Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is estimated to affect 1 in 10 women, but almost 70% of these go undiagnosed. The major symptoms are irregular ovulation, cysts in the ovaries, and high levels of male hormones (called androgens). For a woman to be diagnosed with the syndrome, she needs to have at least 2 of the 3 symptoms. Alongside these, PCOS comes with a wide range of additional symptoms that are mainly caused by underlying hormonal imbalances due to a lack of ovulation and high levels of androgens. These additional symptoms range from acne and bloating to anxiety and sleep problems. 

Another common symptom of PCOS is insulin resistance, meaning you aren’t able to use the insulin you produce effectively. Insulin is a hormone that is produced in the pancreas that helps the cells in the body turn sugar/glucose into energy. The issue with insulin resistance is that your body may try to pump out extra insulin to keep your blood sugar levels normal, and having too much insulin can cause your ovaries to produce more androgens like testosterone. Eating high-fiber foods, like leafy greens, berries, almonds, and green/red peppers, can help to combat insulin resistance by slowing down digestion and reducing the effect of sugar on the blood. 


I was 20 years old when I was diagnosed with PCOS. A bit of background: when I was 10 years old, I was prescribed a birth control pill to help manage my severe menstrual cramps, inconsistent cycle, and various other period-related symptoms. In hindsight, these were early signs of my PCOS. After 10 years of being on the pill consistently and reading an eye-opening article, I decided to take a break to see how my body would naturally function. I mean, if you don’t have to be on medication, why would you?

It was at this point that my symptoms flared up and I was referred to a women’s health specialist and received my official diagnosis. I was prescribed some medication to help with my symptoms, but also began to explore potential lifestyle changes that could help. This included visiting an osteopath, incorporating more regular exercise into my routine, and removing inflammatory foods from my diet to manage my menstrual pain – trading out refined carbs and dairy for greens, berries, and protein. High levels of prostaglandins (natural chemicals with hormone-like qualities) involved in pain and inflammation are associated with more severe menstrual cramps, so a diet high in leafy greens, berries, and good fats can help to reduce this inflammation.

Myth busting

There are some common misconceptions about PCOS that are worth addressing, specifically that the birth control pill ‘cures’ PCOS and that women with PCOS cannot get pregnant.  

Birth control can be extremely effective in providing relief for certain PCOS symptoms, but it does not address the root causes of the condition (unfortunately). PCOS is characterised by small follicles on the ovaries, which can form due to elevated testosterone levels or anovulation. Birth control helps by preventing the formation of new cysts since it stops ovulation and your menstrual cycle altogether. Additionally, it can help lower androgens which contribute to hormonal acne.

Infertility with PCOS means experiencing difficulties in getting pregnant due to the lack of ovulation – hence the confusion. Irregular or absent periods and polycystic ovaries are indicators of anovulation, so restoring ovulation and ensuring progesterone levels are sufficient is key for a healthy pregnancy. By making the right adjustments to diet and lifestyle, natural pregnancy is absolutely possible. Consulting with your doctor about ovulation-inducing medications and other fertility treatments is also an option to explore. 


Discussing women's health and menstruation can still be a bit of a taboo subject, and there appears to be a trend toward the normalisation and downplaying of menstrual pain and other related symptoms. So, a key takeaway from this is that you don’t have to accept the symptoms that make your life more difficult to live. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts. Even if the first medical professional you talk to says your symptoms are normal, you know your body better than anyone else so seek a second opinion! Getting into my specialist was one of the best decisions I have ever made and can be one of the most empowering decisions you can make for your health and wellbeing.  


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