Living with PCOS, can we do anything to help ourselves?
July 2nd, 2020
Q & A with Elenia Kolokotronis – Specialist Clinical Nutritionist
PCOS affects premenopausal women every day and the age of onset is most often around 16 years of age. Countless women find themselves hopeless, exhausting all conventional treatment methods and having to learn to live with this debilitating condition.
With last month being World Infertility Awareness month, we had the opportunity to sit down with Elenia Kolokotronis, Specialist Clinical Nutritionist and got her invaluable input on Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
1. What are the symptoms of PCOS?
Polycystic Ovary or Ovarian Syndrome is a tricky and at times confusing condition that may or may not show symptoms depending on the severity of the syndrome. Early signs during puberty may show menstrual irregularities, weight gain, Hirsutism – symptomatic of a disorder that leads to excessive hair growth, skin conditions such as oily skin, and or acne or pimple and rash breakouts as well as hair loss. In adulthood obesity and infertility is often a result of PCOS. However, this is not a concrete diagnosis for infertility as many women with PCOS conceive either naturally or with the aid of fertility treatment. On an emotional basis I often see women diagnosed with this condition suffer extreme emotional stress due to lack of confidence, fear of never conceiving and or periodic bouts of depression and or anxiety as a result of poor self-image, fear of being infertile, embarrassment of excessive facial and body hair growth and difficulty losing excessive weight. It is important to note that Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a very common condition and is NOT a condition relating to ovaries but is an endocrine and metabolic disorder that affects the entire body and not only the ovaries.
2. What’s your PCOS story?
My history with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome was never a concern for me. As a teenager I was a very late developer and never had a menstrual cycle. Just before my 26th birthday I had a breakthrough bleed but then never again until after my second son was born at 33. Growing up I knew that my Cypriot grandmother had seven children naturally and always used to tell us, her granddaughters that she could count on her hands the times she had a monthly visitor because she was known in the village to be very fertile without having to suffer the strife of a menstrual cycle. When I got married I visited a fertility specialist, being already diagnosed with PCOS by my Gynaecologist. I never had excessive weight issues, hair growth or any insulin conditions resulting from my diagnosis. At the fertility centre, I was told I was infertile and needed treatment to even consider having children. As I was already practising Clinical Nutrition and knew the successful end result of many of the people I had the honour of working with, I thought to put my own practices and logic in place for myself and after changing a few nutritional and emotional aspects I conceived both of my sons naturally who was born on the same day two years apart.
3. Can we do anything to help ourselves?
We are the most vital key to assisting ourselves on our PCOS path. Often we are made to believe our bodies are not profound enough to work through a condition. I have encountered couples that come to me depleted from massive amounts of chemical aid and expensive, invasive procedures, only to find that they were not questioned or advised on their nutrition, mental state or their capacity to help themselves. Be realistic, informed and become knowledgeable with regards to your condition and what you can do about it. Change your eating regime to support your hormone and metabolic function, find an activity that allows you to stay active and stay committed to your end result, be it conception, a more stable emotional state or weight loss.
4. Is it possible to take a one size fits all approach when it comes to treating PCOS, or is every single case different?
A one size fits all approach is not a good place to start because everybody is unalike and needs different aspects for better health. For example, one woman diagnosed with PCOS might have the familiar effects such as weight gain, hormone imbalances, insulin conditions, excessive hair growth and irregular periods whilst another woman might only have irregular periods but no other symptoms. I set aside at least an hour and a bit for each consultation because I need to know as much as I can about the patient as my approach is a spherical one taking into account not only diagnosis and blood results but also but also the patient’s emotional state and lifestyle factors. Noting skipped menstrual cycles is not enough to ascertain a health and wellness path for the patient. We need to take into account the patient’s emotional/mental state because it is very simple to chat for a while and say here you go, stick to this diet and you will be fine but if that patient is not in a good space, no amount of healthy food or chemical medication will assist her condition.
