Posts Tagged ‘PCOS’

What’s on the web? Pepper’s paleo archive: 120 relevant and awesome posts

How much is on the web?  Too much?

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When you’re looking for advice, or for specific information, sometimes it’s really hard to find what you’re looking for.  That’s why I try–but it really is so hard–to be as comprehensive as possible with my posts and my pages.  I want to support healthy thinking and disordered eaters as well as contribute to the Paleo Zeitgeist, and, perhaps most importantly, help my friends and family and other newcomers get going with new nutrition and new diets.   This is a huge goal and a diverse set of desires, which is why it’s so impossible to be comprehensively awesome.

Because I so desperately want to provide good information to my readers, I have begun compiling an archive of relevant posts.  It’s almost impossible to google what you want to know about nutrition and find a good answer these days.  Almost always Paleo Hacks comes up for the first ten results, and then some other advice forums.   I’ve started automatically typing -”paleo hacks” into every search bar for this very reason.  It helps, some.   But still I am often stymied.  This is because what I am really looking for is the Good Stuff.  And what I hope I am giving to you, here, is exactly that.  I should have done this sooner.  I should have started years ago.  But better late than never, I am certain.

I decided to finally get started on this because I want to open up my readers  to the vast wealth of research going on out there.  Yes, it’s about cutting grains.  Yes, you should cut sugar.  Yes, you should balance your omega 3 and omega 6 consumption.  But why?  How many different ways does that impact your health?  How many different body functions and micronutrients does your nutrition impact?   How many different opinions are there?  Almost countless amounts.  What I touch on in my blog is nothing. Nothing!  It truly is.   What I even touch on in this post is nothing.  The tippiest, tippiest point of the iceberg.   Stars of the paleo movement are day in day out out there on a rowboat next to the iceberg, chipping away at science, digging through academic journals and staying up to date on the latest research, and I want to help you find and navigate them.  For a number of reasons, I am not one of these stars.  Instead, I filter through their material and sometimes read the academic stuff, and do my best to live  and eat and recommend eating habits accordingly.   If you know me personally, you will not be surprised to learn that I have read each of these blogs in their entirety (along with the rest of the blogs in my blogroll on the right) at least once.  I think they all deserve that deep of attention and analysis.  It is unfortunate that I only have a handful of posts from each blogger on here.  All the more reason, however, to follow the link and see what you can learn.

What follows is a collection of articles by various scientists, doctors, nutritionists, and paleo lifestyle-ers on a variety of health topics.    This is so far away from comprehensive it’s ridiculous.   However, I do not want to overwhelm my new readers.   Instead,  my hope is to provide what I think is both healthy blog diversity and perhaps the best investigation on each topic. Some topics I miss and some I know I don’t do justice to– such as intermittent fasting, and also, weight loss– but 120 is, I think, a good enough starting point.  I have been working on this for many days, and it’s time for me to start going to school again.

So what’s out there that I think you should be reading, and why?  What follows are some specific articles and also general recommendations.

 

For the updated archives (250+), please see this post or this page.

 

 

PCOS and acne update

I’ve been wanting to give you an update on my PCOS for a while now, but I kept saying, “just wait until X,” or “once Y happens.”  This was stupid.  Health progresses very slowly, and I might end up waiting to write about PCOS forever if I decide to wait for everything to be perfect.

Here is my original post on PCOS.  To summarize:

PCOS is the condition of having cystic ovaries, which is caused by a hormone imbalance.   When women have too many androgen (male) sex hormones, and not enough estrogen, we do not ovulate properly.  We develop cysts on our ovaries, and often exhibit other symptoms: we might stop menstruating, become infertile, have irregular periods, or exhibit testosterone dominant characteristics such as male-pattern facial hair, loss of head hair, and acne.  Gross.  Most PCOS patients are overweight and tend towards insulin resistance.  Testosterone is high in these patients for this reason, and even conventional medicine prescribes low carbohydrate diets for remediation.  However, there exists a minority of PCOS patients who have a bit of an opposite problem: that when they lose weight, or are perfectly fit, they mysteriously struggle with the same imbalance.  I am one of these.  Doctors are having a difficult time figuring out why.

