Woman to Woman… Do you want to know the secrets of managing PCOS?
Today I wanted to talk about high testosterone levels in women.
The medical term for this is called polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS.
I wanted to dispel a few myths, let you know what I’ve observed in my natural medicine clinic, (which has been going for over 16 years now), and my findings in my book on this topic called Beauty and the Beast Within: The Hormone Changes Making Women Wild. (Which is available for download at any point from my from website here).
Now, PCOS is a condition that only affects women.
It’s about having high androgens or high testosterone levels. Often women also have high estrogen levels, but I will predominantly focus on high testosterone in this blog.
I will let you know how I go about helping people in my clinic.
This information is for your general information only. Please consult your practitioner or your health care professional for the exact advice for you.
So, I’ll just put a disclaimer in now, that this is general advice, not, you know, gospel for everyone, because there’s so many nuances, and differences with individuals.
And before you go make any massive changes, please consult your consultant, your health care, your naturopath to make sure you’re on the right track.
I would like to discuss some of the causes, triggers and risk factors. And some methods, (which you won’t find in a lot of books), that may help you managing it for best results. The most sustainable changes are through lifestyle, diet and natural interventions.
What TYPES of women get PCOS?
Elevated testosterone levels are often found in stressed women, competitive women and those eating a lot carbohydrates or sugar. Which is due to testosterone’s relationship with insulin.
So, the typical women who are at risk of this, are competitive ladies, women engaged in elite sport, or body building, or those going to the gym and smashing out weights. They’re at a higher risk of developing more testosterone. As are women who have higher muscle mass, because muscle will produce testosterone.
Similarly, a different group of women who may have it, are corporate women, those who work in male-dominated industries such as the police force, or front line services, or in work places with a higher male: female ratio.
I believe the corresponding high testosterone in these women is more an adaptive phenomenon.
Then there is a group of women who are just stressed in general. So, busy time frames and committing to a lot of things, will push testosterone up. Unrealistic time frames and high self expectations are deadly.
And there’s another group, women who indulge in eating a lot of carbohydrates. Now, these could seem really healthy, they may be a vegetarian, or it can be people who are deemed a little bit unhealthy eating lots of white stuff: white sugars, white carbs, pastas, breads, muffins, alcohol, lollies, chocolate. All these foods can displace testosterone on the cell wall, and lead to this phenomena of high testosterone, or polycystic ovary syndrome.
So, eating high sugary foods, sugar-rich or glucose rich foods, which are predominantly all carbohydrates, (your plants based foods), and foods with a higher glycaemic index, may lead to competition at the cell wall with the glucose receptor sites, leading to either higher circulating levels of testosterone or insulin.
An exacerbating issue with this is a woman suffering with low Vitamin B7 (or M-inositol), which many with PCOS are. If you’re low on m-inositol, then chances are, your insulin will be not as effective at taking glucose into the cell, or circulating testosterone levels will go up.
Sometimes the testosterone will get into the cell, but your insulin levels will go up.
Either way, you can get the insulin resistance syndrome, which is tummy fat, cysts on the ovaries, or, if the testosterone goes up, you tend to get the aggression, irritability, facial hair, tummy fat as well, and acne.
HOW do you know if you have PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome is recognized as a group of symptoms.
You may have many or just one. For example, you might have cysts on your ovaries, and nothing else. It’s unlikely, though.
Generally, if we scratch a bit deeper, we’ll find you will have two or more. But you only need one, and that can be a BIG problem.
The typical symptoms, which are things people tell you about, are:
- Iirritability or short fuse
- There’s often a degree of stress, so they struggle to relax
- They will have tummy fat that won’t shift regardless of how well they eat
- They might have acne, either on their chin or on their back, or even on their chest front
- Unwanted hair, so whiskers, hair on your nipples, excessive hair on the back of your neck just to name a few.
- Periods may also be affected. So, high testosterone or the presence of high insulin, can impede the egg to be released – these then cause cysts. Seeing as most women make a few follicles (eggs) a month, it’s common to see a few little cysts, or one or two bigger ones.
This may in turn stop ovulation (no ege). Many women have longer periods, or none at all.
In actual fact PCOS is the leading cause of infertility in my home country, Australia, where majority are leading a FAST, modern day life style. I.e: women working, putting pressures on themselves to get financially ahead and be successful.
