Sorry for the rambling question, but I’m at my wit’s end. I’m 24, F (obvi), 5’7, 135 lbs, zero pregnancies. I haven’t had my period for three years. I lost it after losing about 40 lbs (from 190 to 150) and quitting The Pill because I had stalled out with my weight loss. I had been on the Pill for two years; prior to that I had always gotten a normal, monthly flow. After about a year I went to the gyno, who put me back on birth control and I got my period, but gained ~10 lbs and stopped menstruating after I quit the pill. Rinse and repeat a few months later. Then I lost my health insurance, so no more gyno visits for me.
Last year I went back to a new gyno, supposedly “one of the best” in my city. I had started Paleo six months before, walked in weighing about 123 lbs, the leanest, healthiest, and happiest I had ever been in my adult life. After I explained my situation, the first thing this overweight woman said was that I needed to return to a “healthy” weight of around 160 and that she did NOT think that my prior Pill use had ANYTHING to do with the loss of my period. She chastised me for my way of eating (keep in mind, I lost my period on a “consciously healthy” VEGETARIAN diet), made me fill out eating disorder and depression questionnaires, and was overall very unprofessional in her demeanor. However, she did order a battery of blood tests as well as an ultrasound.
Results of the blood test: I have very low estrogen, but everything else is “normal.” The ultrasound revealed that I have a small uterus and have cysts. Went back to the gyno, and she put me on… dun dun… THE PILL. Oh yes, I got my period like clockwork, but I put on 15 lbs in the first MONTH and an extra 10 in the two following. I also got acne for the first time in my life.
So, I quit the pill, period gone, acne gone, and the extra 25 is taking one hell of an effort to get off. I am sick of spinning my wheels with weight loss even though I’m strict Paleo, am sick of using the Pill as a band-aid for a bigger problem, and am worried about my long-term health as far as fertility and bone density are concerned. I’m also suffering from depression now and have completely lost my (previously insatiable!) sex drive, which is really compromising my most cherished relationship.
Has anybody “been there” in this regard? Any suggestions for natural remedies or alternative treatments? Herbs? Should I start taking soy products? HELP?!?!
Whew, there is a lot going on here girl. I think that I might be able to help you some, but my primary recommendation is to seek a holistic professional such as a chiropractor with wellness credentials or a functional medicine doc. Sounds like you might need some additional testing to see exactly what's going on under the hood. From what it sounds you are stuck in a crazy eight of fluctuating hormones. Symptoms of this have lead to weight gain/loss, PCOS, irregular menstruation, and other. I would need to know more about what is going on with your lifestyle, but from what is sounds there are a couple different scenarios that are most likely at play: 1. The drastic weight loss that you had might have caused some stress to your endocrine function, especially if you were under-eating and over-exercising. This stress will screw up your hypothalamic hormone secretion, and can cause things like amenorrhea. On top of this, if you were carrying around a bunch of fat and heavy on the carb intake from a vegetarian diet, that will also cause serious insulin spiking which contributes to PCOS. Also, the on and off contraceptive use confuses your body pretty bad and further complicates gut, immune, and endocrine function. 2. I'm not saying that this is true, but perhaps there is a combination of some of the above and extra stress from being too concerned about what the scale says. At 5'7 123 that sounds pretty darn thin. I'm not on the gyno's side in saying that you should gain 30 lbs, but I am suggesting that you take it easy on stressing about your weight. Since your estrogen is low and you have some organ developmental delay, this suggests perhaps a long standing battle with hormone fluctuations. Seems like there are some other things causing you some stress that might need to be addressed. However, my best recommendation is that you consult someone who is steeped in the ways of Paleo eating so that you are tackling it the right way. I think you may be under-eating (hypo-caloric) for fear of gaining back the weight and your body has no extra energy to donate to endocrine functions. This is common so don't worry, it could be as simple as adding a little more fat to your diet. This won't necessarily cause you to gain weight, it will only allow your metabolic functions to normalize over time and get you to an ideal weight. I don't know anything about your exercise habits, but if you're heavy on the cardio you need to dial way back on that and donate more time to strength training. Strength training will do wonders for bringing back normal hormone function especially estrogen. Lastly, balancing hormones is all about stress reduction and to do so you need to mitigate mental/emotional stress as well as make sure you're sleeping 8+ hours per night. Now, this is NOT a quick fix. This problem has been around for a long time so it will take time for your body to rebalance/restore proper function. It is all about consistency and time. Best of luck, you are a young woman so this is great that you are tackling these issues now.