I stopped menstruating about a year and a half ago now.  I don’t want to get to the punch line too early, but I also want to let you down slowly, so know in advance: I do not have an absolute victory to share with you.  I am not menstruating yet.  But I have hope that I will begin some time soon.  (!)

When I became period-free, I had recently lost a lot of weight.  I have maintained, more or less, that body size since then.  My doctor’s hypothesis for why I have PCOS is, therefore, as follows: since estrogen is produced in fat cells, when I lost fat, my body, which had become dependent on fat cells for estrogen supply, stopped having enough estrogen to menstruate properly.  Make sense?  Sure.   But I have also tested low on thyroid, and around 40 percent of PCOS patients also have hypothyroidism.  A high percentage of hypothyroid patients, in turn, (up near 80 or 90, according to Chris Kesser) have Hashimoto’s Thyroidism, an autoimmune condition.  So it is possible that this is the underlying cause of my PCOS.  I have yet to be tested for it since I am living in Taiwan, but I intend to find out once I return state-side.

That October 2009 was when I stopped menstruating.  I was on a zero fat vegetarian diet, and had in fact been doing that for three years, though it was only in the final months of 2009 that I ever “got really serious” and lost weight.   I wonder if this had anything to do with losing my periods, but, again, I don’t know anything for certain.  In March of 2010, still around 19 percent body fat, I switched to lacto-paleo.   My ovaries remained the same.  I had no periods, no vaginal discharge–which I used to have in spades–and no sex drive. Life can be really hard sometimes.

In August of 2010, acne emerged.  And not just acne, but, like, acne. I don’t have any photos from the time period because it was too horrific to even contemplate.  At one point I had 37 active cysts around my mouth.  Yikes.  I do, however, have one photo from after I had recovered a little bit, and I’m going to post it below.  We can pretty definitively attribute this acne to the high testosterone levels, since this is where testosterone-heavy people (such as steroid abusers) always break out.  I really panicked about it being due to food allergies, however, which made my diet an absolute mess.  My new hypothesis is that certain foods exacerbate the acne, but testosterone is the underlying cause.

Ugh, gross.  At this point, I decided to give up dairy.  It didn’t really help.  I was eating a lot of vegetables (including a shit ton of goitrogenic cabbage), eggs, fish, and industrial meat.  I noticed then when I took a lot of fish oil it seemed to improve, and also that whenever I put on weight it seemed to improve.  When I lost weight again after putting it on over the holidays, my face was a fiery nightmare.  Recall that estrogen is produced in fat cells, and helps mitigate the hormone imbalance.  Putting on weight, then, was at least moderately effective.

The first time I saw any significant improvement was when I took progesterone pills for three weeks.  This also made me put on about ten pounds in that three week time period, so I stopped taking it.  It made me a little suicidal anyway.

In any case, because of this, I have always sort of used my face as a metric for my PCOS.  The general trend seems to be that with a better hormone balance in my system, my face gets better.  The state of the acne is also, I believe, related to my diet.  There are two specific ways:  1)  I notice that if I have some sugary drinks while out on a weekend, I get a small break out.  This might be why dairy was so problematic for me, too.  (I think I noticed that the worst food instigator for me was store bought blue cheese dressing: dairy and low-fat additives and omega 6 dressing: Gods, could I have been putting anything worse in my body?)  So insulin is related.  Note that insulin’s role in all of this is probably due to how strongly it stimulates testosterone production.  2) I think that my diet, despite my best efforts, was still high in omega 6s while at home.  I also think I have a lot of inflammation left over in my body from my previous lifestyle and diets, so I need to really watch my omega 3s and 6s.  That “meat” that I was consuming a lot of including high quantities of chicken.  So perhaps it was never enough to balance the salmon filets I ate a couple of times per week.  I don’t know.  In Taiwan, I have been eating a whole hell of a lot of fish, which I think definitely helps.

