I love it when I have the opportunity to get out there and share the message about what Polycystic Ovary Syndrome really is, how to conquer your PCOS naturally, and the simple, but incredibly powerful and empowering steps and strategies that can change their lives – YOUR life!
Today I was interviewed by the lovely Miriam Henke from Ways To Wellbeing. She is a woman after my own heart in sharing how people can truly achieve wellbeing and real health, so it was an honour and a privilege to be on her show. You can sign up to her radio show and feed for other future shows too.
Here’s the interview. And as always, there is the transcript below for those of you who prefer the written word 🙂
Miriam: Welcome to the Ways to Wellbeing radio show. In this radio show we explore lots of different modalities and ways that you can improve your health and well being and live a happier life. I’m a health psychologist and my name is Miriam Henke and I am the host of the show and each episode of the Ways to Wellbeing radio show I introduce and interview different experts who have specific knowledge to do with particular conditions or particular modalities.
Today we’re exploring polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS and those who are listening I imagine you may know a bit about this condition but if you’re not too familiar with it I’ve got an expert in PCOS with me today, her name is Bec Harwin, and Bec is a chiropractor and a nutritionist who works with women all over the world who have PCOS and she’s also an international best-selling author of the book, “Conquer your PCOS Naturally.” Welcome, Bec.
Rebecca: Thank you very much for having me.
Miriam: It’s an absolute pleasure. You are the PCOS expert, that’s what people know you as. For those who are listening could you tell us a little bit about your journey how you got into specializing in PCOS?
Rebecca: Like most things, I have the condition myself so I was diagnosed when I was 17, I didn’t have a period, an actual natural period for 15 years. I put on a lot of weight and couldn’t lose it. I had acne, excessive hair growth, mood swings that were crazy and all the other things that go along with PCOS. Eventually, being a health practitioner and a research nurse I discovered what I could do to heal myself and once I did that I thought I had an obligation to help all the other women around the world to do that, too.
Miriam: That’s excellent Bec, you know, it’s wonderful that you have walked this journey yourself which means that the women that you work with you really understand the journey that they’re going through.
Rebecca: Absolutely, and there’s so much judgment around these conditions inside of the medical profession, in other professions as well as in the general community, so being able to know where that person’s coming from makes a massive difference.
Miriam: Absolutely. For those who are listening could you give us I guess your explanation of what polycystic ovarian syndrome is so that we’re absolutely clear on this condition?
Rebecca: It shouldn’t really be hard to diagnose because it comes down to three diagnostic criteria. You need two or three for the diagnosis. The first thing is you go in and you have an ultrasound of your ovaries and pelvic area and they say yes, you’ve got cysts on your ovaries. The second thing is that you’ve got high testosterone so that can be done easily with a blood test. The third thing is that you have absent or irregular periods, so less than eight periods a year. If you fit two of those criteria then you fit the diagnosis it’s pretty simple. There’s lots of other things I feel should be tested but that’s the basics of it.
Miriam: It’s interesting, Bec, it would seem that it would be so simple to diagnose and yet why is it that not more women have this diagnosis early on and can do something with it?
Rebecca: I don’t know, their statistics show that most women have to go to between two and four different medical professionals before they get the diagnosis. Within women 60% that have moderate to severe acne have PCOS, so if you’re a woman with acne you need to get checked. The same stats for excessive hair growth. If you have hair in places that normally should be seen in a male, you need to get tested.
My husband now walks down the street and will say, oh, Bec, I think she’s got PCOS, what do you think? Most of the time he’s on the mark. I think it’s just a lack of knowledge out in the general community and the health field rather than it being an actual difficult diagnosis.
Miriam: Before Bec, you mentioned that you having had the condition yourself, did some research to find out what you could do to help yourself naturally; what did you discover in your research?
Rebecca: That I’ve written several books about. In PCOS the biggest thing is insulin resistance. If we look at natural approaches, everything that just makes sense: reducing your stress, making sure that you eat well, getting enough sleep, making sure that you exercise, all of those things are crucial. I think we tend to think in complicated rationale these days so we think that the simple things don’t really matter but all of the research just shows that’s what matters the most. Keeping things simple, having fun, making sure that you enjoy your life and eating well really are pretty key secrets to beating PCOS.