I wanna kick your doc in the shins, walk away from her, she is clearly clueless, or operating off of old information.
I have PCOS and I am in the medical field, So here is my spin (I beg your pardon for the bullets, I have many things going through my head regarding your post):
Did they do an ultrasound of your ovaries? That is the way to definitely diagnose Polycystic ovaries. Yes PCOS comes with a melange of blood chemistry problems (LH 3x>than FSH, if testosterone is elevated it could be more PCOS, of DHEA is elevated its more of an adrenal issue; possible hypo/hyper thryoid is often seen, elevated cholesterol), but visualizing the ovaries rules out other etiologies for what you might have going on. Do you have any of the secondary characteristics - hirsuitism, acne, hypertension, oily skin?
There is a Leptin component, which has also been disputed. jcem.endojournals.org/cgi/reprint/82/6/1685.pdf I think Leptin is the new kid on the block and we don't really understand all that it does yet.
PCOS is a hypothalamic-pituitary-ovary axis problem which causes androgen excess.
You were put on the pill for uterine health, nothing else. If you let the contents of a uterus hang out in there for a long time, it puts you at risk for malignancy and other fun diseases. You should have a cycle because it just 'cleans everything out' as it is intended to do. That being said, they could have progesterone cycled you immediately just to clean you out. How it works, you count until you are 20 days into your cycle (or immediately if there is no known cycle) and then start taking progesterone for the remaining 10, on day 31 (or so) you will have a 'withdrawal' bleed and clean everything out/shedding the lining. It does NOTHING to treat the hormone imbalances going on, but it does treat uterine health.
The Drug of choice for PCOS is Metformin. It suppresses androgens, makes cells more sensitive to the insulin-glucose complex and therefore decreases insulin resistance. In addition, for those with PCOS who are over-fat, it helps in weight loss, at a minimum helps prevent further weight gain. Assuming you have PCOS, you might do well with a small amount of Metformin (like 500mg 2x a day or 850mg XR 1x per day) to see if you could just cycle off of that. It would suppress the other androgens (testosterones, progesterones, and compounds secreted by the adrenals) and allow the ratio to improve. But be warned Estrogen excess is a problem with fattier people and those with PCOS. Its a fine balance. But I'd want more info before I'd Rx that.
BMI- at 5'7" 123# your BMI is 19.3 Well within the "normal" weight category on the low end, but not borderline, at 160# you would have a BMI of 25.1 and are officially in the overweight category by 0.1. Gimme a break, kick Dr. Bonehead to the curb. That was a dumb piece of advice.
Diet: Yeah for Paleo!! I believe Locarb/Paleo are the only diets that are appropriate for those with PCOS. Not only are they low in glucose spikes and sugars, they decrease inflammation which is a component of female hormone cycling that is negatively enhanced with cystic ovaries. If I were your provider, I would definitely do a dietary analysis of everything you are eating for a week to get a big picture. I am a big fan of Fitday.com or Livestrong for tracking. Both are free and allow tracking of foods with varying measuring types (volume & weight). Livestrong also has an Apple App for your Apple products which makes it real easy. You might not be getting enough fat. Estrogen is made from fat (it is a cholesterol-like hormone), if you have a low body fat regardless of the condition of your ovaries, you will stop menstruating. Look at extreme/professional athletes or anorexics - low body fat due to "activities" and they stop cycling.
Recommendations: Stay with Paleo. Track your diet to see what is your composition/percentages. Add some more fat, maybe consider a fish oil supplement so at least the fat is in the right ratio (see the Whole9 or Robb Wolf for their calculator). Ditch your Doc. Find a Paleo doc in your area, or a Naturopath. They are going to more interested in the whole picture. In addition, you can go see a Reproductive Endocrinologist who will do a more a more thorough work up and an ultrasound. I agree with the "Taking charge of your Fertility" book, its pretty good.
If you have PCOS, it didn't develop overnight, and it won't go away overnight. Breathe, it will be OK.
