How I reversed PCOS.
The holistic healing protocols that reversed diagnosis in just 18 months.
Receiving a diagnosis of PCOS after the presentation of varied, complex and often times painful physical symptoms, can seem like a relief. However it is often swiftly accompanied by an emotional response - striking to fears of fertility issues, ongoing health concerns and wider confusion around the best mode of healing. Shortly then after, comes the great enormity of what exactly to do next to "fix it".
I know, because I've been there and lived through that process. Yet within the space of 18 months I was able to reverse my PCOS symptoms and manage the syndrome by taking a holistic healing approach. Addressing key lifestyle and nutrition factors that target the root causes of PCOS, embedded in the endocrine and metabolic systems, it was possible to see a significant, positive shift in my diagnosis and indeed, the healing of this common condition.
PCOS may be one of the most common endocrine and metabolism disorders affecting young women around the world, but unfortunately Western medicine still promotes a "band-aid" answer for treatment, simply addressing each individual symptom which results with a temporary fix. As PCOS is not quite so simple as the name may suggest, not just affecting the ovaries, but rather stemming from a complex integration of many systems, in order to begin healing you need to holistically address the root causes.
PCOS diagnosis sits along a spectrum of severity, with fluctuations of symptoms a common experience. The ability to shift between stages and the presence of symptoms often depends on how you are nourishing and caring for your body. It is an empowering moment to realise that rather than having to rely on a medical intervention, you have the possibility to actively heal, move the body to a state of homestasis, lessen the severity of symptoms, and indeed reverse PCOS.
As with all health concerns, it is important to seek out trusted professionals – whether they be a gynaecologist, GP, functional doctor or alternative therapist – to work through your own individual symptoms and healing methods.
Read on for details of How i reversed pcos.
A brief timeline.
2016 saw me landing in a doctors office, seeking out solutions for the test results that deemed I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Unsatisfied with the only proffered option of a chemical cocktail of prescription pills and fertility drugs, I turned to holistic healing.
If you haven’t read the full backstory, head over here.
2017 was a year of a trial, error and small successes. I sought out experts and poured over books, blogs, and websites for the best advice. I experimented with my own body, took all the supplements, overhauled my routine, moved my life to the other side of the world, made leaps forward and then stumbled backwards. It was a year devoted to healing myself and learning along the way.
2018 begun with news that I had reversed my PCOS symptoms and would not be classified as having the syndrome any longer. I had reduced the number of cysts from a categorically troublesome 18-22+ on each ovary, to a very normal range of 8-11. My cycle is back on track (albiet still a little unpredictable), my lost hair has grown back in, my skin sometimes glows and has *touch wood* got over its cystic acne days, and I am able to move forward confidently in knowing how to holistically manage my own health.
The One Magical Answer
(spoiler: There isn't one...)
As much as I wish there had been, there was no one single thing I did in the past 18 months that "cured me" or singularly helped reverse PCOS. In fact, I made so many changes and trialled such a variety of suggestions, that figuring out what was helping most, became difficult to pinpoint. This, I believe demonstrates how complex the ecosystem of our body is.
The intersecting nature of our physical, hormonal and mental health is in such fine balance, that to find homeostasis is hugely dependant on the culumation of acts you do – not just the one off.
I never want it to appear like I was "perfect" in my decisions and actions everyday – there were definitely days that it was too overwhelming and I shut off. Days when I didn’t take my own advice and smashed myself in a HIIT session when I really needed rest. Nights where I said "Hell Yes!" to one too many cocktails and guess what, still survived the next day (or maybe day after that…).
But in all of it, it was the fact that my overall mindset and goal was one of healing, in holding time (the hardest, when I desperately wanted an overnight fix) and space, to allow my body to heal and assist it in anyway possible, that kept me motivated and led me being able to reverse PCOS.
how i reversed pcos
Managing the complex stress that my body was experiencing, particularly during the acute phase, was the most radical adjustment I made to reverse PCOS. Beyond just the emotional and psychological stress I was facing, my physical body was strung out due to the amount of overtaxing of exercise undertaken, poor digestion and limited recovery time it received – thanks to a busy schedule and lack of quality sleep.
Once I became educated on the fact that "stress" wasn’t just work deadlines and hustling, but rather a total cumulative effect of all of my actions, interactions and decisions, it became clear that I needed to bring my elevated stress levels under control.