Miriam: Why would a woman want to pursue a more natural way of helping their PCOS; what would motivate a woman to do that?
Rebecca: Basically if they want the best approach, that’s the best approach. There’s nothing really that can be done medically. They can give you insulin-sensitising medications which can help but they don’t actually address the underlying cause. If you’re looking to address the cause you need to do that. The pill is, I won’t get too started on that but the pill is what is most often prescribed and the pill has been shown to increase insulin resistance which is the main cause of PCOS in the first place. It increases your risk of deep vein thrombosis so potentially death. It increases something called estrogen dominance which most women with PCOS have. It reduces obviously ovulation which is how it works, which again drops progesterone which is really important for women with PCOS.
The pill is absolutely the worst thing you can possibly do for this condition. Most women given that advice is what they should do but if you address things naturally rather than the medications that could potentially cause a problem in the first place, then you’re really addressing the cause of the issue and that’s what’s going to get you better.
Miriam: Absolutely. That sounds sensible to me, Bec. In working with women, what’s the first thing that you address with women when perhaps when they come and consult with you one on one?
Rebecca: I usually do quite a detailed questionnaire to find out where their health’s at and also what they want because there’s so many different approaches and although there’s a basic look after insulin resistance, check out if your thyroid’s working well; different women want different things. If someone wants, their main concern is to have, be able to fall pregnant then that’s a slightly different approach to if someone wants to drop 20 kilos. We always start off with what their main outcomes are and then work from there.
Miriam: That sounds sensible. Is there anything that you recommend that they that women do to make sure that they have definitely got a clear diagnosis; is there any particular tests or approaches that they can sort out?
Rebecca: They definitely need to have testosterone levels checked, so when you have these don’t just have testosterone checked, you also need to have a couple of other tests that go with it. Sex hormone binding globule which is the thing that grabs the testosterone and stops it from working. If this is low then that means there could potentially be more active testosterone, then also having a free androgen index, which is called an SAI and this just compares those two things and again, checks how active your testosterone is.
Getting your ovaries ultra sounded, so making sure you have cysts is another important part of the diagnosis. Then there’s two other tests I recommend all women with PCOS or likely PCOS should have. The first is around insulin resistance, so insulin resistance testing needs to be done correctly through glucose, a two or three-hour glucose tolerance test with insulin at different intervals. Blood sugars are taken with insulin at fasting, 30 minutes, 60 minutes, 120 minutes and 180 minutes see if it says three-hour test.
You also need to make sure that these tests are done in a specialized path lab that’s been supplied immediately, otherwise, the test results might not be accurate. Then thyroid function should also really be checked, so not just your TSH which is the normal test done medically which, by the way, should be between one to two, two and a half, not the normal path lab range of .5 to 4 or 5. You also need to have a T4, T3 reverse T3 and thyroid autoantibodies checked because this is a full panel and this is what you need. These are the tests that I recommend all women with PCOS should definitely have without question.
Miriam: This is something they can request with their GP or what’s the best way of getting these tests organized?
Rebecca: They certainly can request them with the GP, the GP should be able to refer them to have the insulin test without too much trouble. You would just need to make sure that you’re quite firm that you also want insulin at the same time not just the glucose tolerance test. The thyroid test can be a little more challenging so what I do is refer people off to a functional path lab because these guys do those tests all of the time.
The trouble in Australia is that Medicaid doesn’t cover all of the tests and Medicare only covers some of the tests. If your TSH is being shown to be what they consider abnormal, so you’re better off to go and find someone who can refer you to a functional path lab and then the tests won’t be an issue. It does mean that you’ll have to pay the fees instead of Medicaid covering it but it’s so well worth it.
Miriam: Excellent. Some of our guests, some of our listeners might have some homework to do.
Rebecca: Yes, absolutely.
Miriam: A little bit of research. Getting a very clear diagnosis is obviously an important thing. Once a woman has that diagnosis what is her next step?
Rebecca: Her next step is, well she’s got a couple of steps. Either start researching it herself. I have a blog on my website that has helpful information, or they can find a health practitioner that specializes in this area, so you’ll be looking for someone who specializes in natural health and in female hormone conditions, specifically, if you can find it, PCOS.
Miriam: For women who may be thinking, all right, well I like the idea of a natural approach, what’s something that they can start doing straight away that will help their condition?
