There is an emerging new specialty within the field of nutrition called Functional Nutrition. Just as Functional Medicine approaches the body from the perspective of treating the root cause of disease, Functional Nutrition looks at the foundational way that food affects your body on the cellular level. Food is much more than calories, in fact there are millions of molecules of information in every bite of food that you eat! These molecules come into your body, effect how your cells behave and how you feel. This is our approach to nutrition at Blum Center for Health.
We believe that food is medicine and medicine should be your food!
Eating healthy is essential for both preventing illness and for recovering from disease. For example, specific nutrients can help your liver detoxification pathways, give you sustained energy, help you sleep deeply, and support your general well-being (1).
“FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE is the future of conventional medicine–available now. It seeks to identify and address the root causes of disease, and views the body as one integrated system, not a collection of independent organs divided up by medical specialties. It treats the whole system, not just the symptoms.” – Dr Mark D Hymen
Functional Medicine determines how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual.
The Functional Medicine model is an individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach that empowers patients and practitioners to work together to address the underlying causes of disease and promote optimal wellness. It requires a detailed understanding of each patient’s genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle factors and leverages that data to direct personalized treatment plans that lead to improved patient outcomes.
By addressing root cause, rather than symptoms, practitioners become oriented to identifying the complexity of disease. They may find one condition has many different causes and, likewise, one cause may result in many different conditions. As a result, Functional Medicine treatment targets the specific manifestations of disease in each individual (2)
There are some common myths about PCOS
PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a group of symptoms resulting from a hormonal imbalance. It’s the number one cause of infertility in the U.S. An estimated 5 to 10 percent of women of childbearing age have PCOS, while at least 30 percent of all women have some symptoms of PCOS. And as with most chronic diseases and conditions, the prevalence of PCOS is increasing around the world.
Most of the women with PCOS have been told by their doctor that they must take a birth control pill in order to “stop it.” Unfortunately, the Pill does not actually fix or “stop” PCOS. It only masks its symptoms while the syndrome continues unhindered under the surface.
No one truly knows what causes PCOS. It’s also not one single disorder but at least four independent disorders all characterized by an overlapping but inconsistent set of symptoms:
- High androgen, or male hormone, levels
- Facial hair growth
- Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
- Ovarian cysts
The link between these seemingly unrelated and random set of symptoms? It’s suspected with this study that insulin, body fat, and metabolism are the underlying causes of this constellation.
Top myths about PCOS are the following:
Myth #1: PCOS is one syndrome.
In fact, PCOS has four diagnostic categories. And recently a fifth “type” has been proposed, which is that PCOS is caused simply by obesity:
- Type 1: Classic PCOS: high androgen levels, irregular or absent ovulation, and a polycystic ovary
- Type 2: Hyperandrogenic anovulatory: excess androgens with irregular or absent ovulation (but no polycystic ovary)
- Type 3: Ovulatory PCOS: excess androgens with a polycystic ovary (but without ovulatory dysfunction)
- Type 4: Non-hyperandrogenic PCOS: irregular or absent ovulation and a polycystic ovary
- Type 5: Obesity, the unofficial type: obesity with insulin resistance can lead to excess testosterone production, and subsequently excess estrogen production, the combination of which result in the acne, facial hair, and irregular cycles seen in PCOS.
Myth #2: If you have PCOS, you have cysts on your ovaries.
As we can see above, this is not always the case. In type 2 PCOS, a woman presents with irregular cycles and high androgen levels but does not have ovarian cysts.
Myth #3: If you aren’t getting a regular menstrual cycle, you have PCOS.
Many women are anovulatory (they fail to ovulate) because of a variety of other factors. In today’s high-stress, high-inflammatory world, I see this frequently and it’s usually as a result of a suppressed HPG (hypothalamus, pituitary, gonadal) communication pathway.
This pathway can be suppressed by high cortisol levels, high insulin levels, or high inflammation levels, as well as by body fat that’s either too low or too high. Sometimes this pathway is suppressed for all of these reasons combined.
