I remember when I was first diagnosed with PCOS. I had come off the birth control pill about a year earlier after learning about it’s potential negative effects (like blood clots, cancer and infertility) only to experience non-existant periods. Right from when I got my first period at the age of 12, my periods were always bad. They were extremely heavy- in elementary school I was changing my super pad every recess and lunch break. I could feel the blood rushing out of me every time I stood up. Then, my period would disappear for 6 months or more.
I went on the Pill for contraceptive reasons, and when I came off it 7 years later, my periods were still irregular. Aunt Flo would show up every 3-4 months, and in between I was a mess of moodiness (think deep depression), gaining weight like crazy (nearly 20 pounds), covered in painful cystic acne on my face, back and chest and of course- I was losing my hair. Once the doctors finally agreed with me that I had PCOS, at first I was relieved. Finally! An answer to my issues. Then comes the “but”. . .With that came a recommendation to go back on birth control and take metformin. Being a nutrition student, this didn’t resonate with me so I set off to reverse my symptoms naturally.
Over time, my symptoms did reverse and now I’m at a healthy weight, feeling happy most of the time, I have clear skin and my hair is growing in. The strategies I used to reverse my symptoms are the same crucial strategies to naturally balance hormones that I share with my private clients and the women in my 21-Day Happy Hormones Diet program today.
If you’ve been recently diagnosed with PCOS, or are simply stuck and don’t know what the heck to do if prescription meds aren’t for you, I’ve got you covered. Below I’m sharing 9 crucial strategies to naturally balance your hormones and improve your emotional state.
9 Crucial Strategies To Naturally Balance Your Hormones & Improve Your Emotional State
Strategy #1: High-Fat, Low-Carb Breakfast
Let’s say you enjoy having the breakfast cereal Special K for breakfast. Or maybe another cereal, or toast, muffins or bagels. For our purposes, let’s stick with Special K. This cereal is promoted heavily as being a “healthy” breakfast option for women wanting to keep trim, and stay healthy. The main way the people at Special K pass this crap off as “healthy” is because it’s low calorie, and low fat. Neither of which are doing your health or hormones any favours.
You get the sugar hit, and there’s no fibre, healthy fats or proteins to slow it down. Even if you have it with whole milk, this is still a mess. Your body receives that sugar rush, and so your blood sugar rises rapidly. In response to this huge lift in blood sugar, your pancreas releases insulin, your blood sugar regulating hormone, to get that sugar out of the blood and into the cells to make energy.
So far, not too bad.
The problem arises when this cereal is more than a one time thing. Eventually, your body will make more and more insulin, and your cells will become desensitized to it. So, you can’t get the sugar in the cell and are left with high sugar and high insulin levels. Eventually, about an hour or two later, your body will crash. Blood sugar levels will dip drastically, as there’s no fat or protein to keep everything stable, and this is where the problems begin.
When that sugar dips, likely you’ll be feeling super hungry, and headed to the vending machine for chocolate, the corner store for a coffee or anything else that’s carb-loaded and sugary you can get your hands on for more quick energy.
Before you reach that ravenous state about an hour or two after breakfast, you’ll likely experience some crazy mood swings. Like WHO the f$%k does she think she is, or I can’t BELIEVE hubby hasn’t done the dishes AGAIN after I’ve asked him a million times, or GAH I’m so ugly and fat, I can’t go on anymore.
As you go through your day, now on this blood sugar roller coaster, you’ll be cravings carbs and sugars, having crazy, embarrassing mood swings and feeling like a zombie without a brain as you move from one thing to the next.
And guess what happens when your insulin and sugar are chronically out of whack?
Yep, insulin turns into a fat storage hormone instead of a blood-sugar regulating hormone when there’s a lot of it, and when your body has become desensitized to it’s blood-sugar regulating abilities.
I achieved sustainable weight release by using a high-fat, moderate-carb diet. It provides my body with hormone building blocks and turns my brain on like I’m a member of Mensa. Fat is the slowest digesting food and keeps you full for at least 4 hours – score! Start your day with a low-carb, high-fat breakfast, to set yourself up for a day filled with energy, fat-burning (yes- fat burns fat!), happy hormones and stable moods.
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 tbsp. MCT or coconut oil
- 1 tbsp. almond butter
- 1-2 tbsp. raw cacao powder
- 1 serving non-dairy protein powder (I use Collagen Hydrolysate or ND Shakes)
- 3-4 ice cubes
- Add everything to a blender and blend until smooth.
- If you find that really cold smoothies make you bloated, omit the ice and serve it room temperature.