The thing about Cortisol
We need cortisol (the stress hormone) in our everyday life. When functioning correctly, it gets us up and going in the morning, keeps us alert and propels us. However, the knock on effect of extended periods of elevated cortisol levels is a fast-track to increased inflammation, fatigue, weight gain, anxiety/depression and disordered sleeping. With a presently disrupted cortisol pattern, it was imperative that I rewired my fight or flight instincts and calm the body down, so it wasn't always on the offensive ready to attack.
Unfortunately, just telling yourself “not to be stressed” doesn’t quite shake off the stressed feelings (am I right?!)... With an undercurrent of anxiety and a desperation to heal pumping through my system, it was necessary to turn my focus to the practices that would support recovery, restoration and nourishment.
For me, this included:
Taking ample time to find some headspace, whether that was just 10 slow deep breaths, a long guided practice, attending a sound bath or more recently Kundalini - incorporating meditation was, and is, always key for my mental and physical health.
Rather than looking for the most hardcore power sessions out there, I sought restorative Yin practices or slow flow classes, which allowed me to connect to my breath, slow down and tune in. This slow mode alleviated my stress by allowing the body to find the rest and digest space, rather than yet more fight or flight reactivity.
As a notoriously light sleeper, working on my sleep patterns was hugely important. This included not scheduling late workout sessions/meetings during the week, proper wind downs at the end of the day, ensuring I was always in bed before 10pm, incorporating melatonin supplements and supporting proper sleep hygiene.
A long walk is my go-to movement to induce a calmer state of mind. Getting outside, with fresh air and a repetitive, steady pace gives the time to breathe and cortisol levels back down to a much more manageable range.
My schedule is something I have grown increasingly protective over to aid recovery. As I recognised I needed to reclaim downtime and not always be rushing around, I became more guarded with my time, saying “No” more often, focusing on rest and recovery and not packing out a schedule. This allowed me, for the most part, to settle into a slower pace and realise in doing so, I would then be able to speed back up when neccessary.
When it comes to exercise and movement, my issue was never that I was doing too little, in fact it was a case of doing too much. With my background as a dancer, my work as a Pilates specialist/Personal Trainer and my love of movement, I had a predisposition to over train, which led to overtaxing and stressing out my hormonal system further. Whilst moving my body was absolutely integral (it assists with insulin sensitivity for the uptake of glucose by the cells), I had to reign in my exercise patterns and focus on restorative practices mixed with mindful movement and aerobic conditioning work.
There are many debates about whether HIIT or weight training is more beneficial for women with PCOS. I believe the key is just to get the body to move, but ensure it doesn’t go into a state of heightened stress – as exercise is interpreted and processed by the body in the same way any other emotional stress would be – and do the workouts that make you feel great! Resistance training is highly important for metabolism and body composition, HIIT workouts are beneficial for metabolic conditioning and lower intensity aerobic workouts are excellent for insulin resistance and fat burning. So, with all forms of exercise being a helpful addition to manage symptoms, I focused on keeping workouts varied and not pushing to a burn out phase.
During the acute stage of symptoms, I cut back on both HIIT and resistance training workouts as I desperately needed to calm down my nervous, adrenal and endocrine systems. In this period (of around 3-4 months) I focused purely on lineages of Yoga and Pilates, supplemented with dancing, some LISS cardio (max 40 minutes), which included long walks, swimming and the occasional light jog.
After this acute period, when I trusted that my energy was picking up and some healing progression was evident, I started adding in a mix of resistance training and HIIT workouts. I began slowly increasing the intensity of my workouts, but I would ensure across the week, that I had a balance of around 60/40 in favour of the slower, restorative practices such as Pilates or Yoga.
Currently I train 5-6 days per week, with either one full rest day or an active recovery day. 3-4 times a week, I train twice a day, but always this is a balance of sweaty, higher intensity sessions and slow, nourishing restorative practices. Indeed, I still favour attending Pilates and Yoga over a HIIT class. I like to keep my workouts very varied, so across one week I may attend a few F45 workouts, dance classes or a spin sessions, undertake my own resistance training (usually bodyweight and resistance band focused) and then aim to do either a practice of Yoga or Pilates daily. I'm very conscious to check in everyday and see how my body (and mind) is feeling, whether I feel like I've recovered well, what my energy levels are like and how things like inflammation, muscle soreness and desire to workout is tracking. From there I assess what I feel like would serve my body best for the day and how I want to be moving, then I get into it!