Myth #4: The cure for PCOS is the birth control pill.
In reality, the birth control pill does nothing to cure, prevent, or fix PCOS or any other hormone disorder. It can be helpful as a management tool for symptoms, but ultimately it just masks the problem.
OBGYNs put women with PCOS on birth control because they often lack other solutions. My approach is to help women lower inflammation and balance testosterone through nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle changes.
Myth #5: PCOS is irreversible.
This is the most “bustable” of all the myths about PCOS. I’ve had many women balance testosterone levels, lose body fat, resolve acne and facial hair growth, and regain their menstrual cycles through a mixture of diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes including stress reduction and better sleep.
This brings us to the deeper question on PCOS: What can we do about it?
What’s causing PCOS is a potent mixture of chronic stress that increases testosterone levels, and a diet high in refined carbs, sugar, processed foods, and alcohol, which increases insulin, thereby increasing testosterone.
So What’s The Cure?
Smart supplements. I recommend smart supplements that targets the root cause of PCOS.
- myo-inositol and d-chiro-inositol to lower testosterone and balance insulin
- Curcumin and other herbal compounds to lower inflammation
- A combination of cinnamon, EGCG from green tea, and chromium to balance blood sugar
- Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids to lower the production of inflammatory messengers.
Warning: Remember to use supplements with the support of a trusted provider, such as a functional medicine practitioner, who knows you and your life story. After all, it’s not fun to play with your hormones and get it wrong.
PCOS patients are not always markedly overweight but PCOS is strongly associated with abdominal obesity and insulin resistance. Effective approaches to nutrition and exercise improve endocrine features, reproductive function and cardiometabolic risk profile–even without marked weight loss. Recent studies allow us to make recommendations on macronutrient intake (4).
- Fat should be restricted to < or =30% of total calories with a low proportion of saturated fat.
- High intake of low GI carbohydrate contributes to dyslipidaemia and weight gain and also stimulates hunger and carbohydrate craving.
- Diet and exercise need to be tailored to the individual’s needs and preferences.
- Calorie intake should be distributed between several meals per day with low intake from snacks and drinks.
- Use of drugs to either improve insulin sensitivity or to promote weight loss are justified as a short-term measure, and are most likely to be beneficial when used early in combination with diet and exercise.
The Diet Connection to PCOS (5)
By far the biggest lifestyle contributor to PCOS is poor diet. Young women with PCOS tend to eat far too much sugar and highly refined carbohydrates. These foods cause an unhealthy rise in insulin levels. According to Jerilyn Prior, M.D., insulin stimulates androgen receptors on the outside of the ovary, causing the typical PCOS symptoms of excess hair (on the face, arms, legs), thin hair (on the head), and acne. Eventually, this type of diet will cause obesity, which will cause insulin resistance (the inability of the cells to take in insulin), which will aggravate the PCOS even more. The androgens also play a role in blocking the release of the egg from the follicle.
Women, who have a high number of dysfunctional follicles to begin with, due to xenobiotic exposure in the womb, will have worse problems if their diets are high in sugary foods and low in nutrition. Since this is exactly the type of diet favored by teens and young women, it’s easy to understand why there is so much PCOS in that age group. Fifty years ago, the average person age one pound of sugar a year. Today the average teenager today eats one pound a week! Potato chips, corn chips, pasta and white rice are all highly refined carbohydrates that also act on the body much the same as sugars do.
When you look at the whole picture of PCOS, you can understand why the hormone-blocking and insulin-lowering drugs don’t work for very long. These approaches don’t address the underlying cause of the problem. They only suppress symptoms. Improvement is only temporary and both types of drugs have terribly unpleasant side effects.
By the same token, you can’t just take progesterone, and you can’t just cut out the sugar. You usually need to do both. Exercise and good nutrition are also very important in maintaining hormone balance.
You’re in Control
Yes you are. You are in control of your health and wellness and taking pills is not helping you to get better. Conventional doctors will give you a prescription and send you off until the next visit but through functional nutritional therapy, you can cure PCOS and bring out the best in you.