PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is a hormonal condition that is defined by irregular or missed periods, acne, fatigue, insomnia, bad mood, sugar cravings, missing orgasms, and poor digestion. It sucks. I know because I have it. And since symptoms may initially be unrelated, they are difficult to diagnose and treat. As common as PCOS is (one in eight women of childbearing age could actually suffer from it), remedies are rarely discussed in mainstream wellness – instead, a quick fix is achieved with spironolactone or birth control. I also went this way until I discovered Woman Code.
Woman Code is like my version of the travel pants. That little purple book is full of information that I circled among all of my menstruating friends. Author Alisa Vitti is a functional nutrition and women’s hormones expert who has made it her life’s mission to provide women with the information they need to relieve their symptoms at home. Am i obsessed with her? Could be. But it’s only because she has literally led the movement of natural drug-free PCOS treatment, all from personal experience. (With skin as radiant as an old master’s painting, you’d never guess Vitti had PCOS-related acne for seven years.) Via her NYC FLO Living Center, podcasts, blogs, YouTube channels, and Apps, Vitti constantly shares new tips for easing PCOS symptoms with lifestyle changes.
Still, the book is considered the ultimate Bible – that is, if you have the patience to actually read it. I get it! A non-fiction book about nutrition is not exactly a page turner! Because of this, I’ve shared key insights from my highlighted, post-ited copy scribbled below. Let’s start with chapter one.
Stabilize your blood sugar
It’s the first chapter of the book for good reason: Stabilizing Your Blood Sugar Is the absolute first step in balancing your hormones through lifestyle alone. That’s because your entire endocrine system is affected by how much sugar you consume. Your body produces insulin to compensate for high blood sugar levels. Dieting with too much sugar can lead to insulin resistance. When this happens, your body produces insulin but cannot use it effectively. A high-sugar diet actually increases the risk of increased testosterone production, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes. To keep your sugar low, Vitti doesn’t suggest anything crazy. Start with a cup of water first thing in the morning and ideally with an AM number two. Instead of a morning cup of coffee or green tea (caffeine on an empty stomach increases blood sugar and stimulates the stress hormone cortisol), make yourself a breakfast of a healthy protein and fat like eggs, smoked fish, or avocado. Later in the day, indulge in complex carbohydrates that, in addition to high-fiber green vegetables and lean protein, support healthy liver function. When you’re ready for a major lifestyle change, cut out all processed and artificial sugars and replenish whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates. One of my favorites is buckwheat, which thanks to a naturally occurring compound called inositol, improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin.
Avoid environmental factors
The second step is to eliminate endocrine disrupting chemicals. But fair warning, it’s a bit complicated. As Vitti reiterates on her website, endocrine disruptors confuse “the hormonal conversation your body needs to balance and avoid symptoms.” They could also make it harder for your body to process and eliminate extra hormones in your body. While everyone should do what makes them most comfortable in their own home, you should be aware that household cleaning products, pesticides used on products, and antibiotics for acne can interfere with your body’s natural hormones. It is worth learning more about your doctor.
Take care of your adrenal glands
Your adrenal glands are unable to handle the demands of constant fight or flight arousal that comes with chronic stress. While blood tests may not detect adrenal fatigue, your body can safely do so: body ache, fatigue, nervousness, period pain, sleep disorders, and digestive problems are adrenal fatigue symptoms and also the most annoying symptoms of PCOS. Vitti recommends low impact body movements, gentle and shorter exercises, and getting enough sleep to keep your stress low. Another cause of an adrenal problem could be a problem in the gut, as chronic stress increases cortisol and weakens gut immunity. To give your gut a good DC, turn to a daily probiotic, as well as B vitamins, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D3. From experience, you have no use for a Midol capsule with these daily vitamins.
Support your excretory organs
Did you know that the skin is the body’s largest excretory organ? It handles what the colon and liver cannot get rid of, and it excretes waste through sweat. Alternate hot and cold water when showering and exfoliating with a hot washcloth a few times a week to remove dead skin so that sweating can detoxify your pores. Do you have three minutes to burn? Vitti is a fan of trampoline jumping, which gently massages the lymphatic system, is more fun than Chloe Ting and doesn’t disturb your neighbors on the ground floor.
Synchronize your hormones
By far the coolest part of the book focuses on how to maintain cyclical harmony by mapping your food, lifestyle, and even physical activity to each menstrual phase. Let me explain. The first week of your cycle is the follicular phase. In the follicular phase, your body produces fewer hormones and you experience more energy. This is the best time to sign up for an intensive exercise class, start a work project, or eat fresh, vibrant food. During the ovulation phase, the body produces a large amount of estrogen. It makes you feel a little more social and receptive to others – Vitti explains that your higher than usual estrogen makes you even more magnetic, so it’s an ideal time for a first date. If energy levels in the luteal phase decrease and PMS symptoms develop, opting for foods rich in vitamin B such as whole grains and protein should help curb sugar cravings and help maintain energy. After all of this, menstruation happens! This final, and most fun, phase leaves a drop of estrogen, which Vitti insists is as good a reason as anyone to abandon plans.
If there is one final insight from the book it is this: slow down, connect inward, and let your body act as a guide. Just in case it doesn’t give me the best instructions, I’ll just keep my copy of the Women’s Code ready.
– Caroline Dweck
Photo via ITG