When approaching healing PCOS from a holistic health perspective, it was imperative to understand (and constantly remind myself) that everything you are fuel the body with, can either positively or negatively impact your condition and severity of symptoms. As such, nutrition, became a major player to nourish my body and food became so much more than just the macros, serving sizes or convenience.
From choosing organic sources, to controlling my carbohydrate intake and sprinkling cinnamon on absolutely everything, read about it all here:
Sometimes, I can be too proud to admit I need help. When facing the healing of my PCOS, I certainly was not. I read as much as possible on the topic and reached out to a variety of different healers and alternative practitioners to aid me along the process.
I engaged the expertise of both a herbalist/functional doctor and an acupuncturist for a consistent duration of nine months (weekly for acupuncture and bi-weekly, then monthly, for herbalist). Both practitioners I connected to, were well versed in PCOS and hormonal imbalances and tailored specific programs to help my recovery. Not only did the actual treatments help greatly, but I found having this mini support team around me, was hugely beneficial on a psychological level as I felt like I had both physical and emotional support.
During my first acute and then initial recovery stages, I was still residing in London, so had some of the best practitioners at my fingertips. In the second phase, I've been in Singapore, where I haven't quite found the right match yet to replace these offerings. I was been able to stay in contact with my herbalist who provided me with regular dosages of tonics via mail for the first 6 months I was here and I have also trialled differing modalities- such as cupping and massage - to tune up when needed.
Receiving a diagnosis of a medical syndrome can be difficult to process. Whilst not immediately life threatening, an impact to your health can hold significant mental challenges, particularly for females, who often already carry concerns linked to fertility. Additionally, PCOS and hormonal imbalances naturally attribute themselves to an increased likelihood of depression and anxiety , making it common for women to experience one, or both, when symptoms are present.
Personally, I found myself in a low depression and highly anxious state prior to my diagnosis and subsequently through the acute phase. I experienced a shift to a victim mindset almost immediately with thoughts of “why me” “this isn’t fair” “I'm too sick” "I'll never be able to have kids" regularly running through my mind. In my mental vision and inner narrative I clung to the fact that I was ill and needed to be taken care of. I came to learn there is a level of helpfulness in this – the mind is acting out of a self preservation and protection – but holding onto this mindset for too long allowed the swirling depths of depression to quickly rise up.
By working through the following methods I was able to release this mindset and shift gears to a more positive, healing narrative, whilst bringing myself out of the depressive low and hold anxiety (generally) at bay. For these issues, it was continually engaging in an accumulative process of choice and action, rather a non-existent overnight fix, that enabled my positive progression.
talk to your loved ones
They say a problem shared is a problem halved and indeed, when facing mental health issues, it is important to talk to the people whom you can safely confide in and trust. Not only does talking about the issue relieve some of the pressure you will feel for guarding it so closely to yourself, but it will help the people in your circle become aware that you may be needing a little extra TLC at this time. You may also find that in talking, you find some solutions to problems or worries you have and you may realise you are not alone, but there are people who can support you.
Seeking a therapist
For anyone experiencing issues with mental health, I strongly recommend finding a professional therapist who you feel comfortable honestly sharing with. I've previously worked with therapists at key moments through my life and found seeking professional help during the acute phase of my healing particularly beneficial. Having not only the space to just unload the thoughts that have been bubbling up inside, but an impartial voice to provide some advice, is a safe and healthy way of working through what can be a very intense, emotional period.
Journalling was a great way to keep track of how I was feeling, thinking and progressing. I've never really been a religious daily journaller, but putting pen to paper and working through my thoughts was (and is) always very cathartic. I also used this process to work through a gratitude journal,which is an exceptionally clever hack to flipping your mindset and helping you focus on the positive aspects of life, no matter how small or menial they may seem!
distract the mind
Sometimes doing all of the above, threw me so much deeper into my own mind, it was simply too much. I was overanalysing and self-diagnosising every statement, action and step I took. In these moments, I just had to do things that normalised my nervous system again and distracted my mind from over thinking! Whether that was reading a book, getting to a class, going to the movies, enjoying a walk, listening to podcasts or cooking...once I focused my mind on something other than myself, I was able to regulate my nervous system and bring back down the levels of anxiety or emotional overwhelm I was experiencing.
