Right now, I weigh more than I did when I was 9 months pregnant with my son. It took us 7 years to conceive him and it’s been 6.5 since him of secondary infertility.

    I went the herbal route, with the Chaste Tree. I used the liquid form, and it was effective in the beginning, but the effectiveness sort of wore off. And I believe it was because I was eating poorly and not exercising.

    This is where Steph’s advice about a whole foods diet is essential!!! (I like the book “The Natural Diet Solution for PCOS and Infertility” by Nancy Dunne.)

    I have found that the *only* way for me to lose weight is a 3-prong attack: Food, Exercise, and Herbs/Meds. And the only way for me to ovulate is to lose weight!

    Steph, you have no idea how encouraging it is to find another woman in this Blog sphere with PCOS! Thank you for posting on it!

  14. Thank you very much for answering that question… I have been taking vitamin B and will look to see if I can get Vitex somewhere in SA. Thanks again for all your awesome posts about PCOS – you are a blessing.