To be honest, I thought that missed periods were a blessing. One less period just meant one less month of annoying pain, but I was so wrong. It took a year of irregular periods for me to realize I was actually suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). While being fertile wasn't the first thing on my mind, my body was trying to speak to me—I just wasn't giving it enough credit and attention.
According to the U.S. Department of Health, PCOS affects "one in 10 women of childbearing age." It is so often misunderstood, which made explaining and realizing all the symptoms especially frustrating. Some have trouble losing weight, cysts in the ovaries from irregular periods, or thinning hair. Anxiety, insomnia, and depression are also common symptoms.
To say that I suffered needlessly for too many years is an understatement, but that is the reality of many women who deal with the symptoms caused by PCOS. Though I was a plant-based vegan for years and even successfully gained back my period after months without a cycle, I was still left with the most obvious and frustrating symptoms of them all. I suffered from constant hormonal acne and hirsutism (facial hair), as my ovaries were producing too many androgens ("male" hormones), and my body was stuck trying to balance itself out.
Years later, I am still experimenting, and I have naturally conquered my symptoms through simple lifestyle changes. Below are some of the products and methods I have used to successfully manage my skin issues, PMS pain, and sluggishness that came with having PCOS. Remember, this worked for me, but it might not work for you. It's best to check with your doctor or another healthcare professional who can provide treatment options based on your health history.
1. Blood Sugar Management
Managing blood sugar is the first plan of action that I knew I had to make, as women with PCOS have insulin resistance and can't use insulin properly. Even as a healthy eater, I knew I had to eliminate the junk and stay clear of processed fats, refined sugars, and artificial colors and flavors. To curb my sugar cravings, I stay satisfied with complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats like avocado, nuts, and seeds in every meal. Especially during my period week, when cravings seem to take over control, I stay balanced with metabolism sugar support supplements, that do exactly what's promised. After a few days, you realize the mental game that sugar tries to play on you.
2. No Caffeine
Another silent killer for those with PCOS is caffeine. All kinds of coffee and even green tea can negatively react to your cortisol levels, leaving your body out of whack for the rest of the day. I've never been a coffee drinker, but if I ever crave a warm pick-me-up, I make myself a Golde Turmeric Latte, which is filled with hormone-balancing turmeric, cinnamon, and ashwagandha, all of which are anti-inflammatory, calming, and healing, especially when 4 p.m. comes around. I'll sometimes juice some fruits and veggies I have on hand. Beets, cilantro, apple, lemon, and ginger are all great for liver detoxification and blood circulation.
I try to fill up on all kinds of green leafy vegetables, especially organic ones, as much as possible to avoid additional endocrine disruptors. Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, and greens contain substances that help the body break down estrogen and are rich in magnesium and vitamin A.
4. Nutrient-Packed Skincare
For a good-for-your topical treat, I go for the nutrient-rich Sunday Riley Juno Antioxidant + Superfood Face Oil, which feeds your skin from the outside in with a load of superfoods, including blueberry, cranberry, red raspberry, and broccoli seed.
On the macro level, feeding your body with the nutrients it needs is essential in order to repair the gut microbiome, which is tasked with eliminating toxins from the body. Zinc is a widely known mineral that helps in getting to the core of PCOS problems, as it improves blood sugar control and skin and thyroid health. While it is commonly found in animal protein, whole grains, sunflower seeds, and other nuts, vegans and vegetarians can't fully absorb it properly and would need to supplement, which I rely on daily.
6. Omega Supplements
Another important supplement that I was missing on a plant-based diet was essential fatty acids. Recent studies have shown that omegas 3, 6, and 9 can help reduce symptoms of PCOS and aid in healthy liver function, which is important in balancing hormones. They're also known to lower triglycerides and total cholesterol, reduce testosterone levels, improve hair loss, and help calm acne flare-ups. While the best sources of omegas are fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna, plant substitutes like walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are not fully absorbed in the body and need a supplement such as the algae-based Briogeo version.
7. Stress Management
The next step is to support your adrenal glands by maintaining balance, as the adrenals release the stress hormone cortisol, which is part of the body's fight-or-flight system. To keep it balanced so that you can get restful sleep and enough energy in the morning, daily movement and low-impact exercise are recommended for women with PCOS. Another relaxing de-stressor is a delicious warm bath. Deep baths are a must during my period week, as the hot water relaxes my muscles and gets me sweating out toxins. Magnesium, found in the bath salts below, is known to reduce pain and inflammation, promote better sleep, and relieve PMS symptoms. It is especially great for alleviating anxiety and reducing blood pressure.
8. Lymphatic System Massaging
One of the most fun purchases I made on Amazon this year was a trampoline (or a rebounder) that aids in getting my lymphatic system going, as the gentle massage encourages movement of the lymph fluids around the body and helps remove waste, toxins, and excess hormones from the bodily tissues.
A foam roller is a more portable option and is a great way to release muscle soreness and reap the same benefits.
Most PCOS-related skin issues result in the overproduction of oil in the skin pores. It's due to the excess of testosterone, DHEA, and insulin, which can lead to clogged pores, blackheads, redness, and inflammation. Your body's inability to break down toxins ends up showing up on the skin when they try to come out.
That being said, you'll need to assist the purging by using the right kinds of chemical exfoliants. Immediately after I started using Ren's Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic, I noticed my skin texture improved. My complexion was brighter, more even, and hydrated looking. I started off using it daily but have since noticed my skin needs it just a few times a week as the temperatures drop. To stay hydrated, I've been staying clear with a calming Kiehl's mask with calendula extract and pure aloe vera.
11. Acne-Clearing Products
While hormonal acne shows up right before my period and clears up soon afterward, PCOS sufferers deal with it more frequently. Oily, cystic acne appears and can be quite frustrating to manage. To keep my skin clear during the fluctuation of hormones, I like to use the Paula's Choice Purifying Mask, which has salicylic acid and green tea that refines the look of post-acne marks and alleviates redness.
Hormonal breakouts along the jawline are not something new to those with PCOS, but I swear by the Murad Environmental Shield line, which is formulated to improve hyperpigmentation and uneven tone for healthier-looking skin.
12. Hair-Removal Tools
The most unsexy of them all, most of us dealing with PCOS know all about the annoyance of hirsutism, excessive hair growth in unexpected areas of the body such as the face, chest, and back. Over the years, I have learned what to invest in, and for me, that means laser hair removal and electrolysis. While it's not cheap and is not a quick fix, the results are lasting and not as painful as I feared. For quick touch-ups, my secret weapon is an unlikely one: the Finishing Touch Flawless Hair Remover. The vibrating device is small enough to resemble a tube of lipstick but removes facial hair in an instant. While we shouldn't be defined by these pesky symptoms, there are always ways to conquer them.