5. Does the quality and quantity of food we eat matter in terms of PCOS?
Absolutely yes! More than anything else, we need to look at the obvious. PCOS is hugely influenced by hormone function and the only thing that either rebalances or severely hinders the body’s hormone function is food. Foods that are highly industrialized, treated chemically and with excessive sugars and additives coupled with PCOS will only exasperate the system negatively and natural, clean foods high in antioxidants, minerals, roughage, vitamins, fibre and with lower levels of good natural sugars will inevitably assist the body to rebalance and become stable. Food is our greatest healer. Personally speaking, the food we eat, portion size and when we eat is the answer to most of our healing, mentally and physically. We need to refrain from alcohol, smoking, highly refined foods, stimulants such as too much coffee and keep in mind that stress is a very negative contributor to our emotional relationship with food leading to bad food choices thus making our PCOS diagnosis more detrimental to our mental and physical state.
6. Are there any foods that can assist to rebalance hormones?
Absolutely. Managing PCOS in its entirety, taking into account insulin production, resistance and needing to maintain balanced levels for this as well as hormones, weight and all other related symptoms, women with PCOS need to base their eating regime on low GI, high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, low sugar foods and the following foods hit the mark and are huge hormone balancing influencers, namely anything in its most natural and raw form such as good quality organic meat, high-fibre foods, any dark greens, vegetables or micro-greens, fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, cherries and kiwi. Certain organic dairies are also a great way to get necessary nourishment and do keep in mind good quality organic dark chocolate in moderation is great because it is packed with antioxidant and mineral ingredients. and a plus is that it has less sugar than milk chocolate so one can have the best of both worlds but in moderation. Pcos ladies needs to refrain completely from anything with a shelf life that is high in fats and sugars or that is chemically treated. This will wreak havoc on your entire body and will have no benefit whatsoever.
7. Is there a connection between PCOS and diabetes?
Yes. Insulin resistance is a major cause of physiological imbalances in most PCOS diagnosed patients. The reason why is because patients often have higher circulating insulin which is very prevalent in type 2 diabetes. However having higher than normal insulin levels does not necessarily mean one is diabetic. The good news is that lifestyle changes can have huge positive effects and with the right nutrition, emotional state, exercise and less stress there is definitely a decrease in infertility effects, diabetes, heart disease, weight, depression and or anxiety.
Hormones play a big role for women, they influence just about every aspect of our health.
Synthetic chemicals in products like plastics and fragrances can mimic hormones and interfere with, or disrupt the fragile endocrine dance.
BY MARIZA HALLIDAY
Pollution is a global issue without a readily apparent solution, though taking steps to avoid exposure can help. In addition
to the environmental effects, pollution can affect your hormones in some surprising ways. The endocrine system—a network of hormoneproducing glands—plays a vital role in all phases of development, metabolism, and reproduction.
We sat down with Elenia Kolokotronis, a clinical nutritionist specializing in natural female fertility to take a look at how external and internal elements affect your hormonal health.
“Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals are compounds that bind to a certain matter. Some EDCs include compositions of plastics such as bisphenol A, phthalates and other harsh chemicals. As we are living beings that need clean fresh air for our entire body to function properly, our lungs are the most dependant on this for obvious reasons. But what we might not know or understand is how our hormone functions are disrupted by breathing in polluted air or living in a toxified environment” says Elenia.
When asked why conventional health care practitioners seldom address pollution as one of the worst hormone offenders, Elenia feels that health care practitioners are backed into a corner. Their primary concern is to assist and treat the patient as swiftly as possible and they do so with what they can manage at hand.
HOW TO AVOID THE MOST COMMON HORMONE DISRUPTORS:
Wash Your Hands
In the time of Covid-19, we have heard this phrase time and time again. When you wash your hands with fragrance-free soaps you will rinse a substantial amount of chemical residue down the drain. This should especially be done before eating.
Vacuum and Dust Often
Even though they’re linked to hormone disruption (and cancer, too), flame retardant chemicals are utilized in many common household products. Research shows that these chemicals collect in your household dust from various surfaces. Dust with
a damp cloth and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, which traps small particles of dust instead of blowing them around the house.
The word fragrance on a label signifies a mixture of various ingredients, without further specifying what those ingredients are. But we do know that phthalates, one class of chemicals typically found in fragrance, can disrupt hormones. Choose fragrance free creams, cleaning products and laundry detergents. Fragrances can show up in unexpected places, such as diapers or garbage bags.