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Ok.  So my skin is bad and my vagina is as dry as Oscar Wilde, and I depart for Taiwan at the end of January 2011.

Within a week I see mild improvement.  Wtf?  What changed?

Honestly, I’m not sure.  There have been lots of variables at play already, and in Taiwan there are even more.  I stop eating chicken, and I eschew dairy 100 percent.  I also start eating seaweed.  I notice that this helps, I think, considerably.  This makes me wonder: is my low thyroid being fixed by iodine consumption, and is that in turn helping my PCOS?  Iodine is known to support ovarian and mammarian tissue health, so basic nutrient supplementation could be the key, I think.  When I discover this, I decide to eat seaweed daily.   I also decide to really pay attention to my omega 3s and omega 6s.  I eat as few vegetable oils as possible (though that is incredibly difficult in Taiwan), so I also eat fish twice per day.   This means that I am decently balanced, omega 3 to 6 (though I really have no idea, and I don’t take fish oil), and also that I am getting more than sufficient iodine.  More than sufficient, since seaweed and seafood are the most rich natural sources. I am also eating some pork, getting sufficient protein, avoiding sweets, and even adding some carbohydrate back into my diet.  I have yet to really test whether the carbohydrate is important, or not, probably not, but there we go.

I see my skin improve with time. It’s slow, at first.  Quite slow.  I troubleshoot and figure I need more seaweed and omega 3s.  I also stop eating sugar-free gum.  I start consistently sleeping seven hours a night.  I no longer live with my enormously stressful father.  I have put on five pounds.  I don’t know what is working, but something is.   After about six weeks in Taiwan, my vaginal discharge returns.  At this point, I’m pretty hopeful.

This is what I look like in early April:

 

From April through May, something really amazing happens.  I don’t know what.  But my skin advances like a warrior.  Every day I see it clear up.  Today, May 12, 2011, I have no acne.  Only scars.  I just sit back, and eat as carefully as possible, and watch the scars heal over time.

It’s also pretty fascinating, however, because in April I start getting violently ill once in a while.  I get incredibly nauseated and have disturbingly thorough diarrhea.  The first time this happens to me it is so severe that I am hospitalized for dehydration and shitting mucus and blood.  Yikes.  This meant that I end up eating a lot of sweet potatoes and occasionally squeezing in pork and eggs, and also carrots.  For a while I drink soy milk and even eat some granola, simply because those are the only things that feel good in my stomach (but I worry about the insulin for my face!).  This also means that, still, I am worried about my health.  Am I doing something wrong?  What is making me so ill? I don’t know.  Honest.  With my expert medical opinion, I have narrowed the causes down to: hyperthyroid activity, whether from an autoimmune condition or the vast amounts of iodine I was consuming, food poisoning, a duodenal ulcer, a parasite the hospital missed, or, my favorite candidate right now: iodine poisoning.   I think I overdosed on iodine.  Iodine can be corrosive in the stomach, and for a while I was exceeding the upper limit on iodine by a few thousand percent each day.  I didn’t know I had been eating that much.  In any case, my intestinal lining is upset and ulcerated, and this may be due to iodine consumption.  Therefore: I have dropped my seafood and seaweed consumption to about zero recently (boy I miss omega 3s), and I have been doing okay.  Skin still looks good, I feel great otherwise, my vaginal discharge is now not just present but constant, and my sex drive is back in full force. That is unfortunate, since I liked the mental clarity I had as an asexual for a year and a half, but Zeus hates me so what can I do?

This means that, I think, my periods will come back.  I have no real evidence for what is working and what isn’t.  The answer could simply be that my body needed time to adjust to the new body weight.  Or it could be as complicated as having low thyroid from iodine deficiency, or low thyroid from an autoimmune condition, recovering from inflammation, needing omega 3s and more iodine for my PCOS, living a relaxed lifestyle, eschewing dairy, getting more nutrients in my body, drinking more water, drinking less (herbal) tea, or keeping insulin low.   Another very important factor is that I’m about 5 pounds heavier than I was in September 2010.  That’s not very significant for someone who weights 200 pounds, but the difference between 110 and 115, or 115 and 120, is pretty profound.  I think it is a mix of a lot of things.  In any case, I am no longer ashamed of going out in public–of inflicting my face on people, I used to think–and I have a sex drive and I was kidding above it’s fucking (pun intended) incredible, and I may in fact regain my fertility in the near future.

