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29/Aug/2019

PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and is a condition that affects the natural balance of female hormones. Nearly 10% of women have PCOS globally. Read more about the involvement of hormones here [https://thewellnesssuiteto.com/pcos-naturopathic-treatment-solutions/]. While cysts on the ovaries are only part of the diagnose, they aren’t always present in all cases. To diagnose PCOS a woman needs to exhibit at least 2 out of the 3 following symptoms: ovarian cysts, anovulatory cycles (not ovulating during her period/irregular cycles), and male-type characteristics such as increased facial hair and hair loss on the head.

The imbalance of hormones and menstrual irregularities aren’t the sole indicators of PCOS. In fact, this disease has similar symptoms to metabolic disorders like diabetes. The hormone insulin (the which is off balance in diabetes) also plays a significant role in how PCOS leads to obesity and fat gain around the waist. Insulin is the storage hormone; when we eat sugars the body releases insulin to signal the all the cells to take in the sugar. If the cells have had enough sugar they eventually stop responding to insulin, and since insulin is a storage hormone, the sugars get converted to fat and stored in fat.

Insulin also affects ovulation. When insulin is imbalanced ovulation may or may not occur. It is common to have blood sugar dysregulation, abdominal obesity, and diabetic-like symptoms with PCOS.

Other symptoms like coarse hair growth on the face and hair loss on the scalp are due to an imbalance between male and female hormones. The absence of ovulation may cause a relative increase in male hormones (ovulation = progesterone being produced). Some women may also experience estrogen dominance where due to the absence of ovulation, there is no progesterone being produced and the abundant estrogen causes symptoms of decreased sex drive, boating, hot flashes, and worsening of PMS symptoms. Imbalances of sex hormones produced by the adrenal glands also contribute to PCOS.

Treatment options vary on both the type of PCOS you have as well as the symptoms you are presenting with. Your doctor and/or naturopath will best be able to provide you with an individualized treatment protocol to support your hormonal health. Here are some commonly used options to encourage the rebalancing of hormones

1. Diet

The heavy influence of insulin on PCOS symptoms means that by actively eliminating excess or refined sugars from our diet will promote regular ovulation and menstrual cycles. Limiting the consumption of sugary treats, refined carbs like bread, pastas, cakes/cookies/muffins/bagels and any added sugars in foods (re: sugary drinks like soda and fruit juices, sugars added to sauces and salad dressings) has a profound effect on regulating periods while also improving blood sugar and other markers of diabetes. Increasing fibre in the diet also helps to bind to and remove any excess hormones.

2. Lifestyle

In addition to diet, lifestyle factors like proper sleep, adequate exercise, and stress management also help to maintain a healthy balance of hormones. Stress often makes any underlying condition or disease worse, so plan out time in your daily schedule for relaxation activities. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night.

3. Botanicals, Herbs, Supplements, and Vitamins

Vitex: Also known as chasteberry, helps to promote and support ovulation, improve mood, bloating, PMS symptoms, acne, and cravings. There is some evidence that vitex may not be for every woman with PCOS, especially those with increased LH.

Licorice: Supports stress management and cortisol production, decreases excess androgens in combination with white peony.

White Peony: When combined with licorice has been noted to reduce excess testosterone and improve fertility.

N-acytl-cystine/NAC: Decreases excess androgens and may improve insulin levels

Vitamin D: Promotes anti-inflammatory actions in the body.

Inositol: Improves ovulation and decreases insulin resistance.

*Safety note: Always speak to your trusted health professional before starting a new herb, vitamin, or supplement to make sure that it is the best option for you!

PCOS natural treatment

When to seek out the guidance of a naturopath or MD:

While lifestyle and dietary changes are the first place to start when implementing natural treatments for PCOS, a naturopath/functional medical doctor can better support your unique cluster of PCOS symptoms by first conducting specialized functional lab tests. These may include routine serum blood tests as well as dried urine hormone testing to measure just how your body is responding and using its hormones and metabolites. Prior to starting any treatment protocol, it is generally advisable to work with a professional so that they may monitor your symptoms, labs, and ensure that there are no interactions between herbs and supplements with any other medications you may be taking.