Say No To Plastics
We’re surrounded by plastic. It’s wrapping our food, bottling our conditioner, encasing our phone. Some plastics contain hormone disrupting chemicals. One commonly used shatterproof plastic (PC #7) can contain bisphenol-A, commonly called BPA, and flexible vinyl (PVC #3) contains phthalates. Reduce your plastic use wherever possible. Swap plastic food storage containers with glass or stainless steel. When using plastic containers, don’t use them to store fatty foods, and never microwave them. Replace plastic
baggies with reusable lunch bags, and plastic cling wrap with a beeswaxcoated cloth.
Avoid Tinned Products
Tinned foods can make meal prep a breeze, but those cans are likely lined with BPA to keep them from corroding. Try to use fresh, frozen or dried foods instead.
Watch What You Eat
Certain pesticides have been linked to hormone disruption. Try to opt for organic food where possible. Consider how you prepare food as well. EDCs can hide in non-stick pots and pans, so cook in chrome steel or forged iron instead.
Filter Your Tap Water
Running water from the faucet through a proper filter can decrease the amount of some endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Improving our diet and nutritional status and reducing our exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals are pivotal changes that will profoundly impact our overall health.
Taking control of your hormones
Long Live the Liver!
Nabila explores how to support your liver through optimal nutrition and supplements.
BY NABILA MAYET-CASSIM
Did you know? The liver is the largest solid organ and gland in the body.
The liver is a powerful and busy organ. This reddish-brown wedge-shaped organ with two lobes of unequal size weighs in at just about 1.5kg and is the largest organ in the abdomen.
Situated under the diaphragm in the upper-right quadrant it performs a variety of tasks.
The three biggest ones being: it cleanses the blood, produces bile which is a liquid necessary for digestion and stores glycogen which is an energy source in the form of sugar.
HOW TO MAINTAIN OPTIMAL LIVER FUNCTION?
According to Clinical Nutritionist, Elenia Kolokotronis (www.elenia-k.com) in order to ensure optimisation of liver function good nutrition and a healthy, reduced-stress lifestyle are absolutely essential and work together to promote a healthy liver.
SYMPTOMS OF POOR LIVER FUNCTION:
• Urine that is dark in colour
• Pale stool colour
• Chronic fatigue
• Skin/eyes that appear jaundiced
• Leg and ankle swelling
• Skin itchiness
IMPORTANT FACTORS TO PROMOTE HEALTHY LIVER:
• Maintain a healthy weight,
• Sound nutrition made up of fruits, vegetables and high-fibre
• Low intake of refined sugars, processed foods and refined carbohydrates,
• Keep hydrated,
• Good, restful sleep
• Keep fit and active and reduce the stressful elements in your daily life “Ideally,” Kolokotronis advises,“ a no smoking, no alcohol and minimal medication way of life will only preserve the liver and its ability to function well with long-lasting success.”
Calciferous vegetables and foods high in vitamins and minerals are vital as they help the liver greatly and will help nourish our bodies. These superfoods will aid not only the liver processes but the rest of the body successfully.
NUTRITION AND SUPPLEMENTS FOR THE LIVER:
Vitamin A and Iron: Vitamin A and iron are amongst the most common nutritional deficiencies in the world. Vitamin A lowers iron levels and may lead to anaemia which decreases the Vitamin A levels.
Foods that are rich in Vitamin A include liver, fish, carrots, broccoli and gem squash.
Iron-rich foods include: red meat, poultry, beans, spinach, peas and raisins.
Vitamin D: According to research carried out at the University of Tennessee (Memphis), over 90% of people with chronic liver disease have a vitamin D eficiency.
Foods that are Vitamin D rich include: oily fish (salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel), liver, egg (yolks) and liver.
It’s important to note that Vitamin D should not be taken in excess.
Vitamin E: can be found in plant-based oils, seeds, fruit, fibre, vegetables and nuts. Avocados are a great source of Vitamin E.
Vitamin B12 is another necessary component of a healthy liver. It can be found in fish, meat, milk, eggs and cheese.
“Hydration is a very important aspect for liver and overall health,” Kolokotronis advises, “around three litres of water for adult men and women especially if they are active or when it is the hot summer months of the year.”