When I first started getting vaginal discharge a few months ago I thought my periods would start right away. Now I know better.  Just like it took a long time for my acne to develop, cysts to show up, and menstruation to stop (perhaps that was a result of my long-term vegetarian low fat lifestyle), it is going to take a while for my body to find new balance and reap all of the benefits from increased nutrients on the paleo diet.  I need to keep moving forward slowly, and to experiment with different foods ideas, and to be as smart and safe as possible.  I think it’s going to come in time.  I don’t have a triumphant success story for you yet, but trust me, when I begin menstruating, you may in fact be the first to know.

This weekend.  A bit of foundation, hints of scars on the left side of the photo, but otherwise, well, free.  Not bad, eh?:

 

12

05 2011

PCOS, cancer, pregnancy and more: Why taking Iodine may save your life

One of the first posts I wrote for this blog was about my experience with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome.  That was just three weeks ago, but I’ve had some relevant experiences since then that I think are worth sharing.

I was beginning to take estrogen pills the last we talked.  The idea was, since my estrogen was a bit low, these pills would bring my male/female hormones into balance and would help me menstruate.   They worked. The medical community knows their stuff, and if they want to make us fertile, they can do it.  What’s more, the pills helped clear up my acne a bit.  However, the pills also added 12 pounds of body fat to my 5’2 frame!  I legitimately stopped fitting into all my clothes, and in just three weeks.  For someone so acutely aware of body image and weight issues, this was startling.

So I had a period (my first in 15 months, huzzah!), but then stopped taking the estrogen pills (I was on Sprintec, a classic birth control pill) and ordered Yasmin, a birth control pill that’s supposed to be better for acne and for maintaining body weight than the rest on the market.  This should be a better fix than my last birth control pill.   However, I am not going to take it right away.  Instead, I have discovered a new treatment for PCOS, and I am going to experiment with this first.  Birth control pills are clearly just a band-aid over a larger issue, and I want to have the greatest holistic and true health possible.

Onwards, then!  Onwards, I say!

———————————————————————————————–

I was staring out the window on a bus ride down the western coast of Taiwan when, listening to a Robb Wolf interview on the Livin La Vida Low Carb Show, the two of them discussed the perils of iodine deficiency.  I know that my thyroid activity is a little low.  I know, too, that the other women I’ve talked to who have started experiencing PCOS since losing weight also have relatively low thyroid levels.  Robb said that he often sees many women experience PCOS and then normalize once supplementing with iodine.  Fascinating.  I decided to do some research.  This is what I found:

——————————————————————————————-

Only iodine and chlorine, of the four halogens–(iodine, chlorine, bromine and fluoride)–are necessary to the body. We need iodine in many of our organs, including the skin, muscle, and reproductive tissues.  We need chlorine in the stomach for secretion of hydrochloric acid. Chloride is also an important part of the blood’s regulation of its acid-base balance, so we need chlorine to breathe.  We consume bromine and fluoride in higher quantities than either iodine or chlorine.  Yikes.

Much like we’ve seen before with other elements, each of these halogens attaches to the same receptors in our cells.  Therefore, if we take in excessive bromine (which we do) or fluoride (which we do), we inhibit our ability to take up and use iodine.   Receptors may fill up with bromine, which is common in grains, bleached flour, sodas, nuts and oils as well as several plant foods. Fluorine from sources such as toothpaste, certain teas, and fluoridated water will also take up important spots in halogen receptors.