Rebecca: The first thing is to start loving yourself because self-love comes before all of the other things. If you don’t love yourself enough you won’t actually take action. Don’t wait till you get thinner or till you feel happier, just start to work on affirmations and doing things that you enjoy, whatever brings joy to your life is really important. Then things like making sure that you eat often enough because women with PCOS often actually don’t eat enough and don’t eat regularly enough.
They might be worried about their weight so they’ll skip meals or go days trying not to eat hardly anything. Whereas, to keep your blood sugar level and balanced you actually need to eat probably five meals a day. They don’t have to be big meals just snacks like a boiled egg or a handful of nuts can make all the difference.
Sleep is really important so making sure that you go to bed and get up at the same time each night; that is a priority and nothing else comes in the way because one night of poor sleep can affect all of your hormones including insulin.
Make sure that you exercise so interval training where you go and do an eight-second sprint followed by a twelve-second relative rep so you’re still moving but just less frantically. Repeat this for 15 minutes and do that three times a week, that makes a massive difference.
There’s other supplements that can really help, particularly for people without cycles of regular cycles. There’s something called Biotech’s, which is just a Godsend for women with PCOS but again often you’re best to have this on the advice of at least in conjunction with a health professional who can help you with the right dose and know that you actually need to be on these.
Miriam: Good food, good sleep, good exercise, they’re all important things. You talked about interval training Bec, and you sort of said sprinting and rest or a bit lower intensity; is that riding bikes, is it swimming; what kind of exercise are we talking about that you can do this in interval training with?
Rebecca: Anything where you can speed up and slow down quickly. Rowing is great, an elliptical, you can do it jogging. If you’re just getting started, just start walking a little bit faster for one block, or sorry, one house length and then walk a little slower for the next two house lengths. Just start where you’re at, there’s no right or wrong, just go a bit faster at a time and then a bit slower and then just sort it up as your fitness levels increase.
Miriam: That sounds simple.
Rebecca: It is.
Miriam: I guess it is about setting up good habits because these good habits make it a lot easier to maintain. With women that come and see you, Bec, I assume that they all have different goals that they would like to achieve; what are some of the common goals that women with PCOS want to achieve?
Rebecca: The first two would definitely be weight loss and I want to have a baby. They’re the two main things that I see all of the time. Then there’s things like acne like I see younger women and they’re not so concerned about the other things, teenage women, they’ve got acne or excessive hair growth. Then a little further down the list of things like mood swings, grumpiness, relationship trouble because of all these other issues that are going on. They’re probably the main things.
Miriam: Weight loss and pregnancy and acne are probably the three biggest ones. Is there a different approach you take with women who want to get pregnant as opposed to women who want to lose weight or sort out their acne?
Rebecca: Yeah, there’s a lot of similarities between all of them because looking after yourself is the best place to start. If someone wanted to restore a cycle for example, because they want to have a baby, then there’s certainly different supplements that we might recommend. Like I said, Biotech’s is incredible and there’s another thing called cinnamon complex which is cinnamon; amazing for women with PCOS.
You might start someone on these approaches first, whereas someone who wants to lose weight you might use some other supplements to help insulin sensitivity or if they’re not sleeping and that’s one of the reasons they can’t lose weight, then something to help them with sleep like melatonin. The basics pretty much are the same for everything.
Miriam: What role does nutrition play in this? Are there any particular foods that you recommend for women with PCOS?
Rebecca: Yes, food’s just so important, I could talk about food all day. Things like good fats like avocados and eggs and nuts are really important because we’ve been trained that fat is bad but fat’s not bad at all, the wrong fat is bad. Artificially altered fat is bad, but all of our cells are created with fat, our brain, our nervous system, every part of us needs fat to work well. Starting to increase the good fats like we just talked about is really important.
A lower carb load is really important as well, so don’t eat many processed foods if you can help it. Get all of your carbs, I mean your brain and your kidneys, your liver, they run on carbs so you need to have glucose, you need those carbs but you need the right carbs so carbs that come from fruit and vegetables is ideal. Try not to have too many grains, particularly gluten grains, any gluten grain should go. Then lots of water, for example, is really, really important but if you sort of stay away from the packaged foods and stay on the outsides of the supermarket so you’re not going in where all the boxes are and things like that and that’ll serve you really well.