Added supplements that can be taken are milk thistle – the active substance found is silymarin which consists of several natural plant chemicals. Silymarin assists with the regeneration of liver tissue, decreasing inflammation and acts as an antioxidant to improve liver cells from damage. You may also take folate, vitamin B12, iron and vitamin D.
“Consult a professional, however, before taking a handful of supplements,” cautions Kolokotronis. “It is absolutely essential to note that stress is a huge factor when it comes to liver health – minimising stress and leading a healthy overall lifestyle will help to keep your liver in tip-top shape.”
The bottom line is your liver works tirelessly as the body’s filter to clear out toxins. When you work it too hard with overconsumption of alcohol, chronic viral infections or a prolonged unhealthy, stressful lifestyle and diet it can deter its health. The answer to a healthy liver is simple: Drink plenty of water and keep your stress level low, eat healthily and plan your lifestyle.
Food for Fertility
Can you really eat your way to a positive pregnancy test? Good nutrition can certainly get your body – and hormones – perfectly primed to conceive easy the experts. Here’s how..
BY HELEN CLEMSON
Motherhood isn’t a practice. It’s a daily learning experience.” This quote, posted on Instagram account @peanut – a social media space dedicated to connecting women across the fertility and motherhood journey, exemplifies the trials of conception and parenting. CEO and co-founder of the Peanut app Michelle Kennedy explains that her mission was to recognise a pain point that millions of women encounter and find a solution. As she so rightly unpacks on her website, motherhood can be challenging. But for so many women, the first – and seemingly unsurmountable challenge – is just to get pregnant. As far back as 2004, a global study was published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), reporting that 186 million women of reproductive age (in 2002) were infertile. Fast forward 16 years and it’s believed that over 6.5 million births are made possible via in vitro fertilisation (IVF). But what if a natural conception still feels right for you?
Look to your food for guidance. The first step is understanding that in terms of holistic wellness, you really are what you eat. “It’s important to note that entire body functioning depends largely on what we eat, and with foods we’re eating, we’re either nourishing our body’s fertility or exasperating its infertility,” explains Elenia Kolokotronis, a clinical nutritionist, who specialises in nutritional fertility.
THE PREGNANCY PLAN
When broodiness turns to an urgent desperation to have a child, the need to fall pregnant may seem overwhelming. Dr Maurits Kruger, homeopath and iridologist at Health Renewal suggests straight-forward adjustments to your eating plan that could reap the largest of life’s rewards. “The dietary no-no with the biggest negative impact on fertility is sugar and refined carbohydrates,” he cautions. Simply put: A diet that contains too much of these will lead to high blood sugar and insulin levels, he adds. “High insulin levels have a very negative impact on ovulation and may cause abnormal ovulation and cysts on the ovaries, leading to infertility.” Dr. Kruger reports that you should shun sugar – in any form – and that means sweets, chocolates, soft drinks and “low-fat” foods. Also be cautious of carbohydrates like rice, potatoes, bread, cakes, cookies, maize and any product containing refined carbohydrates. Fried foods, junk food, and foods high in trans fats will also raise insulin and disrupt hormone balance. This may cause problems with ovulation, so cut these out too.
How should you be nourishing you? Balanced nutrition, rich in fresh vegetables, lean protein and omega-3 fats will promote hormone balance and fertility. “The Mediterranean diet is a very good example of a healthy diet for fertility and pregnancy,” he says.
In the run-up to two blue lines appearing on that magic stick, exercise for sheer enjoyment, rather than with a punishing regime in mind. Kolokotronis’ best workout advice for women really focusing on falling pregnant – apart from staying hydrated with good quality water – is being active but not obsessively so. Too much exercise is “more detrimental to fertility health for some cases,” she explains and suggests that you rather keep fit by means of swimming, walking, dancing or any movement that you find enjoyable. And only a few minutes a day is all you need to start the way forward in sound health and fitness, she says. Now might be a good time to start practicing yoga. According to yogajournal.com certain abdominal poses help energise your belly and womb, rebuilding broken connections to this area. They will also move out any lingering numbness and debris, including physical debris (think badly digested food that leads to constipation as well as old menstrual blood) and emotional gunk (like sexual trauma, anger, betrayal, or resentment). The site recommends Frog Lifting Through, an especially good pose for conceiving as it opens up the pelvis and inner legs while activating your abdominals.