This information is important because iodine deficiency is not only caused by reduced iodine intake, but also by increased bromine and fluorine intake.  One researcher in particular, Dr. Flechas, has looked into trends in halogen intake over time, with specific emphasis on women’s health.   I found an interview with Dr. Flechas online, at the website www.iodine4health.com, which is maintained by health care professionals aware of the dangers of iodine deficiency.  It’s a pretty cool site.  I went ahead and listened to the interview with Dr. Flechas.  What follows is a summary of what I thought were the most relevant points:
——————————————————————————————————-

* 84% of women have some kind of cyclical breast pain, which is related to fibrocystic breast disease and linked to iodine deficiency.  84 percent… that’s so many people. Dr. Flechas reports that breast tissues uses as much iodine as the thyroid gland.  The New England Journal of Medicine, on July 24, 2005 reported that women with fibrocystic breast disease have elevated rates of cancer.

* Iodine deficiency in the ovaries leads to ovarian cysts, ie, PCOS.

* A women with hypothyroidism has a 6% chance of developing breast cancer. Once she starts taking thyroid hormone, it doubles her chances. Once she’s been on thyroid hormone replacement for 15 years, it more than triples it – she now has a 19.6% chance of developing breast cancer.  Thyroid hormone inhibits the body’s ability to take up iodine.  Clearly, thyroid hormone is not the ideal fix for this problem.  What’s more, those put on thyroid hormone may still suffer with 90% of their symptoms. For many, they have enough of the thyroid hormone already.  The problem is with the receptors.

* Dr. Flechas argues that the RDA of iodine is too low.  (Surprise!)  The RDA recommends an enough to prevent goiter, but not enough for optimal health.

* Iodine in the body is used as follows: 3% by the thyroid, 70% by muscles and fat, 20% by the skin, and 7% by the ovaries.  I am sure that this has implications for my ovaries and my thyroid and my weight loss, but how is totally beyond me.

* Absence of iodine in tissue allows cysts to grow.  This would explain why iodine deficiency leads to both fibrocystic breast disease and poly cystic ovarian syndrome. In his practice, Dr. Flechas has put women with PCOS on iodine supplementation and has seen their cycles not just return, but become regular.

* Iodine is also important for pregnancy. Absence of iodine in early pregnancy = ADD type symptoms in children.  Adequate amounts of iodine in early pregnancy and early childhood improves intelligence.  In China, where there is fluoride in the water and the iodine levels are marginal, many babies born are cretin.  Yikes.

*Bromine is evil. In the U.S., iodine used to be in bread – 160 mcg of iodine per slice of bread. Now manufacturers use bromide because it helps create a “beautiful” bread shape.  Not long after this change occurred, the incidence of breast cancer rose dramatically.  Another interesting Bromine phenomenon: Back in the 20′s, Bromo-Seltzer was used to cure headaches and hangovers.   Yet too much Bromo-Seltzer caused a buildup of bromide in the brain which resulted in paranoia and schizophrenia, which the doctors termed “Bromomania.”  The New England Journal of Medicine reported that from 1920 to 1960, 20% of the people admitted into psychiatric hospitals had acute paranoid psychosis (Bromomania) because of Bromo-Seltzer.  In 1964, the FDA finally caught wind of this, so Bromo-Seltzer left the market. But, that same year, bromide was included in another produce in the form of brominated vegetable oil – Mountain Dew. They use it to disperse the citric acid in citrus- flavored drinks.  Bromide depresses the central nervous system, however, so Mountain Dew is loaded with caffeine to make up for that effect.  Finally, bromide is injected into soil and sprayed on some fruits and vegetables since it makes a great pesticide. Fluoride is also used as an insecticide and pesticide.  In China they have found that no geniuses come from areas with fluoridated water.  Many are of substandard intelligence.

* Iodine also used to be fortified in milk, but is no longer.

* 50% of American women cook with salt that has no iodine. The Journal for the AMA recommends all physicians decrease their patients salt intake by 50%. Where are these patients supposed to get iodine?

* 20% iodine sits in the skin – it helps the body sweat. If you don’t sweat, you may be iodine deficient.  (I don’t sweat!!!)

* Japan has the lowest amount of cancer in the world, even though they’ve been bombed twice with nuclear bombs. Because they eat so much seaweed, they get the highest doses of iodine of any country.  This is a correlation, but one that I think is perhaps relevant, currently, in my own life.  More on that later.