A diagnosis of PCOS or even just irregular, painful, uncomfortable periods doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Are you overwhelmed with a PCOS diagnosis or even just irregular, painful, uncomfortable periods? Book in a free 15-minute consultation with Dr. Anousha, and learn about alternate options today! There are solutions to improving your wellness, and we are here to help!


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01/Aug/2019

What is stress?

Picture yourself as a calm ancient human collecting berries about 50 meters away from your camp. The day is bright and warm and your basket of succulent ripe berries is half full. Ahh, peaceful.

Suddenly you see a FEROCIOUS BEAR coming towards you. You drop your basket, your heart races, breathing quickens, and with a surge of adrenalin you take off at full speed away from the bear.

Now at a safe distance, your heart rate and breathing normalize as you begin to relax from the above-mentioned frightening experience.

This is stress. An evolved response to a perceived threat to keep the body safe. Stress symptoms are biological (change in breathing and heart rate, sweating, an adrenalin surge) as well as psychological (fear, anxiety). Cortisol (the stress hormone) is responsible for the physiological changes we experience during these periods of agitation and threat. Cortisol and adrenaline quicken the heart rate ensuring that there is enough oxygenated blood being pumped to the brain (vital organ – necessary for survival from said bear) as well as the limbs which help you to escape.

Biology of stress – how it works

Stress can be broken down into 3 stages. (General Adaptation Syndrome by Hans Syele, MD).

  1. Alarm (becoming aware of the bear – experiencing the fight or flight response. ).
  2. Resistance (Where the recovery stage begins, your heart rate and breathing normalize, but your mind and body are still on high alert – what if the bear comes back?). In the resistance stage, the body is still releasing low levels of cortisol
  3. Exhaustion – from the chronic levels of cortisol being released, even your stress adrenal glands become exhausted. Some symptoms of the Exhaustion phase include, depression, burn out, fatigue, decreased stress tolerance.
stress symptoms

The brain has a system for responding to an unpleasant stimulus, known as the HPA Axis or, Hypothalamic-Pituitary- Adrenal Axis. The hypothalamus first receives a memo of a stressful trigger, which then causes it to release a chemical message to the pituitary gland. The pituitary responds by releasing another chemical that triggers the adrenal glands (tiny little glands that sit atop the kidneys) to release cortisol. Cortisol then acts on the body to prepare it for a fight or flight response. When the hypothalamus stops receiving any signal of threat, it halts the chemical message to the pituitary leading to downstream effects of decreased cortisol production. After this response the body returns to a state of rest and digest – where digestion is normalized and hormones rebalance. During rest and digest periods the body is able to have restful sleep, metabolize foods, experience a libido and other reproductive processes, and have enough energy stores for day to day living.

Now if the bear was constantly present nearby it’s safe to say that you would be anything but relaxed! Similarly, the presence of chronic stress (a bear or otherwise looming in the background) causes the body to feel on-edge in an unrestful state.

What are symptoms of stress that has become chronic?

  • Low energy
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping, insomnia
  • Changes in digestion: constipation, diarrhea, bloating and gas
  • Decreased libido
  • Unintentional weight gain or loss
  • Changes in dietary habits, cravings for sugar
  • Decreased immune system, falling sick often
  • Difficulty concentrating, brain fog
  • Changes in mood, irritability, anxiety, depression
  • Hormonal changes in women such as changes in period length or flow

Sources of stress symptoms:

  • Career and jobs
  • Home life
  • Finances
  • Relationships
  • Our own health, and the health of loved ones

The true dangers lie in the long-term poor management of stress symptoms and experiences of triggering events. Chronically elevated cortisol eventually leads to exhaustion and burn out.

Recognizing and identifying the root causes of stress is integral to learning effective coping strategies for life long wellness.

