Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Stressing Out Your Hormones (A PCOS Story)

Let’s talk about hormones. FYI, this gets personal, so if you didn’t want to know this about me stop reading. If you have PCOS, perhaps my story might help you.

Courtesy of my Aunt when she was 12 – “How do you make a hormone? Don’t pay her!”

I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll probably mention it again – I have PCOS. I also have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. And (had) insulin resistance. And (had) adrenal fatigue. All related? Yeah, probably, especially since they’re all hormonally based. Oh, and let’s not forget gaining 80 pounds in three months while on a diet…

According to my naturopath, it all started with stress (and most likely some genetic predisposition which doesn’t help). Without knowing more than a few years of medical history, she told me that I was a really stressed out teenager with heart palpitations, major acne (and backne), and a major perfectionist streak. She said I developed ulcers in College. She said I developed IBS from stress.

I hadn’t told her any of that – but she was dead on right.

At that point I had been trying to fix/manage my diagnosed PCOS with several Rx’s for about 3 years, but I wasn’t getting better. So, next stop was the naturopath to see what she could offer. For some perspective, this was back in 2005.

What she offered was an explanation, insight, and a plan. You see, it all started with stress. Stress releases cortisol from the adrenal glands, which can be good. Too much stress releases too much cortisol and after prolonged exposure your body gets resistant to cortisol and the other glands that interacts with the cortisol can be affected – like the thyroid and ovaries. “excess levels of cortisol cause resistance in adrenal receptors and contribute to insulin resistance as well as general unresponsiveness to other hormones.

DING, DING, DING, we have an explanation! Finally! It all makes sense – my hormones are all effed up, and it was because I was stressed out. (and because of genetic factors making me oh so much more susceptible) Connecting those dots and realizing that I wasn’t crazy, and that it was a relatively simple explanation made me so happy.

The insight part – well, that kinda sucked. Because so many parts of my endocrine system were affected, it was going to take a long time and a lot of effort to correct them. The part I was most concerned about, eventually having a child, was at the top of my list. Luckily, she said we should work in reverse order and my ovaries were first on the list. My thyroid was never likely to get better, it’d been so heavily attacked by my own body (Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder) that they can’t detect any thyroid tissue left, it’s all scar tissue. That’s just a little pill every day, no big deal.

So, the plan? (BTW – all of these are long term, as in years)

#1 (ongoing) – De-stress my life. Easier said than done, I know. But honestly? It was life-changing for me to not be constantly tweaking out about everything. It opened up doors to places I didn’t know about, but that felt so perfectly right, like Reiki and energy healing. You don’t have to believe in it, but I do and it has helped me immensely. And I want to point out that yes, I might be all zen-ish and meditate regularly, and my blood pressure is beautiful, but I still have a temper and I still throw the occasional tantrum. But I let things go now (Hubby, stop laughing), and recognize that I can still accomplish exactly the same things without being stressed about it. That to do list can be done with you stressing or with you just doing it. Just be, just do, and stop stressing. You’ll like your life better.

#2 (DONE) – Get those ovaries working again. I worked with my naturopath on a regimen of hCG injections and diet (which also helped with the insulin resistance, but I’ll address that separately) to jumpstart my ovaries. I went off the pill around a year before doing the injections, and had irregular cycles. After the injections my cycles were like clockwork. I worked with an acupuncturist a few months before trying to conceive – and first try we got Max!

#3 (ongoing) – Diet… and I don’t necessarily mean lose weight. Losing weight would be awesome, but is really difficult when you’re actively dealing with insulin resistance brought on by PCOS. Metformin pills didn’t do crap, except give me unfortunate intestinal side effects. Diet has done the most with regulating my insulin levels. Cut out sugar and grains when at all possible. I actually did a 3-week no grains or sugars detox diet under the naturopath’s guidance and broke the sugar/bread habit. It was hard, it sucked, but it was worth it. The cravings go away. They don’t stay away if you fall off the wagon too much, but then you can do it again. (as a side note, my eating habits were never extreme or unhealthy, so it was never a matter of cutting out junk food or portion control) My insulin levels have been right on spot for a few years now just by regulating my diet.

#4 (ongoing) – Keep taking my thyroid pill. Unless they come up with something innovative and awesome, there isn’t much that de-stressing will do to fix that.

So how do I manage my PCOS now? Low-carb diet and low stress lifestyle choices. It may not work for you, but maybe it will. If nothing else, I hope that my story might help at least one person realize she’s not alone. BTW – I’m still 75 pounds overweight. But I’ve got my fingers crossed.

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