A young lady came in to our office after going to quite a few other doctors. She said she had tried everything. After thousands of dollars spent pursuing traditional medical methods she heard from a friend about functional medicine as a different approach, a more natural approach. The same friend referred her to our office, so there she sat telling me her story between tears.
“Has anyone ever given you a complete thyroid panel?” I asked her. “Have they evaluated your adrenal glands? Asked you about sleep, stress, diet?”
No, no, no, and no.
The young lady was struggling with PCOS, which stands for polycystic ovarian syndrome. It is a common cause of infertility and a heartbreaking diagnosis as it is very non-responsive to traditional medical treatment. Between 6-12% of all infertility is caused by PCOS. A larger problem is that it does not just affect fertility, but several other aspects of one’s health, and oftentimes one’s whole life. A history of PCOS has been associated with endometrial carcinoma, so the importance of proper management goes even beyond fertility. Part of the cause is genetics, but much of it lies in diet, stress, sleep, and other lifestyle influences. Which means there is a lot you can do to address PCOS. You can change most everything but the genetics, and you can even influence that through epigenetic approaches. More on that later.
PCOS is usually identifiable through the patient’s presentation. The history is one of abnormal menstruation, infertility, weight gain, and the dead giveaway of facial hair. Some women also suffer from acne, hair loss, and depression. Typical medical treatment includes birth control pills, antiandrogens (to lower testosterone), insulin-sensitizing agents, anti-depressants, and anti-obesity drugs. When you try to address PCOS just by using medication and not through lifestyle management, you are most likely going to fail. In addition, the often-used advice to “just lose weight” borders on cruel, as the weight gain is a result of the PCOS, not the only cause. Especially frustrating is the fact that PCOS can occur in women of any weight. It takes a whole-person systems approach that functional medicine specializes in. After you correct for those factors, the PCOS often takes care of itself.
Let’s look at some of the factors you need to approach. A big one is the diet. Diet alone can bring out PCOS in a person who is pre-disposed through genetics. While there does not appear to be one gene for PCOS, there are genes that lend themselves to insulin and weight issues. Eliminating most of the carbs from your diet is one of the best ways to lower your body’s insulin. Exercise is another. Insulin-sensitizing drugs can do the same thing, and perhaps have a place after the options of changing your diet and exercising have failed. Then again, how often does changing diet and exercise fail? Rarely, if ever. The ketogenic diet is especially good at both lowering insulin levels and increasing insulin sensitivity. Lowering insulin means your ovaries stop making as much testosterone, and that is the core factor behind PCOS. With this in mind, prescribing drugs to lower testosterone makes no sense — yet it happens.
A whole-person, functional medicine approach to PCOS would begin with identifying the causes of the high insulin. The typical American diet high in processed foods, simple carbs, and fructose is a leading factor. Again, the ketogenic diet has been shown to be the best antidote here. The ketogenic lifestyle has been shown to lower post-meal insulin levels by as much as 300% —that alone is a life changer! A regular habit of cardio workouts has also been shown to lower insulin levels. And both methods do two things at once: they lower insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity. Not only does this eliminate the insulin-testosterone-ovary connection, but your life is also healthier, and you lose weight as well.
There are a number of supplements that work well to assist you as you transition into this healthier lifestyle. Berberine is an herb-based extract that has been shown to work as well as metformin, a common insulin-sensitizing drug — and some studies show it works even better. Chromium, cinnamon, and ginseng are some others. As with medications, you do not want to rely just on supplements, but you should include it into your regimen as a way to maximize and speed up the effect of lifestyle changes.
In the past, I personally have helped over thirty families in the area achieve fertility through chiropractic alone. When PCOS started showing up as a cause, I realized that an integrated approach of chiropractic, nutrition, and functional medicine would be needed. In many cases it is the answer. There is nothing in my career quite as rewarding as seeing a brand new baby that would not be here had it not been for the efforts of the mom and dad to change their lifestyle and their health to achieve this great reward. As far as transformations go, it is one of the best!
Dr. Burtis, MS, DC, CFMP, has been providing natural healthcare to the Fairmont area at Burtis Chiropractic Center for over 30 years. He uses a combination of chiropractic, nutrition, and functional medicine to help individuals restore and maintain health and healing through individualized care plans. The mission of Burtis Chiropractic Center is to provide transformational healthcare that takes an individual’s life to the next level. We strive to be a solution for families to experience transformational healthcare and help create vibrant and resilient lifestyles that can be passed to future generations.