Reducing Toxic Load
One of the most important elements, that can often be overlooked, when reversing PCOS is reducing the toxic load of the environment around you. PCOS ladies already have disrupted endocrine system, so adding additional endocrine disrupting chemicals into the mix (even unconciously) worsens symptoms and severity. These substances, including ones you may have heard of (BPA) or phthalates, destabilise hormonal homeostasis and can disrupt the reproductive functions, whilst many may also interfere with metabolic functions (including worsening insulin resistance) which can increase the severity of PCOS symptoms.
With this in mind it became increasingly important to be aware and careful about my exposure to these chemicals. However, these "endocrine disrupters" are unfortunately so common in our modern environment, that we may not even realise they are present! From pharmaceuticals and household cleaning products, to the epidemic of plastic products and especially my beauty cupboard, I made a conscious shift to reduce the toxic load my body was absorbing.
The most major overhaul to reduce my exposure to endocrine disrupters was cleaning out my beauty cupboard and bringing in products for my hair, skin and makeup that are all-natural, vegan, organic and basically so pure, you could eat it! Equipped with the knowledge that we absorb nearly all of what we put on or over our bodies through dermal absorption, I became hyper aware of the products I was using and shifted to a predominately clean beauty cupboard (I still use the occasional mainstream makeup products on the rare occasions I glam up!).
shifts to reduce plastic
Not only to reduce my exposure to endocrine disrupters, but also from educating myself on the crisis point our planet is reaching due to the excess levels of plastic we are using, I implemented small shifts to reduce my usage of plastic. From aiming to use reusable bags for groceries, storing my produce in jars, using beeswax food wrappers instead of plastic film, not bagging groceries in the produce aisle and quitting the use of plastic water bottles or disposable coffee cups where I can - these shifts have not been radical (it's a goal to be more savvy about this in 2018), but they have been gentle steps in the right direction, for myself and the environment.
I always opt for organic, responsibly sourced and locally farmed produce where possible (this can get a little tricky in Singapore) to reduce my exposure to chemicals and pesticides that are sprayed onto commercially produced crops. This is particularly important for any produce that is a part of the "dirty dozen" which more rapidly absorbs these chemicals, which are then absorbed by the body during the digestive process.
Including select supplements into my diet was a key aspect of nourishing my body and topping up very depleted levels. These supplements were never intended to replace a balanced, healthy diet, but supported my body which wasn’t processing or receiving all the necessary nutrients due to a lack of optimal digestion. Under the guidance of my own alrernative practitioners and independent research, I began taking a wide array of different herbal tonics and supplements. The following ones listed I have been using for the entire duration of recovery and have helped me best to manage symptoms.
As with all supplementation, consult with your own functional doctor or practitioner before including in your diet.
Maca for endocrine balance, insulin sensitivity, energy and hormonal stabilisation.
Slippery Elm for gut healing.
Collagen Peptides for gut healing and hair, skin, nail health.
Ashwagandha an adaptogen for the endocrine and nervous system balance.
Melatonin for sleep assistance and regulating circadian rhythms.
Magnesium for muscle relaxant, calming adrenals, insulin regulation and nerve transmission.
Zinc for immunity, nervous system optimisation, minimising hair loss, regulating menstrual cycle.
Women with PCOS are typically deficient in both Magnesium + Zinc, making them an important supplement to add into the mix.
B12 for energy, combatting fatigue and optimal cognitive function.
Vitex for reducing inflammation (a common ingredient in my herbal tonics)
Licorice Root for insulin sensitivity, balancing blood sugar levels and anti-androgen properties.
Fennel Tea for digestion, hormonal imbalance and regulating cycle.
Finally, one of the most important steps in the healing process was allowing myself the time to reverse PCOS. Unfortunately, holistic healing doesn’t happen overnight – as much as I sincerely wish it did – but rather it is a long term, valuable investment in your self. The time period for healing is, of course, highly individual, but that duration not only gives you a chance to connect deeper to yourself and learn more about your own body and its complex workings, but allows you to gain a wider education on these topics and appreciate how the human body can work optimally when cared for correctly!