Just over 2 years ago now I was diagnosed with PCO (poly cystic ovaries). I lost my menstrual cycle for about 3 months, this had never happened to me before, and at that time I was on the OCP, and had been for almost 12 years. I went to my doctor to get her opinion on what might be happening and so I could get some blood test done to check my hormonal levels. I ended up saying I don't want to be on an estrogen pill anymore as I had been on it for so many years and maybe it's time to let my body run naturally. However, I ended up deciding with my doctor to switch pills to a progesterone only pill to see if that made a difference and bought back my cycle. A couple of months later still nothing happened and by then I hadn't had a period in about 5 months. This wasn't normal for me. I was also in my final year studying holistic nutrition at the time, learning about how the body functions and knew there must be something else going on.
I then went to see a gynecologist to get her opinion on things, she sent me for more blood tests and to get an ultra sound. My bood tests showed very high levels of testosterone (an androgen hormone which is often high in people who have PCOS) and an imbalance in my LH (luteinising hormone) and FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), and the ultra sound showed that I had around 30 cysts in each ovary. This broke me at the time, I was so upset and confused. Being a worrier and naturally anxious person my mind immediately thought the worst, what if I can't have kids, what if my hormones never balance.
This diagnosis came out of no where to me. No females on either side of my family had any kind of hormonal conditions so I was unsure how all of a sudden I got PCOS. I then went back to my gynecologist to discuss what to do next. She gave me the option to go back on an estrogen OCP to see if that would bring back a period, which I said I didn't want to do, and she also gave me a prescription for Metformin (which is an oral diabetes medicine that helps control blood sugar levels).
Knowing what I knew about the body and after researching the effects of Metformin there was no way I was going to put that into my body. After being on an OCP for 12 years and now knowing the negatives effects that can have on our hormonal cycle I decided my body had had enough, I was going to balance my hormones naturally.
I immediately started doing more and more research on PCOS, how to balance hormones naturally and I also went to see a Naturoapath to get additional help, and some herbs to balance my hormones. I also started taking specific supplements which are important for hormonal health and for what was reflected in my blood tests. Along with this I did some more gut work and make sure I was putting good bacteria into my body daily to ensure a healthy gut flora (which is also needed for healthy hormone function). I also took a couple of supplements to support my nervous system and stress response. It may sound like a lot but for me there was no other option but to sort out my hormones naturally. (I have not mentioned the specific supplements I was taking as I don't recommend self-prescribing supplements for a hormone imbalance without seeing a specialist first to know what is right for you and your conditions/symptoms).
Along with the right supplements I also had to change my lifestyle - dramatically. This was by far the hardest thing for me to do mentally and physically. I'm a very active and busy person, I have a big drive and always want to do everything, please everyone and work on a million different things at once. This lead me to often feeling stressed (hello hormonal havoc) and run down. I always like to push myself to the limits. When I was doing research into PCOS I came across numerous holistic methods that talked about embracing your feminine energy, slowing down, doing less, being more 'girly'. Slowing down is something I've always struggled with, but knew if I wanted balanced hormones I had to change.
One thing I often say to clients in clinic is, if you change nothing, nothing will change. It was time to take on my own advice! Having high testosterone (the male dominant hormone) levels was also a wake up call, I definitely had more of a masculine drive in life. When we operate primarily from our masculine side, we may feel tired, stressed, overworked or unloved as a result, and this is how I felt. I was constantly thinking, doing, planning, and the idea of softening never crossed my mind.
Change was needed. I had to learn how to slow down, be gentler, put myself first, start saying NO to people (friends and family), to prioritize things that relax and unwind me to ground myself, to embrace my feminine side into my home and life. I started buying flowers more regularly, would get my nails done more regularly, small things like that which made me be more present and feel 'girly'. I used to loved doing all those things but slowly started to not make them a priority anymore over the years with all my other life commiements.
Slowing down on exercise was another thing I had to change. This was probably the hardest by far. I was training 6 days a week for an hour each time doing intensive workouts. I wouldn't miss a workout and if I did I'd feel guilty and "yuk". I enjoyed walking and yoga but at that time in my life those exercise were far to 'slow' for me and I felt like I wouldn't feel as fit and toned if I did them.
Once again, if you change nothing, nothing will change. I wanted my period back! Having a period is healthy and normal, not having a period is not normal. I want to have babies one day, and not struggle to be able to fall pregnant when my husband and I want to start trying for a family. When I said that to myself I knew immediately what I wanted and what was important to me.
I cut back on exercise, I only did 30-45 minute sessions 5 days per week. I had two complete rest days, and I cut back on HIIT, I only did one 15-20 minute HIIT, 2 or 3 restorative sessions per week of yoga and walking (sometimes post HIIT) and 2 gym/weight sessions. Not gonna lie, this was mentally challenging but I knew I had to cut back in order to heal my body, restore my nervous system and calm my mind. Doing more yoga and walking was another way I embraced my feminine energy.
I also ate more food, partially carbs. When I was training intensively I followed a lower-carb more paleo type of diet (not good for any females with a hormonal imbalance like me). Now looking back from a holistic nutrition point of view I was 'under-eating' by restricting my carb intake. I wasn't fueling my body correctly, this immediately put my body into a stress response causing all sorts of hormonal havoc. I also wasn't consuming enough healthy fats to support hormonal health. I now have a healthy carbohydrate source three times a day (with every main meal), and make sure every meal and snack contains a healthy fat source.
It doesn't end there.... I also prioritized sleep and meditation. I made sure I got 8 hours of sleep every night and was in bed by 10-10.30, and made sure I meditated most days (with my legs up against the wall, listening to guided meditation for 15 minutes).
So... after all of this around 8 months later (after I first come off the OCP) I got my first period. My cycle for the next year was very irregular coming every 2-3 months but that was okay, as my body was slowing starting to heal. My cycle eventually got to being 6 weeks apart, then 5 weeks apart and now it's every 28 days. Woohoo!!
Even though my cycle is now every 28 days I am still experimenting some of my PCOS symptoms with the main symptom now being the dreaded pimple outbreaks (being a health practitioner this is not ideal, but that's okay, I am still healing). This to me is still a sign that my hormones still need some work. So I'm still on my hormonal journey, and have even cut back my exercise routine again doing no HIIT what so ever, and only doing 2x 30 minute weight sessions each week with 2-3 walks and/or 1-2 yoga. I still enjoy 2 rest days each week. And, I am still trying to slow down (I think I'm just a busy driven person), but I know how to manage myself a lot better these days (regular meditation/mindfulness practice is key!).
I wanted to share my story with you as not only am I coming across hormonal issues a lot more in clinic, but I also know many girls who have lost their cycle because of similar things to what I was going doing (over-exercising, under-eating, having a 'busy' high stress lifestyle, or have been on the OCP for 10+ years).
Having a healthy body and mind comes down to so many factors (diet, lifestyle, exercise habits, stress levels, sleep habits, digestive health), which is why healing the body takes time. Most importantly what I have learnt from personal experience and in clinic is that we all need to slow down, take a breath, and prioritize what is really important to us in life.
Nat x x