How to relieve stress:

  1. Quick check-in: how do you feel right now in your body? Is your breathing deep and full or short and shallow? Do you notice any stiffness in your muscles or joints?
  2. Breathing: when there is abundant oxygen going to the brain, your body is reminded that it is notin danger. Deep, slow belly-breaths helps put the body back into rest and digest mode. Try this! Sweet 16 breathing: inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, pause for 4 seconds, exhale slowly through pursed lips for 4 seconds, pause for 4 seconds. Repeat.
  3. Spending time in nature: Unplug once a day and spend time going for walks in a nearby park.
  4. Exercise: health guidelines recommend about 30 min of moderate physical activity daily. Movement is a great way to let off steam!
  5. Seeking out support: reach out to loved ones, a compassionate friend, or a professional who can provide you with the tools to cope and decrease stress symptoms
  6. Limiting junk foods: sugar cravings are a common stress symptom and too much sugar treats can lead to downstream ill health effects. Avoid reliance on coffee, alcohol, and nicotine.
  7. Hobbies you enjoy: create and nurture areas of joy in your life daily!
  8. Boundaries: create space between yourself and the stressful trigger by taking breaks throughout your day, learning when to say no, and prioritizing your self-care routine
  9. Give thanks: an attitude of gratitude helps retrain the mind to focus on positive experiences and outcomes during your day. Positive affirmations help the brain to relieve stress and keep the mind form spiraling into stressful negative thought patterns.

Bonus!

Identify which habits work best for you. Keep a stress symptom journal to pinpoint:

  1. Source of stress
  2. How you reacted
  3. How it felt
  4. What you did to feel better

Monitor these over time as you test out the 9 different techniques to relieve stress.


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Hormones and other factors that impact libido 

Girl. Female. Low libido, hormone imbalance, decreased sex drive. Naturopathic medicine helps to naturally support hormones in order to regain sex driveFemale Sexual Dysfunction affects an overwhelming number of women globally. Some studies estimate about 41% of premenopausal women experience some form of sexual dysfunction (1).

Female Sexual Dysfunction or FSD is defined as persistent or chronic problems with sexual activity including arousal, orgasm, or pain experienced by women. The causes are multifactorial and include chronic stress, side effects of medications including antidepressants or birth control, hormonal imbalances and (natural decreases in estrogen) menopause, and other health conditions such as depression, diabetes, hypothyroidism. How unsexy – but it doesn’t have to be!

This article will focus on some of the common causes of low libido in women, hormone testing for women, and naturopathic approaches to improving sexual desire.

 

What is arousal?

A physiological state where there are changes in muscular tension, organ size, heart rate, breathing, that create conditions for copulation. Aspects of arousal are defined by physiological responses such as increases in blood pressure and rate of breathing and a decrease in the activity of the digestive system. While primary arousal is mainly governed by the sympathetic nervous system (aka fight-or-flight nervous system), responses of the parasympathetic nervous system (aka rest-and-digest nervous system) also contribute to the patterns of arousal. Physiologically, arousal patterns are not limited to sexual activity and sympathetic (fight-or-flight) reactions are also present in periods of stress and danger.

How sexual arousal works:

There are 4 stages of arousal: Desire, Arousal, Orgasm, and Resolution.

  1. Desire: General physiological characteristics of the first phase include increased muscular tension, a quickening heart rate and accelerated pattern of breathing. The skin may become flushed and the nipples are erect. Genital blood flow increases and vaginal lubrication begins. Women may also experience swelling of the breasts and vaginal walls, as well as hardening of the nipples.
  2. Arousal: Characteristics of this phase are similar and more intense than the previous stage. Muscle spasms may begin as well as an increase in sensitivity to the erogenous zones.
  3. Orgasm: This phase lasts anywhere between 1-50 seconds in women and consists of involuntary vaginal muscular contractions, and sudden release of tension. A flush may appear over the body.
  4. Resolution: The final phase of arousal where the body slowly returns to its normal level of functioning and swelling of the breasts and vaginal walls reduce to pre-arousal size and colour.

Stress and libido:

In the literature, chronic psychosocial stress is defined as either a “major life event that induces an extended period of stress such as a death in the family” (2) or “the accumulation of small stressors that are frequently present, such as on-going deadlines, traffic, financial troubles” (2).

Steroid Hormone Pathway – Increased production of cortisol leads in a decreased production of sex hormones

Researchers noted that it was these smaller stressors, “daily hassles,” that had a profound negative effect on health as compared to a severely traumatic or stressful life incident. Daily hassles like being in traffic or deadlines that never seem to reach completion are related to sexual difficulties amongst individuals. A survey found that women with higher levels of chronic daily stress experienced increased amounts of sexual dysfunction and lower levels of sexual satisfaction; this was represented in a study measuring levels of genital arousal in women who experienced chronic stress (2). In the same population, women who experienced daily stressors had higher levels of salivary cortisol (the stress hormone). Sex drive in females is affected negatively by the presence of daily chronic stressors.