Definitely, the leading cause of infertility in these women is this polycystic ovary syndrome. In Australia PCOS affects 75% of women who can’t fall pregnant.
When you look at the overall incidence, research states up to 20% of women have the issue. I suspect the numbers are as high as PCO or high testosterone levels, affecting up to 4 in 10 FERTILE women in Western countries.
The research and the studies will vary between 25 to 40%. So, that’s a lot of fertile women who are suffering with this high testosterone phenomena.
Remember, women may only have one of the many symptoms I listed before, which might just be anger. And this woman might lash out, only every now and the. Everything else might be happy, but they just get fed up really quick and explode.
You might be going to the gym, working out and sculpting, being hypervigilant with your food, exercising is immaculately, but still can’t shift belly fat. Chances are you have a hormone imbalance and it could be this high testosterone issue.
What are your PCOS treatment options?
The medical treatment for this is different to the natural approach and even my approach. I definitely treat the woman as a whole, as the symptoms are an indication of low B7, high stress, too many carbs, or a woman that needs help changing roles and hats (for example, going from work hat to home hat).
Medically, the different treatments strategies for PCO are: to put the woman on the oral contraceptive pill, to try and kickstart her periods if she’s trying to fall pregnant. Or they’ll use another drug called Spironolactone, which has been shown to block testosterone receptor sites. It’s actually a good old fashioned diuretic, but it’s often used with PCO women. Metformin and other diabetic medications can be used, or surgical intervention.
With surgery the specialist (usually a gynaecologist) will use a technique to stimulate your ovaries to ovulate. This is mainly used in fertility patients – not for women suffering acne or anger!
In the technique, the doctor jabs your ovary and punctures it. This can stimulate the ovary and lead to a follicle, or an egg release.
Then medically if this fails, you will often be offered IVF. In Australia you can qualify for IVF after 12 months of trying to conceive. Balancing your hormones with a natural medicine practitioner will often lead to success though.
So, how do I help women lower their testosterone levels?
Here are some suggestions, with more in my book that you can download digital format from here.
Mindfulness (a bit of a buzz word at the moment) is REALLY useful.
It helps women go from being in a stressed state, such as a work environment, to a relaxed state, like being home.
Mindfulness helps women shifting hats, and roles and this is often over looked in our fast lives! Downshift!
If this shift doesn’t occur, women may take the work state (and hormones) into the home. But the home environment doesn’t really roll well with KPIs, deadlines and time constraints. Especially if children are involved. Take the pressure off yourself and make a mental note to swap hats!
The stress pressure cooker time is now over, and it’s time to relax.
Active relaxation, practicing meditation, (or mindfulness), or using the Headspace ap, which is available now around the world, is really important.
When we become mindful about our thoughts and dampen down the internal chatter and buzz, we drop our cortisol, our testosterone, and we can become hormonally balanced.
Many women (the ones who need it most) will comment they don’t like meditation practices or yoga saying “Oh, I’m too busy” or “My mind doesn’t stop. I can’t stand it.” And they really don’t like doing it, because they find their brain’s all over the place, and don’t feel successful at it. BUT these are the women who need it most.
The key to mindfulness, is to commit to something every day. Just five minutes.
The Headspace ap is good for that, because the Headspace meditations go for 10 minutes. You might, though, commit to going to a class couple of times a week, and learning to sit there in the uncomfortableness, initially, doing nothing. And then you’ll start savouring those moments because the benefits will scope out across your whole life.
The more we re-jiggle and lower our baseline for anxiety and stress with mindfulness and meditation, the more likely you are to have more moments of feeling relaxed and chilled, as opposed to overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed. So, definitely practice meditation and mindfulness.
Healthy eating is important!
Eating carbs are fine … people need to eat carbs, but try and match them with a protein. Try not have them on their own. Be really mindful NOT to overeat (or eat at all); pastas, breads, big bags of sugar, lollies, chocolate, even excessive fruit, because, these will create a hormone response with insulin, and which can affect testosterone as well. So, only eat carbs with proteins.