* FSH/LH receptors (important hormones in the menstrual cycle) are also helped by iodine. Dr. Flechas mentions again that patients who aren’t having periods began having regular cycles again.

* Neuro-hormones in the brain also benefit from iodine. Within days, some people with depression find relief.

* Dr. Flechas has been supplementing with iodine for a number of years now. It took him a year to come off his thyroid hormone for hypothyroidism.

——————————————————————————————-

So that’s the interview.  Pretty powerful stuff, huh?   I have yet to fact check anything Dr. Flechas said, nor to perform further research on the matter.  I was just too excited about the possibilities for this treatment to wait to post it.

I lived at home with my family in Detroit for the last five months before I came to Taiwan.  While home, my symptoms with PCOS skyrocketed.  I had been infertile and experiencing acne before, but once home it got much worse.  I tried everything with my diet, and nothing was working.  However, I now know that we did not use iodized salt in my home, and I also know that Detroit fluorinates it’s water.  I also drank enormous amounts of tea, some of which may have had excess fluoride in it.  I never sweat, I have low thyroid, I have cystic ovaries, and I have dry skin.

Since coming to Taiwan, I have stopped drinking tea, I drink a decent amount of my water out of bottles, and I have made sure to eat two servings of seaweed every day.   Now, I know that I was on the birth control when I got here, so that might account for my improved acne and skin conditions, but while I was in the states and on the birth control I was still having breakouts.  Since coming to Taiwan, I haven’t had any.   At all.  And my vaginal health has stabilized some, even since coming off of the birth control.  Lots of things have changed in my life here–lots and lots of factors could be at work.  But I think I am on to something, and I am excited.

In addition to having Yasmin shipped to me, my mother is shipping my kelp tablets along as well.  I am going to supplement with them for a few weeks without any birth control, and see what happens.  I will keep doing research into thyroid activity, cystic tissues, and iodine levels.  And I will keep you posted both on my own progress and on what I find.  We seem to be on the right track (duh), with the paleo diet by eschewing foods that are manufactured and contain bromide, but sometimes things fall through the cracks.  I am plugging up those cracks one at a time, and I hope that in your pursuit of optimal health, you get to do the same.

The light of the future is bright and beckoning!

Huzzah!

19

02 2011

Ovaries at War

Hello again. I am going to continue to talk about body problems. Sorry. But they’re important! And this is important. I want to get the word out there. Being a woman can be kind of a mess, sometimes.

This fall I was diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is characterized by a hormonal imbalance that leads to the growth of cysts (rather, follicles) on a woman’s ovaries. Having PCOS sucks, but isn’t the end of the world, because symptoms include: hair loss, male-pattern hair growth, acne, difficulty weight loss, irregular menstruation, decreased sex drive, vaginal dryness, increased risk for diabetes and heart disease, and infertility. The ones that I currently experience are: absent menstruation, decreased sex drive, vaginal dryness, painful acne, and infertility. What’s amazing about this is that an estimated FIFTEEN PERCENT of American women have PCOS. Goodness. Fifteen percent. No wonder I’m one of them.

It’s actually a bit of an anomaly that I have PCOS. Most sufferers of PCOS are older and tend towards obesity. This is because PCOS is marked by excess male hormones such as testosterone in the body, relative to the typically female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. Older and more overweight women have stressed out adrenal systems and are therefore more prone to chronically high insulin levels, so their testosterone production skyrockets. The best way to treat PCOS, therefore, is to lower insulin levels. Lose weight. Eat fewer carbohydrates. Reduce blood sugar levels. Cool! This appears to be treatable. WITH LOW CARB DIETS, FRIENDS.

Who knew that a low carb diet would be important for womanhood!? But apparently, if we want to be fertile, we have to minimize insulin levels, and therefore our carbohydrate intake. Please, ladies, eat more fat. Eat fewer chocolates. That craving we all get for chocolate is largely a matter of societal conditioning anyway.