 

Medication and libido:

Nearly 60% of individuals globally reported sexual dysfunction as a side effect of antidepressant use (3). SSRI’s (a commonly prescribed class of antidepressant) have been linked to significantly decreased libido, arousal, duration and intensity of orgasm (3)

On the other hand, the use of oral contraceptives has mixed side effects, where many experience a decrease in libido. There are some women who do experience an increase in sexual desire (4)

Other conditions and libido:

Sexual dysfunction also presents in a variety of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, alcoholism, hormonal imbalances, thyroid disease, and as a symptom of depression; approximately 50% of women reported decreased sexual interest prior to treatment of depression (5).

The Naturopathic Approach

A naturopath will first conduct a thorough history and case taking in order to identify some lead causes that may be impacting a woman’s sex drive. Further investigation into hormone levels via blood, saliva, and urinary testing may be ordered when evaluating the root cause of sexual dysfunction. For instance, monitoring changes and imbalance in sex hormones (estradiol, testosterone, DHEA) and stress hormone (cortisol) illustrates that in the presence of chronically elevated cortisol, the sex hormones that are generally elevated during sexual stimulation/desire are lessened.

A naturopathic doctor will investigate all potential causes for low libido (hormonal, stress-related, side effect of a medication), and work with you to create an individualized treatment plan to gently stimulate your body’s natural arousal mechanisms.

Decreased or absent sex drives are frustrating and generally a symptom of a deeper problem.

Though every case is unique, it is important to note that there are no quick fixes and as with any health goal, lasting changes develop over time.

What can you do today to improve factors that negatively impact your libido?

  1. Start with stress! Kick your libido out of neutral and into drive! Practice a beginner’s breathing exercise. Our absolute favourite technique is 7-4-8 breathing. Start by sitting or lying comfortably without distraction and with your eyes closed. Inhale for 7 seconds through your nose. Pause for 4 seconds. Exhale through pursed lips for 8 seconds. Repeat.
  2. Create boundaries between yourself and daily stressors by not bringing them into the bedroom. This means, no work, no screens, no fighting – the bedroom is for sleep and sex only!
  3. Opt for whole foods that support the libido like maca, and limit heavily processed foods and sugars. Fun fact: Maca root consumption in postmenopausal women with sexual dysfunction caused by SSRI antidepressants, ALLEVIATED symptoms!
  4. Have a conversation with your naturopath, doctor, or pharmacist if you feel that your medications might be impacting your sex drive.

Interested in learning more?

Book in with our naturopath, Dr. Anousha Usman ND, at The Wellness Suite to rediscover your sexual wellness!

 

 

  1. Mccool, M. E., Zuelke, A., Theurich, M. A., Knuettel, H., Ricci, C., & Apfelbacher, C. (2016). Prevalence of Female Sexual Dysfunction Among Premenopausal Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Sexual Medicine Reviews,4(3), 197-212.doi:10.1016/j.sxmr.2016.03.002
  2. Hamilton, L. D., & Meston, C. M. (2013). Chronic Stress and Sexual Function in Women. The Journal of Sexual Medicine,10(10), 2443-2454.doi:10.1111/jsm.12249
  3. Higgins, A. (2010). Antidepressant-associated sexual dysfunction: Impact, effects, and treatment. Drug, Healthcare and Patient Safety,doi:10.2147/dhps.s7634
  4. Higgins, J. A., & Smith, N. K. (2016). The Sexual Acceptability of Contraception: Reviewing the Literature and Building a New Concept. The Journal of Sex Research,53(4-5), 417-456.doi:10.1080/00224499.2015.1134425
  5. Kennedy, S. H., Eisfeld, B. S., Dickens, S. E., Bacchiochi, J. R., & Bagby, R. M. (2000). Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Dysfunction During Treatment With Moclobemide, Paroxetine, Sertraline, and Venlafaxine. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry,61(4), 276-281.doi:10.4088/jcp.v61n0406

 


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