Posted in functional medicine

Functional Medicine and PCOS: Looking Past The Symptoms And Restoring Optimal Hormone Levels

Posted by Agnes Lussier-Dow NP-PHC on 17 February 2021
Functional Medicine and PCOS: Looking Past The Symptoms And Restoring Optimal Hormone Levels

PCOS: A Commonly Misdiagnosed Condition.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition (specifically, an endocrine disorder) that affects thousands of women across North America. Typically, in western medical practice, PCOS is treated as a gynecological problem because of its connection to fertility issues. Infertility is, however, only one of many symptoms that are experienced by women living with PCOS.

The Trouble With Treating PCOS As A Gynecological Problem.

While PCOS is the most common cause of infertility among women, it should not be treated solely as a gynecological problem. In fact, because the focus in traditional western medicine is too heavily placed on treating symptoms - in this case, fertility (or infertility) - the root cause (PCOS) frequently goes undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated.

PCOS is a complex condition involving sugar metabolism, progesterone, thyroid, and androgen sensitivity. As a rule, women with PCOS produce an above-average amount of male hormones. This is, of course, what can result in irregular menstruation and issues with fertility. When PCOS goes undiagnosed and is treated under the umbrella of gynecology, as opposed to endocrinology, common treatments prescribed to regulate menstrual cycles (the birth control pill, for example) can actually make the condition worse by throwing the hormones further out of balance.

Unfortunately, even when PCOS is recognized and diagnosed, women are not offered much in terms of treatment. Told to resign themselves to the possibility of managing the symptoms for life, many women are left feeling hopeless and disempowered.

Recognizing And Diagnosing PCOS As Early As Possible Is Crucial For Women's Health.

Because the western medical model used fertility issues as the benchmark against which PCOS is measured, early signs are often overlooked. The tell-tale symptoms of PCOS can start to present themselves long before a woman is considering pregnancy. In fact, they can begin to manifest as early as the teenage years. Typically, however, it is women between the ages of 20-25 years who are diagnosed with PCOS. Symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Irregular menstruation including infrequent, too frequent, or very heavy menstruation.
  • Thinning or loss of hair or, conversely, an excess amount of hair in typically male pattern on the face, arms and chest
  • Acne or other skin blemishes
  • Weight gain and difficulty managing weight
  • Depression and anxiety

Many of these symptoms can be interdependent. Likewise, many can be aggravated by other, unrelated, health conditions. Without considering the whole patient and treating the symptoms independently, it is no small wonder that PCOS is misdiagnosed or ignored completely.

Women between the ages of 20 and 25 are most often diagnosed with PCOS

Diagnosing PCOS: The Benefits Of Functional Medicine.

The reality is that testing hormone levels is not something routinely considered when diagnosing health conditions. It is something women need to advocate for under the traditional western medical model. This is unfortunate because hormones play such a crucial role in our physical and mental health.

The fact is that PCOS is being missed. Not only is this causing women to live with symptoms they could otherwise address, left untreated PCOS can have serious health consequences. While infertility is among the most well-known effects of PCOS,  less widely known is the connection between untreated PCOS and Type 2 diabetes and breast cancer.

PCOS impacts all aspects of a woman's life; body, mind, and spirit. It is a real condition, despite how many of our patients have been made to feel. If you are living with PCOS, you deserve support, compassion and the active approach and hope that functional medicine offers. It is unacceptable that women living with PCOS are being misdiagnosed or ignored. There are, however, options for diagnosis and treatment.

Treating PCOS With Hormone Therapy.

Working within the framework of functional medicine, diagnosis and treatment of PCOS is possible. For example, an initial assessment with NP Optimal Health and Wellness routinely includes full blood panels to test for hormone levels and insulin resistance, among other things. The holistic approach of functional medicine provides an opportunity for us to look at a more complete medical and life history. Details overlooked in previous medical assessments may lead us closer to the root cause of your symptoms and a diagnosis of PCOS. Once diagnosed, Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) treatments can be tailored to your needs. In time, it is possible to restore optimal hormone levels and to reduce or even eliminate some of the effects of PCOS.
Posted in: women's health hormones functional medicine PCOS