A diagnosis of PCOS and IBS – a wholistic approach can help

Getting to the cause of PCOS and IBS with a holistic approach

29-year-old Sonya* came to see me for help with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) which had both been diagnosed by her GPs many years ago. She had been taking different medications over the years for both of these conditions, but had not seen much progress or relief in her symptoms. They were also causing her to experience significant unpleasant side effects and so had to keep ceasing and changing her medications.

Anxiety, fatigue and insomnia

Ever since being diagnosed with PCOS and IBS, Sonya had been experiencing daily anxiety, fatigue and insomnia, which are commonly seen in people who have both of these conditions. She was understandably overwhelmed and exhausted, but hopeful that a more wholistic approach to her conditions could offer some relief and a deeper look into the underlying causes of her symptoms.

While gathering all the background to Sonya’s health and medical history, it became apparent that Sonya had in fact been experiencing digestive issues such as bloating, alternating constipation and diarrhoea, cramping and excessive flatulence, since she was a young teenager. These digestive symptoms had become considerably worse after a bout of food poisoning when she was travelling overseas.

The pill masked the symptoms of PCOS

Sonya had taken the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) from the age of 14 until she was 25 years old. She became very distressed when she stopped taking the OCP and her periods didn’t come regularly. In fact, she was lucky to have 8 in a year. She also developed facial and body acne. Along with everything else, this was very distressing.

What tests to do?

Sonya had some baseline testing done with her GP for hormones, inflammatory markers and iron studies. Due to her history, I ordered a comprehensive DNA stool test, called the GI Map, to assess the levels of good and bad gut microbes that may be influencing her current symptoms. Also, I was looking to rule out any involvement of parasites, pathogenic bacteria, worms, yeast and fungi that may have been causing her digestive distress.

While awaiting the results, Sonya followed an initial naturopathic treatment plan. This included herbal medicines and nutritional support to reduce her daily digestive symptoms, as well as to improve her sleep quality and reduce her anxiety.

Stool testing revealed that Sonya had significantly low levels of ‘good’ bacteria in her gut microbiome associated with insulin sensitivity (a key feature of PCOS), as well as overgrowths of bacteria that are associated with inflammation.

Balancing the microbiome

Sonya was placed on an individualised treatment protocol with specific probiotic, prebiotic & anti-inflammatory treatments to repopulate the levels of good gut bacteria, and a low FODMAP diet temporarily whilst healing her gut. Sonya was educated on the importance of eventually reintroducing FODMAP foods back into her diet once her gut microbiome and digestive function had improved, as it is only a short-term strategy for symptomatic relief while dealing with the more significant underlying issues.

Sonya’s blood tests with her GP showed high insulin resistance, high testosterone and high inflammatory markers. These sorts of results are common in PCOS, although are not always present in every case, thus the importance of testing rather than assuming.

She was prescribed targeted herbal medicines along with diet and lifestyle support to assist in improving her insulin sensitivity and reducing inflammation, with the aim to see her periods become regular and reduce her acne breakouts.

I met with Sonya one month after starting her comprehensive plan. She was happy to report that her digestive symptoms had significantly improved – she was having regular and easy to pass bowel motions and was not experiencing bloating or cramping. Sonya was feeling much more energetic, her mood had improved and she was sleeping through the night. Her period was running late but her acne had calmed down slightly. We discussed the importance of sticking to our treatment plan long-term as these symptoms of PCOS need time to see improvement.

The effort was worth it

Sonya continued her treatment plan for the next 12 months and was happy to report that within 6 months she had started to have noticeably regular periods that were pain free, and her skin had dramatically improved with no more breaking out.

Sonya continues to take gut-healing supplements and an individualised herbal medicine to this day, to ensure she is in the best state of health possible.

* Name has been changed

By Steven Judge – Clinical Naturopath, Nutritional Medicine, Western Herbal Medicine

Thyroid Problems

Is my thyroid making me feel tired?

Thyroid Problems

Feeling tired? Could be your thyroid.

Our thyroid plays a key role in our body’s ability to function. Yet lifestyle factors like stress and diet can throw our thyroid out of balance and affect our body in a number of ways.

A tired mother

Sally*, a 36-year-old mother of two young children, had been feeling unusually tired since her younger child was born a year ago. This was not at all normal for her.  Along with this fatigue, she’d gained 5kg over the last six to ten months and had some other symptoms that concerned her. Her partner was a high-powered executive and was frequently away for a week at a time.

She booked a naturopathy appointment at the Wholistic Medical Centre to uncover why her system was out of balance, and to support it back to health through diet, lifestyle and naturopathic medicines.

Was it Sally’s thyroid that was making her tired?

At the first, hour-long consultation, Sally explained how her hair had been falling out in clumps, her stools had become less frequent and harder to pass and she had developed haemorrhoids. Because she was feeling so tired, she had fallen out of her daily walking routine and was feeling generally very sluggish.

Sally had no prior history of these symptoms; she was usually a vibrant and energetic woman involved in various volunteer organisations.

She felt she’d lost her “mojo”.

Blood tests revealed that her thyroid was under functioning; Sally was ‘hypothyroid’.  An under functioning thyroid can affect body temperature and circulation, appetite, energy levels, growth, skeletal development, muscle tone and agility, heart rate, fluid balance, blood sugar levels, central nervous system function, bowel function, cholesterol levels, regulation of fat, carbohydrates and protein and the metabolism inside all cells in the body.

Naturopathy may help restore the thyroid that was making Sally feel so tired!

A wholistic naturopathic protocol was implemented to get Sally’s thyroid functioning back to normal. Herbal medicines and nutritional supplements were recommended, along with dietary advice. Sally was to reduce the serving size and frequency of specific foods that may have been blocking her thyroid: broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, cauliflower, turnips, cabbage, rutabagas, mustard greens, radishes, horseradish, cassava root, soybeans, peanuts, pine nuts, millet and flaxseeds.

Over the following two months, Sally took her herbal medicines and her supplements daily and reduced the foods as advised.

And good news!

Her energy levels improved and she felt her body returning to normal. Sally’s weight started to shift during the second month of treatment; by the third month, she resumed her regular half hour walks and her bowels emptied daily. Sally shed the extra 5kg within nine months and has maintained her desired weight since without needing her herbal medicines.

Discussion

Sally’s was a straightforward case of primary hypothyroidism. Other cases may be more complex and need different types of treatment. Hypothyroidism is commonly seen in health clinics, with around 60,000 new cases being diagnosed each year Australia-wide. There are many reasons for this, which include environmental factors such as high levels of stress, toxins and electro-magnetic radiation, low intake of the right form of iodine, and high intake of foods that may block proper thyroid functioning.

Sally’s thyroid was supported successfully back to health through wholistic naturopathic protocols. Her body was viewed as a holistic integrated system and the underlying cause of her symptoms was determined and supported.

Naturopathy may help in a wide range of illnesses and ailments. The naturopathic approach aims to restore balance in the body and mind and promote long-term health and vitality by taking a wholistic approach.

*Name has been changed

This case study is for educational purposes only. Results may vary due to individual circumstances.

Kathy HarrisNaturopath, Functional Testing, Nutritional Medicine, Western Herbal Medicine, Homeopathy, Wholistic Medical Centre