My Journey with PCOSAug 03, 2020
If you listen to your body when it whispers, you don’t have to hear it scream. Well, then I must have worn some ear muffs for many years before I started to pay attention to the message it was trying to send me.
Birth Control Pills - A Bandaid Not a Solution
I was on some form of birth control for 17 years. I was 18 when I started on birth control pills. I always had really heavy periods with a lot of cramping since I started menstruating the summer between 7th and 8th grade. I frequently called my mom to come to pick me up from school in junior high because I was in so much pain or I had once again, leaked through my jeans. I can’t recall if they were irregular, but I do remember hating that week when “Aunt Flo” came to visit. I just assumed that having painful and heavy periods were normal because none really openly talked about woman’s health in junior high or high school.
Once I started on birth control pills, I remember having a lot of issues with mid-cycle spotting. I frequently changed prescriptions to find the “magic formula” to help me
Not get pregnant.
Stop having horrific periods.
Little did I know that the periods you experience while on BCP aren’t actually true periods. It’s just a withdrawal symptom as you no longer receive synthetic hormones for that week.
IUD for Contraception Protection
In 2013, at almost 31 years old, I decided to switch to the Mirena™ IUD. I heard many proclaim how wonderful it was. You didn’t need to remember to take a pill and often you often didn’t have a period. After a very brief consultation with my OB/GYN, I quickly decided the Mirena™ was the route I wanted to go over the copper IUD.
The conversation went something like this
Mirena™ IUD = little to no period
The Copper IUD = heavy, possibly long periods
I mean isn’t that a no-brainer after spending my teenage years dreading when my period would start because they were so painful?! I don’t think I even opened the pamphlets the doctor handed to me to help me decide. I wish I would have because not once did anyone ever explain to me how synthetic hormones affect your health and natural hormone production. I had some pretty significant spotting for the first few months after having the IUD placed but was told that was normal and to be expected. Almost 3 months later I was starting to suffer from some acne issues. Not only on my face but also on my back. I chalked it up to my workouts and possibly hanging out in my workout clothes too long after my workout was over.
Acne and Facial Hair with the IUD
Fast forward to 3 years later. I was experiencing a lot of acne, especially on my chin and around my mouth. I would put on makeup to try to cover up the breakouts but by midday, they would be dried out and crusty looking. I couldn’t wait to get home from work so I could wash my face. I was thankful that my job as an Interventional Radiology Technologist required me to wear a mask during procedures so I could hide my face. I knew my skincare products from Arbonne were clean formations so something internally was happening that my body was not happy about. I also started noticing more dark facial hair. After doing a little research on google and reading other women’s testimonials, I decided it was time to get this IUD out and let my body detox from 17 years of synthetic hormones.
Now, after studying women's hormones a bit more as a nutrition therapy practitioner, I've learned that the Mirena™ IUD contains levonorgestrel - a synthetic form of progesterone (known as a progestin). This type of progestin is androgenic, meaning it can increase testosterone. Some symptoms of high testosterone include acne, facial hair (hirsutism), hair thinning or loss on your head, and/or weight gain.
Missing Period After Stopping Birth Control
My period returned almost immediately after the IUD was removed. But now looking back, that was the withdrawal bleed my body was experiencing from no longer having synthetic hormones. About 6 months later I started to wonder where my period was. What used to be about a 28-30 day cycle post IUD removal was turning into a 40+ day cycle. I was taking pregnancy tests to ensure that I wasn’t pregnant each month and wondering what the heck was going on with my body. I was breaking out worse than ever with cystic acne on my face and would purposely try to find the right angle when taking photos with my husband to conceal the skin imperfections.
Thankfully, by this point, I had started taking classes for my Nutrition Therapy Practitioner certification. I knew it was time to dive in and figure out what message my body was trying to tell me. I sought out practitioners who focused more on holistic health and finding the root cause because I had a feeling my PCP would just suggest I go back on birth control to regulate my period. Through some lab testing, I learned I had my thyroid hormone levels are not where they should be. I also learned that my progesterone levels were really low. While we focused on those areas, I still felt like we were missing a piece of the puzzle. I was experiencing migraines pretty frequently (I had never had one prior to age 36), would have night sweats, my skin was better but seemed to breakout around ovulation until my period started, and my cycles were still irregular (30-38 days), pretty awful cramps (I’ve never been in labor but I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what it feels like from the horrific cramps I had experienced), facial hair seemed to increase, and I was rapidly gaining weight.
I took the DUTCH test (Dried Urine Test of Comprehensive Hormones), switched providers, drew a few more labs, and BINGO - I received a diagnosis of PCOS. We also discovered a few gene mutations that affect the way my body processes different hormones, detoxifies, and methylates. We’ve found a pretty good combination of supplements that support my body with ovulation and detoxification, while also supporting my adrenal glands and thyroid.
Hormone Balancing Lifestyle
Nutrition and lifestyle have also played a big role in my wellness journey. I’m thankful for the education I’ve received to not only support my clients on their wellness journey but also to implement in my own life. I’ve hung up my long-distance running shoes in place for a yoga mat and barre classes in order to help my body heal. I recognize coffee makes me feel pretty jittery and can contribute to breast tenderness so I limit my consumption to weekends with my husband or an occasional meet-up with a friend. I make sure that I get plenty of fiber and water in my diet daily to help with elimination. I don’t limit carbohydrates but rather try to pair them with healthy fats and protein sources to help balance blood sugar.
My journey isn’t perfect, fast, or easy but I feel more empowered to advocate for myself as I tune in to the messages my body is telling me.
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