What is PCOS?
My fertility journey began early and abruptly. I had my first and only period at thirteen, so in high school, I sought the help of an OB/GYN fertility specialist. A sonogram revealed cyst-covered ovaries, one of the worst cases of PCOS my doctor had seen. Pregnancy would only be possible with the most advanced fertility treatment, and until then birth control was my only answer for a regular cycle.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was far from alone in my diagnosis. PCOS is one of the leading causes of female infertility, affecting 1-in-10 women of childbearing age. The exact cause of PCOS remains unknown in the medical world, but it causes hormonal imbalances that lead to irregular/missed periods, unwanted hair growth, acne, and weight gain. As in my case, cysts can potentially develop on the ovaries.
Despite affecting about 10 million women in the world, there’s still “no cure”. At best, doctors treat the symptoms, prescribing birth control to regulate menstruation and offering fertility treatments if and when the time comes.
I want to share my story of healing with you, not to serve as medical advice, but with the goal that someone in a similar situation might find hope and healing as I have. My journey has taught me that we have more control over our health than we usually think and that our bodies have a powerful propensity to heal naturally if factors that undermine our health are removed.
Pain: My Wake Up Call to Clean Up
The road to healing PCOS was a convoluted one and can only be fully understood if I explain the bigger picture. In college, I developed extreme stiffness and inflammation in my neck and shoulders that – within a few months – had traveled to my low back and eventually resulted in loss of motor skills. I’ll never forget reaching for a gallon of milk just to have it fall to the kitchen floor. I couldn’t sit through class without ice packs and found myself traveling the country seeing arthritis specialists, neurologists, etc. Despite physical therapy, steroid injections, acupuncture and a daily dose of antidepressants, muscle relaxers, sleeping pills, and painkillers, I was only getting worse. When “MS – multiple sclerosis” was thrown out, I was finally open to my Aunt Marilee’s wisdom about a natural approach to healing. (As in, healing the root of the problem, not just treating symptoms.)
Marilee, a dietary and environmental health practitioner with an amazing story of using Food as Medicine to save her kidneys, followed by helping her 10-year-old son naturally heal from a catastrophic chemical exposure , began by asking me questions no one else had:
Describe what you typically eat?
What oils do you eat?
Do you eat dairy/meat? Organic?
Do you use pesticides?
What cleaning and body care products do you use?
Have you recently moved or remodeled?
She explained that the body doesn’t develop symptoms (illness, pain, etc.) for no reason, and that toxins in our food, air and products can seriously undermine our health; their removal was crucial to my bodies’ innate ability to restore, no matter the symptom or illness. While I had doubts, this path offered more hope than I had felt in some time. After all, there was something I could do! If what Marilee was saying was true – that our bodies have the ability to heal when we remove immune stressors – clean up the things we put in, on and around them – I was all in.
With the help of Marilee and my best friend (now business partner!), Kelly, by my side, I began cleaning up my diet and lifestyle. I got off birth control, cut out refined sugar and most processed foods, ate healthy oils and organic when possible and started looking at ingredient lists versus calories. I did my best to remove toxic cleaners and body care products from my life, however still living in a college dorm, there was only so much I could control. I couldn’t believe when after a few months, my pain had drastically decreased, allowing me to reduce my doses of painkillers and muscle relaxers. I was hungry to understand, to learn more, to keep going.
Upon graduation, Kelly and I moved to Marilee’s home in the Texas Hill Country for the summer. It was here, at Marilee’s home, I experienced first hand the unparalleled effects of a truly clean environment, one completely free of the toxic pesticides, cleaners, synthetic fragrances and Wifi found in most homes. Combined with a whole-food diet and food-based supplements, I was off all medication and virtually pain-free in only eight weeks. Little did I know the far-reaching impact this lifestyle was having, specifically on my “uncurable” issue, PCOS…
Clean Lifestyle, HEALED Ovaries
After a year and a half of prudently avoiding toxins in my diet and environment, my then-fiance encouraged me to revisit the OB/GYN fertility specialist from high school. Sure enough, upon receiving the sonogram that day, he rushed into the room holding the image next to the one taken six years prior. He had never seen anything like it. I was no longer a PCOS candidate, having only a few small cysts on each ovary. He wanted to know what I had done and what medicine I had been taking. When I explained that I had gotten off birth control, removed toxic home and body products from my home, and switched to a real-food diet, he was absolutely amazed and interested in having me speak at PCOS support groups.
Environment and PCOS: The Missing Link
While my focus had been to end chronic pain, it was clear that my efforts resulted in whole-body healing, specifically PCOS. In cleaning up my lifestyle, I was removing xenoestrogens from my daily life, something I had been completely ignorant of despite their omnipresence in products we use (and my taking birth control, a synthetic hormone, daily!). I learned that the fragrances in my cleaning and body care products, detergent, dryer sheets and candles were made with chemicals that mimic our natural hormones and disrupt our delicate endocrine system. EPA-registered pesticides, present in many everyday cleaners, are some of the worst offenders. BPA and phthalates, perhaps the most well-known endocrine disruptors, made their way into my body through plastic food storage, PVC shower curtains, and canned foods. These chemicals have been linked to early-onset or delayed puberty, breast and prostate cancers, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects, diabetes, thyroid issues, and – you guessed it – ovarian cysts and overall hormone imbalance. Ick.
We Have More Control Than We Think
They say there is no cure for PCOS, but my cysts disappeared, my cycle returned on its own, and I naturally conceived two healthy babies. (I even had a home water birth…but that’s for another story!).
I grew up like most people, entrusting my health to the medical community, eating the Standard American Diet, and using conventional products. But all the while, my health was deteriorating. Understanding what’s safe and what’s not brought me into true freedom. I now live free of pain and the constraints of an “incurable” diagnosis. And best of all, I see the undeniable effects it has on my growing family.