Strategy #2: HIIT
In addition to a yoga practice (which you can read about in Strategy #4 below), or for those who like a challenge, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is for you. HIIT combines bodyweight resistance and cardio exercises in short bursts over a short period of time for maximum impact. No more hour-long treadmill walks. Usually between 5 to 35 minutes, these workouts pack a powerful punch.
HIIT is a FREE and fun activity that is especially good for us ladies with PCOS because it reduces insulin problems and helps to decrease excess body fat. You’ll also be building lean, strong muscle during HIIT, and we all know that muscle burns more calories even at rest than fat does.
As someone who could take or leave exercise (like- lying on the couch with tea and a funny show is way more inviting, right?), HIIT makes it easy for me to get my exercise in. I have an app on my phone called “7 Minute Workout”, which tells me what to do and when for 7 minutes. Then I’m done! No excuses- we ALL have 7 minutes.
Strategy #3: Cinnamon
Cinnamon is a very common spice, and probably one of my favorites. I sprinkle it on everything– from smoothies and chia pudding to grain-free granola and healthy desserts. It has such a pleasant, warming flavour that’s really hard to beat! Interestingly, cinnamon’s uses extend beyond flavoring your delicious eats. It could actually be beneficial for PCOS!
There’s two main reasons for this that have been studied and noted clinically, and I’m outlining them here. Take a look, and think about whether cinnamon might be a good option for you as part of your PCOS management lifestyle.
Reason #1: Blood Sugar Control
Cinnamon has quite a history of regulating blood sugar response in the body. In one 2007 study of 15 women with PCOS, significant reductions in insulin resistance were seen after taking cinnamon for just 8 weeks!
Reducing insulin resistance is super helpful for regulating menstrual cycles which are often unpredictable or absent in women with PCOS. A 2014 study suggests that using cinnamon improves menstrual cyclicity. This study used 1.5g of a cinnamon supplement per day for 6 months. Finding a product and using a similar dosage to the one in the study could be a good place to start in using cinnamon for PCOS.
Reason #2: Progesterone Management
Low progesterone is most definitely not uncommon in women with PCOS, as our bodies tend to produce more estrogen, testosterone, DHEAS and cortisol instead. Progesterone gets pushed down to the end of the hormone production line, because all the base parts are used for the other hormones! Sometimes this is known as the progesterone steal, and can create a number of symptoms.
Some symptoms of progesterone deficiency include:
- long, irregular cycles
- short luteal phase (the phase right before your period comes)
- mid-cycle spotting
- menstrual cramps
- anxiety and depression
- foggy thinking
- slow metabolism
One study has outlined that cinnamon can help to increase progesterone production in our adrenal glands, while also reducing the amount of testosterone our adrenals produce- double win! This is through the action of cinnamaldehyde, a component of the cassia type of cinnamon.
- Cinnamon Force by New Chapter
Strategy #4: Yoga
Yoga, yoga yoga. This is a very trendy activity these days, and people are paying big bucks for stretchy pants and fancy mats. I fear that takes the focus away from yoga. The focus of inner and outer healing, of personal and spiritual development, of calmness and peace.
These are the attributes that are especially helpful for us ladies with PCOS. Yoga helps us to release deeply stored tension, often in the pelvic area in the case of PCOS. This is why yoga postures especially beneficial for PCOS often open the hips and pelvis, as well as de-stress and detoxify.
Some great postures to try on your own:
- Happy Baby
- Corpse Pose (Savasana)
- Sun Salutations
- Moon Salutations
- Cobra Pose
- Reclining Butterfly Pose
Strategy #5: Leafy Green Vegetables
Here we go on blood sugar again. Balance your blood sugar to gain energy, to uplift your mood, help you release excess weight and do wonders for your skin and hair (and let’s face it- make you a better person to be around). Leafy green vegetables are extremely helpful in balancing blood sugar. Veggies like kale, collard greens, swiss chard, spinach, arugula, watercress, broccoli, cabbage are all great options. These veggies provide tons of fiber which is important for blood sugar, and they’re super nutrient dense filled with energy-boosting B vitamins and relaxing Magnesium. Enjoy them with 2 meals per day (or 2-4 cups daily) for maximum benefit.