Hormones are, more or less, what determine our metabolic health, and our system health in general. In a super simplistic summary: the pancreas secretes insulin to manage blood sugar levels, which spike after carbohydrate consumption. The rest of the adrenal system, including sex hormones, the stress hormone cortisol, and growth hormones are all, more or less, regulated by insulin levels. So over time, if we consume too many carbohydrates (which we typically do), our cells lose a degree of their insulin sensitivity, and we require more and more insulin in order to shuttle away the glucose in our blood. Thus, type II diabetes is born. Thus, hormone levels are disrupted. Thus, a whole slew of metabolic and hormonal problems rush in. Please, please, please, I beg you, take care of your insulin levels.

That said, runaway testosterone levels are a leading cause of American infertility. This isn’t to mention even the overweight, acne, disease, general malaise, and unhappiness all up in our wazoos, too. We barely even fucking know it. Good grief.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

There are, of course, other pathways to hormone imbalance. Insulin insensitivity is one, and stress is another, but another yet is weight loss. This is my problem, I think. Allow me to explain.

It is well known in the medical world that the onset age of menstruation in women is decreasing in developed countries. I began my period when I was 11. The average age today in America is around 11. The average age in Europe, so far as we can tell, in 1860 was 16.6. And before that it was probably even sooner. Why is this happening?

There are many hypotheses for why this is happening. In my opinion, the most parsimonious explanation is that young girls are heavier than they used to be. (An alternative hypothesis is that they have greater health. These two hypotheses are not exclusive.) Estrogen is produced in fat cells. The onset of menstruation is triggered by estrogen levels. Therefore, when girls are fit, this menstruation-inducing estrogen level is achieved first by production in the ovaries. But when girls have extra weight on them, fat-generated estrogen helps boost those levels before the “natural age.” My OBGYN and I believe this is what happened with me. My fat cells gave my ovaries a boost, and I began my period at 11 years old.

However, I believe that this boost ultimately became a crutch. When I got down to an athletic, fit weight last November, I stopped menstruating. I stopped having vaginal discharge.  I stopped being fertile. And I stopped having a sex drive. No one, including my doctor, thought that I was underweight. Just…nice. Fine. Whatever. Probably around 19 or 20 percent body fat. What’s remarkable is that, since then, if I have ever inched up in weight around 10 pounds, I have felt symptoms of reproductive reactivation. Clearly, this means that carrying more fat fixes, at least to some extent, my male/female hormone imbalance. My fat cells are giving me the estrogen levels I grew up used to having, and my body is recognizing this as a natural state. My ovaries are broken, and it’s because I grew up heavier than I am now. If I want to reproduce, all I have to do, probably, is put on weight. But that’s not… I don’t know. Fair. And it’s frustrating. And I’m certainly not the only woman I know who has experienced such a phenomena. If my doctor and I are right, we are coddling our ovaries when we are very young, and paying for it in upset hormone balances when we’re older. This is not okay. I am not down with PCOS in any sense of the word.

I have recently gotten on some estrogen pills. They are making up for my ovarian under-production. And perhaps in time my body will adjust its hormone levels naturally to function properly. But…well. Okay, I guess I have a couple of takeaway messages:

1. Paleo has fixed a lot of things in my life, but not this one. It’s great for preventing and sometimes reversing disease, but we must acknowledge the limits of our bodies.
2. It is important to be healthful throughout our entire lives.
3. Mistakes we make in the past can haunt us for ages.
4. But that doesn’t mean we can’t mitigate them in the present. Eat well! Live well! Be happy!
5. Low-ish carbohydrate diets are not fads, and they’re not stupid. They’re important.

More on my relationship with PCOS in the future.

*The information on PCOS used here can be read in any number of informative books, including A Patient’s Guide to PCOS: Understanding–and Reversing–Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
* The information on menstruation can be read in the phenomenal and accessible text : Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives: How Evolution Shaped Women’s Health.
*For a great Paleo perspective in-depth treatment of PCOS, see Girl Gone Primal’s post on it.

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02 2011