Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects 6-10% of women, and is commonly seen by naturopathic doctors. Patients with this syndrome typically have ovarian cysts, irregular or missed periods, adult acne, hair growth, weight gain especially in the abdomen, challenges with fertility, and blood sugar imbalances. 

These symptoms are reflected by higher than normal androgen hormones, including testosterone and DHEA, and higher production of insulin, the hormone that deals with blood sugar.

How Can You Treat PCOS?

Women with PCOS can typically manage their symptoms through natural means, once proper testing has been done to determine their particular hormonal pattern. This is a condition that is well suited to naturopathic medicine – therapies such as dietary and lifestyle changes, herbal medicine and nutritional supplementation can all be used to improve both symptoms and the long-term pattern of the condition.

What’s The Connection between PCOS & Diabetes?
Due to the increased production of insulin, many women struggle with sugar cravings and a sensitivity to carbohydrates. This can lead to an increased risk of developing diabetes at a younger age than is typical. Studies show that up to 70% of women who have PCOS also have insulin resistance. This means that although the body is producing more insulin than healthy counterparts, the cells are less responsive to insulin, causing the hormone to float around in the bloodstream along with blood glucose (sugar).

Insulin is a hormone that is secreted by the pancreas of healthy individuals in the response to the ingestion of sugar (or carbohydrates, which break down into sugar in the body). Its job is to regulate the absorption of sugar by moving sugar into liver, muscle and fat cells, and getting it out of the bloodstream, where it can wreak havoc on blood vessels. Over time, with constant intake of sugar (or carbohydrates) from the diet, insulin resistance occurs, where cells no longer respond to insulin. This causes a buildup of both insulin and sugar in the bloodstream, which can lead to the development of diabetes.

How Can We Address The PCOS And Diabetes Connection?
Improving the symptoms of PCOS while reducing risk of developing Diabetes requires a collaborative approach. As a naturopathic doctor, I find that my PCOS patients do best with a plan that involves nutritional counselling through our registered dietitian along with supplementation and herbal medicine, which I typically oversee. Supplements can be used to address both PCOS and Diabetes risk, and as a naturopathic doctor, my goal is always to use an individualized approach that is manageable for the patient. I often use bioidentical hormone therapy, which are hormones that mimic our body’s own cycling hormones, to regulate menstrual periods in women who struggle with irregular cycles or to address symptoms that are associated with hormonal dysfunction, such as excess hair growth, PMS symptoms, mood swings, acne, etc. Addressing hormonal fluctuations will ensure that menstrual cycles are regulated and the effects of androgens are reduced, while dealing with insulin resistance will ensure that we reduce abdominal weight gain, sugar cravings, and the risk of developing diabetes.

Our team works closely with the patient’s medical doctors, whether that is their family doctor or endocrinologist, in order to ensure that appropriate investigations have been done at baseline and regular intervals to monitor the effect of therapy. It takes a coordinated and structured plan to ensure we achieve success in treating this condition and that we minimize its negative effects on health. If you have been diagnosed with, or suspect that you have PCOS, book in with our naturopathic doctors to begin an individualized treatment plan.

Read more about the how to eat well for diabetes in our registered dietitian’s article, “Diabetes and Diet 101”.