Easy ways to get your greens include:
- Puree them in a soup with bone broth, coconut milk and seasonings of choice
- Make a HUGE salad and eat one bowl daily during the week
- Make a green smoothie (TIP: add a big handful of greens to the low-carb smoothie recipe above)
- Make easy, veggie-heavy dishes for weeknight dinners like stir-fries, curries, and stews
- Saute a cup or two of green veg in coconut oil to accompany your protein + starch with dinner
- Take a greens powder (NOTE: this does not replace the real thing, but can be a great addition)
Strategy #6: Inositol
Inositol is a class of B-vitamins that naturally occur in many of the foods we consume such as fruits, legumes, vegetables, nuts, buckwheat and beans. Two of the 9 forms of inositol (MYO and DCI) have special insulin sensitizing capabilities and are important “second messengers” for insulin receptors. You will notice that supplement dosages of MYO are always higher than for DCI; that is because your body converts MYO into DCI. These inositols are critical players in insulin signaling, and the disruption in this signaling, due to a lack of one or the other, leads researchers to believe that inositol is a key component in insulin resistance.
In fact, MYO has been shown to improve insulin resistance and egg quality, and may reduce the risk of gestational diabetes. D-Chiro-inositol works its magic by increasing “the action of insulin in patients with the polycystic ovary syndrome, thereby improving ovulatory function and decreasing serum androgen concentrations, blood pressure, and plasma triglyceride concentrations.”
- Ovasitol by Theralogix (this is the one I take, because it has both Myo- and D-chiro-inositol)
- Myo-inositol Powder by AOR
- GlucoSmart by Lorna Vanderhaeghe
Strategy #7: Deep Breathing
When our stress hormone cortisol spikes, it tells the body to release and make more sugar. This spikes your blood sugar, causing a spike in insulin. When insulin is high you become a fat storage machine, plus it delays your periods by preventing ovulation. Having balanced cortisol will also help to increase your energy and resilience so exhaustion turns to energy and the grumps’ go away. Deep breathing or meditation is a practice that can seem too simple to work, but trust me- it will transform your life.
The key is to make is a daily habit. Like HIIT training, deep breathing or meditation doesn’t have to take hours out of your day. I simply set a 5-10 minute timer in the morning and do it. It sets me up for a less-stressed day where my energy and emotions are more balanced.
Try this two-minute exercise daily:
- Sit up or lie down comfortably in a place where you will not be disturbed for the next couple of minutes.
- Take a few deep, slow, cleansing breaths to center yourself and turn your attention inward.
- When you feel ready, begin the following sequence. Breath in slowly for a count of 5, pause, and exhale for a count of 5.
- Repeat the 5-count breath sequence 12 times, for a total of 2 minutes.
Strategy #8: Avoid Sugar and Dairy
Both sugar and dairy products should be eliminated, or at least drastically reduced when you have PCOS. I know- it friggin’ sucks, and I struggled with letting go of these foods for a long time. Some women tell me they don’t need to remove these foods because they don’t have an allergy, and to them I say do an experiment on yourself by removing these foods for two weeks. After two weeks, try them again. I’m willing to bet you’ll notice a massive difference in how you feel both physically and emotionally.
Sugar should be avoided as much as possible because (1) it’s toxic and addictive and (2) it creates crazy blood sugar imbalances, and we know that women with PCOS have this inherently and must watch their sugars.
It’s commonly thought that the problem with dairy is the lactose or the fat it contains. This is not completely true, because there are other factors in dairy that tend to cause many more issues than the above parts. A protein in dairy called A1 casein morphs into casomorphin or BCM7 when your body tries to digest it. Why does this matter? Well, casomorphin is an opiate- therefore inciting brain fog and potentially really strong cravings. I know- I used to crave dairy like a baby cow- especially right before my period. But then acne. . .
A1 casein has the potential to really upset your insulin sensitivity. The casomorphin it contains causes inflammation (another Happy Hormones no-no), which in turn impairs your body’s ability to recognize and use insulin properly. When your insulin balance is off- so are your hormones.
Strategy #9: B Vitamins
Our last (but not least) crucial strategy is to take B vitamins. Obviously if you’re eating a varied, whole foods diet with loads of produce, you’ll be getting some B vitamins. In order to get enough to help correct hormonal imbalances, a supplement is often necessary.
All the B vitamins will play some role in regulating adrenals, sex hormones and mood issues. For example, vitamin B5 helps to regulate stress (anxiety!) and adrenal gland function. Vitamin B6 helps to regulate mood and increase progesterone (which when low can contribute to anxiety). Vitamin B1 or thiamine could also help to remedy mood issues like anxiety and depression. I always recommend getting your B vitamins through a B-vitamin complex supplement that includes all the Bs, as they work synergistically together and prevent an imbalance of Bs from happening.
If you’re ultra-stressed, look for a B complex with high levels of vitamin B5, and these are often marketed as “stress B complexes”.
- Stress B Complex by Thorne
- Pro-B Complex by AOR Professional
- Advanced B Complex by AOR
- B-Complex Plus by Pure Encapsulations