If you do like carbs, and drinking alcohol, or eating the occasional lolly, there’s a trick where you can exercise, and consume the carbohydrate within 40 minutes of stopping the exercise. Your need for insulin will be a lot less this way. Therefore, the negative effects on your body and testosterone are a lot less as well.
Now, interesting, this is a bit controversial, but re-feminizing is really important and quite powerful. These may include actions like wearing your hair out, wearing a dress, or putting flowers around the house.
Honouring the feminine side with honour your female hormones (and help mitigate the male ones)!
If you’re like me, you will struggle with this suggestion and even perceive it to be a sign of weakness or sexist. However, having been a tom-boy my whole life, (I love hanging out with guys and doing guy type of activities) I have had to learn to honour my feminine side, in order to manage my high testosterone.
Long work hours, high stress (self imposed tight time frames, high financial aspirations), and a high carb, fast diet, I believe, are the big contributors to PCOS.
Being feminine when the opportunity arises, really can pay dividends and help bring PCO under control.
Along a similar vein, is raising the opposite hormone to testosterone, which is called oxytocin.
If a woman can increase her oxytocin through lifestyle and loving thoughts, (Ie nourishing oneself rather than punishing oneself), you can balance your testosterone very quickly.
Oxytocin is produced by a gland in your brain, and typically, we make lots of it when we’re breast feeding. And that enables us to bond closer to our children.
Currently it is being experimented with medically as a drug, and is showing great benefits with weight loss, and Asperger’s Autism, and depression. Which doesn’t surprise me at all.
Oxytocin is a beautiful hormone that makes us feel happy, in-love, connected to others and the planet.
Which is the opposite of what testosterone does, which makes us feel stressed, on edge, like people are out to get us, and in survival mode. So, if you can use oxytocin to drop testosterone, through rewarding yourself, not punishing yourself you will be able to self manage this condition.
Now you might want to know what activities increase oxytocin?
I call oxytocin generating activities: green light activities™.
Now, green light activities, are activities where you lose track of time. And you hear yourself think or go, “My god that was fun. Has two hours gone already, I just can’t believe it.”
You will know that was a GREEN LIGHT!
This will vary for each person. I used an example with the guys about fishing. With some guys, fishing might be their green lights.
For women, it might be a red light. I used to fishing, so it was a bit of a green light for me. But, you know, everyone will have a different take on what they enjoy in life, and what they perceive as green lights.
Here are some suggestions that you might find green light activities:
- Craft activities, sewing, knitting, scrap booking.
- Drawing, doodling, colouring, painting
- Cooking (turn the music up, cook with a nice glass of red )
- Playing music, dancing, any sort of dance generally will boost your oxytocin.
- Falling in love does boost your oxytocin, and it’s awesome when you can do this yourself.
- Massage, touch, anything like a nice meal at a restaurant.
- Anything activity where you lose your rational thought…. when you become creative, and experience that joyous sense of fun and connection, is probably a green light for you and secreting oxytocin.
I talk a lot about values on my retreats, and being careful what you’re saying “no and yes” to in life. My next book due to be published soon is about adrenal fatigue and making sure you are in align with your values and what you believe is right and wrong. I discuss time, why we push ourselves to achieve often unrealistic time frames, which often it don’t make us happy. Then we set up another goal or achievement… so the cycle continues and we fail to feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Being aligned with your values leads to true happiness.
The link for my retreats is here.
Summary of managing PCOS
You can start many of these small, easy to do suggestions and changes with your food, not stressing too much, finding out what makes you happy and doing more of it!
Connecting with people around you, hugging, telling people you love them more, smiling during exercise ins’t that hard to do but will take a conscious shift if you are not currently doing it.
The more green lights you can do, the more relaxed you become and more likely you are to lower your testosterone.
The less demanding of yourself, the more nurturing you become, so don’t use the words like, “I’m going to bust through. I have to push myself. I’ve got to flog myself”, the more balanced you will be.
I hope you find this information useful. The book Beauty and the Beast Within is available for purchase and download 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is a short punchy read designed for busy women. It is a best seller and has been helping women globally understand their hormones for years. You can order it here.
I also have a polycystic ovary solutions kit for those who are trying to fall pregnant. It includes eating plans, a meditation and visualization audio, a copy of Beauty & the Beast Within, and a video with a fertility specialist and myself. It’s more around fertility and useful for your information gathering.