Miriam: That sounds like very sensible advice and good not just for PCOS but for stress in general, health, wellbeing, that’s I guess whole, whole life advice really, isn’t it?
Rebecca: Absolutely. It’s just the way a human runs so it doesn’t matter whether you have PCOS or whether you have mental health issues or any other problems at all, just addressing the basics can make amazing changes in your life.
Miriam: What role do relationships play? I mean, for women who might want to get pregnant, the intimate relationship becomes about baby making and less about the intimacy; what would you recommend for women who want to get pregnant?
Rebecca: I recommend that you consider your partner as well, it’s such an isolating thing to be infertile or sub-fertile, but he is part of the process as well and he’s going through this with you so make sure that you include him in the journey. Also, have sex for fun, have sex to connect, make it about intimacy or it doesn’t have to be all about baby making, it’s just not healthy, it’s not, you won’t be in the right head space, the stress is higher, you’re thinking oh my god, I’ve just ovulated, I’ve got to find my husband and have sex in the next twelve hours. Don’t make it about that, make it about connection and building a relationship, lean together rather than make it an actual baby making event.
Miriam: That’s good for your relationship as well as for your health, right?
Rebecca: It is and the other thing is we know that orgasm increases your chances of conception and you need to be relaxed for that to happen, so even if you just don’t have penetrated sex but do other things to just encourage connection and relaxation, that’s really important in the long run for baby making.
Miriam: Again, such simple advice but obviously incredibly necessary for women who have PCOS. For women who come and see you for one on one consults, Bec, how do you take them through the process, what would be I guess a common thing for all your clients?
Rebecca: The first thing I do is take them through a really detailed questionnaire, this does take some time but it’s really worth it. Then I can assess every area of your health because you’d be amazed where PCOS permeates. I also have people do a three-day food diary so that I know exactly what they’re eating, not just what they’re eating but how it makes them feel. When they’re feeling more stressed they might want to eat more carbs; I need to know that.
Then I take them through a what do they actually want out of the experience questionnaire as well so that I know where their focus is and what they really want to achieve because everyone wants to be well but that’s often not the reason they come, they want to have a baby or they want to lose weight, or they want to feel sexy, whatever it is. We go through all of those things and then an initial consult after I’ve gone through and analyzed all of that, it’s about half an hour and then we determine from there whether that person needs ongoing support or whether they feel ready to run with it and then come back to see me if they need me.
Miriam: You consult with women not just locally here in Adelaide but all around the country and around the world; is that right?
Rebecca: Around the world, people from the most far off places it’s so exciting. There’s nothing you can’t do with Skype, Skype’s amazing, so Skype consults, phone consults, in clinic consults, are all possible.
Miriam: If our listeners want to get in touch with you what’s the best way that they do that?
Rebecca: I have a couple of different websites, actually a lot of different websites but … ConquerYourPCOSNaturally.com is my more PCOS-focused website. There’s a blog on there with hundreds of articles and lots of different information and my email is email@example.com.
Miriam: What’s your final thought you’d like to leave our listeners with today, Bec?
Rebecca: Start to love yourself, do whatever you have to do, find joy in your life, that’s the most potent first step anyone should do and that’ll get you ready to take the other steps to help heal yourself.
Miriam: Excellent. How would you best recommend people learn to love themselves; is there any particular process or resource that they could get in touch with?
Rebecca: They can see someone like yourself or affirmations or exercise is amazing those endorphins and happy hormones and you can look in the mirror after you’ve exercised and you’re so much more attractive. Go out with friends, join support groups, whatever it is that floats your boat, do that thing.
Miriam: I really like what you shared today, Bec, thank you so much. I’m sure that all the women who are listening, all the people that love, love them who are going through this journey will be able to take a lot of really great advice from this. There you go, guys, thank you so much Bec, it’s been an absolute pleasure to have you here.
Rebecca: Thank you for having me.
Miriam: What a wonderful journey into polycystic ovarian syndrome and I think if there’s anything that you can take away from this it’s hope, hope that there is possibility for people with PCOS to achieve their goals. That’s it for today’s episode, thank you so much for joining us. If you have any comments or suggestions for future episodes, please leave a comment in the box below this episode and we’ll connect again next time. Have a wonderful day.
As always, feel free to share! Together, we can change the world for many women with PCOS!
From PCOS to perfect health, with love,