This journey has opened my eyes to a world in which we play a vital role in our health. The choices we make every day have significance, ignorance is not bliss, and we are not the victims of our genes or a dire diagnosis. I no longer see common symptoms like headaches, dry skin, allergies and PMS as the norm or disease as just a part of getting older. Making everyday choices that heal, restore and nourish instead of add burden, brought back and brought forth life for me. And now as a mom, there are few things more empowering than knowing our efforts matter. A lot.
They say there is no cure to PCOS, but after making changes to my diet, environment and attitude, I have no cysts on my ovaries. I have regular periods and don’t even experience any symptoms of PMS, a syndrome women have come to accept as normal but is, in truth, a sign of imbalanced hormones. Against all odds, I have naturally conceived two children. Getting back to the basics and living a clean lifestyle has allowed me to create a family, one I might not have had if I had accepted my original diagnosis as incurable.
Steps You Can Take Now
If you or someone you know struggles with PCOS or fertility issues, there are things you can can do now to encourage healing and restoration. Even if you are pursuing a conventional route (hormone medication, fertility treatments), these things will only serve to strengthen and guide your body in the right direction. And instead of focusing on the past or feeling fearful or overwhelmed, look towards the future and make changes wherever you feel comfortable. If looking at your diet first feels right, then start there! If that seems daunting, focus on getting toxic cleaners out of your home. In fact, mind-body studies show that just changing the way you think about your health is healing.
Environmental: Create a Healthy Home
- Remove all pesticides and herbicides both inside and outside the home. Even permethins, which are a popular alternative, are not safe. Instead, choose non toxic alternatives. Find pesticide alternatives here.
- Cleaning and body care products with synthetic fragrances (containing the word “fragrance” or “parfum” in the ingredient list) act as hormone disruptors. Use Branch Basics or a pure soap that is free of synthetic fragrances for the home and body instead. Take a look at our favorite non-toxic personal care products.
- Cleaning products that contain a “warning” “caution” and “danger” on the bottle. Even if they’re just sitting in the cabinets they release harmful VOCs into the air and create a low-level chemical soup.
- Detox the laundry room. This step is extremely important because toxic chemicals from laundry detergents, dryer sheets and fabric softeners linger on fabrics and are in direct contact with your skin for almost 24 hours every single day.
- Throw out any sources of BPA and soft plastics including: PVC/Vinyl shower curtains, soft plastic containers for food storage, canned foods, plastic water containers etc.
- Reduce exposure to electromagnetic fields by limiting your cell phone use as much as possible, turn your phone on “airplane mode” at night and shut off your home’s Wifi while you sleep.
- Tip: Branch Basics Concentrate and Branch Basics Oxygen Boost can be used to replace almost all cleaning and laundry products!
- Eat REAL food which should include tons of veggies. Avoid the dirty dozen.
- Be smarter about snacking and choose healthy processed foods when necessary
- Avoid soy and cut out refined sugar (white, brown, cane, high fructose syrup, and artificial sugar). Good sweeteners include fruit (dates!), honey, maple syrup and pure stevia.
- Stay away from unhealthy oils and fats (including canola) and margarine. Healthy oils and fats are organic olive, perilla, sesame, avocado, coconut, flax, macadamia oil, walnut oil, MCT oil, ghee, butter. Make sure your beef, chicken, and dairy are organic and/or grass-fed as the hormones and chemicals found in conventional meat (mainly due to their diet) can have a huge negative impact on your body’s own hormones. Eating organic when possible makes a world of difference, as pesticides are directly linked to fertility issues.
- Make sure your drinking and cooking water is filtered. Staying hydrated with good water is the foundation of good health.
I recommend finding a practitioner you trust who understands the crucial connection between our dietary/environmental choices and fertility/pregnancy. While I am so thankful for the medical community, there is simply a lack of knowledge on prevention and the power of food and lifestyle when it comes to healing. I do not like to go into specific supplement recommendations, mainly because everybody is different when it comes to what detoxification and deficiencies should be addressed. However, I feel there is one product I can recommend wholeheartedly. Quinton is essentially a saltwater plasma that studies have found to be so powerful that it’s actually correcting the way our (and our babies’) genes are expressed. It’s almost identical to our own blood plasma and the fluid that nourishes our cells, so instead of requiring our body to maintain this healthy “terrain” by pulling stored minerals from our bones and tissues (causing malnourishment and deficiencies), it replenishes traceinerals on the cellular level. And because it’s so similar to what we make naturally (or don’t make but should), it’s incredibly bioavailable, meaning readily absorbed and used.
The steps listed above can seem overwhelming at first. But I always like to say, we have to set boundaries to our freedom. While we may think it is easier to accept a diagnosis, take the medication, eat the standard american diet, choose conventional products, etc. I have found it is quite the opposite. There is true freedom in feeling amazing, living in a body that works and feels as it should and does what it was made to do: naturally conceive, grow and carry life!
No matter where you are in your journey – babies far from the brain to having had multiple miscarriages and/or already pregnant – it is not too late, you’re not too sick and definitely not too old to start making these changes and reap benefits. There are many roads to choose from when it comes to addressing health concerns, and I hope that my story has opened your eyes to one that – while requiring patience and sacrifice – truly allows the body to heal itself. I pray you will be able to make simple changes that will bless you and your family. And perhaps your future babies.
Sharing my story is worth it if even one person can relate to, is encouraged by or will benefit from my experience. You can only take action if you are aware and, as Marilee has said time and again, “I do what I do to prevent people from one day saying, ‘Why didn’t someone tell me this?’”.