Start there and let us know!! Good Luck- Wendy :)
Low carb diets are generally helpful for PCOS and fertility issues. Also you might get your iodine levels checked, as there seems to be a connection there. I don't think anyone should ever eat soy.
I was a size 14 back in 2005 and was about 190 lbs. My doctor did some quick math and decided I had a BMI of 33, which was obese. The thing was, I didn't look or feel obese. I was eating the SAD diet, and my blood tests only showed high cholesterol, but I was strong and had physical endurance and some muscle. I figured the muscle mass was mostly a side effect of probable PCOS, but it kept me going. He put me on Medifast, and I was faithful to it for the duration of the six months. At first, I was suspicious, and didn't think I was a candidate for a liquid starvation diet. I wondered if he was getting kickbacks from the makers of Medifast, but I assumed that since he was the doctor, he had a better idea of what was good for me.
I was a model patient! I dropped down to a size 4. I had so little muscle tone I couldn't hold in my own farts (had to go there) and I could feel my butt and thighs jiggle when I walked. I was STARVING, literally, for six months and then afterwords on the tiny portion-controlled meals. I went carb-crazy and gained all the weight back and then some, but didn't get back all the muscle I lost. I even saw the nutritionist he sent me to, but I was suspicious when she told me that the healthiest oil was corn oil. Fast forward four years where my weight had crept up over 210 lbs, with none of the stamina I used to have. I was too ashamed to go back to that doctor, so when I finally decided to go to a different one years later, I was diagnosed with PCOS, prediabetes, vitamin D deficiency, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and hypothyroidism.
I was told to avoid refined starches and sugars by my new doctor, but I had a suspicion that the diet I tried years ago would work better, despite what they had told me about eating beans, whole grains and sugar substitutes. I figured that since I'm the one who has to live with the mistakes and the consequences of following bad advice, that it was ultimately up to me whether or not to listen to the doctor. I took up primal/paleo eating, easing into it, and changing my way of life.
I began menstruating normally for the first time in my life and don't take pills anymore.
So my advice is: sometimes, it's good to not listen to your doctor. They may often very well have their own agenda. Last I knew, the doctor who put me on Medifast was trying to start his own weight loss clinic. When the hormones from the pill flush out, you body should be able to regulate itself. A friend of mine told me it took her eight months to get her normal cycle back, but it worked.
Find a new doctor. She sounds horrible. I also can't believe she told you 160 was a target weight for a 24 year old 5'7" woman when you weigh less than that already. I wish I could help you more with specifics.
Another woman on Paleohacks, Gilliebean, has recommended this book before and it looks good and may help you. Informing yourself as much as possible is always a great strategy.
edit: i forgot to say, i'm not so sure about continuing to start and stop taking the pill. seems like that would continue to throw your body off more. and i hope it all works out for you,
If you have very low estrogen and everything else is normal (including testosterone), I probably wouldn't lean toward PCOS. Did you get your FSH/LH levels checked as well? If estrogen is truly low, FSH, in most cases, is either low (if it is a pituitary issue) or increased (if it is a ovarian issue). What kind of cysts were found?; I assume they were ovarian due to your suspicion of PCOS, but do you know what type? Also were you tested for HcG and AFP?
This is completely anecdotal, but I have a friend who had very similar problems to you- she had up-and-down weight and wouldn't get her period unless she was on the pill. She went off the pill for good six years ago, and has been exercising a lot, eating nearly paleo (still eats dairy/cheese), but still hasn't got her period. She got her bone density checked this year, and even though she is only 25 and does weight lifting, she is now at the low-end of osteoporosis, presumably because of hormonal imbalances. Not to cause any panic, but she went on the Nuva ring (lower cutaneous dose of hormones) and started to get her period again recently without any side effects. Her bone density has leveled out for now (it's not decreasing), but the damage has kind of already been done.
I can't give any advice, but seeing as you have had hormonal problems for a while, it might not be a bad idea to get an ultra-sound of your heel, just to make sure your bones are all good to go. If they are, that'll give you some time to work around a natural way to get your hormones in check. If they are decreasing in mass (which may or may not be hormone related) it might not be a bad idea to dry OCP or nuva ring as a kind of precaution, just in case.
In the meantime, lots of bone broth and vitamin D! Hope you feel better soon and everything gets sorted out!
Someone I worked with recently told me a simalar story as yours. She didn't have her period for 4 years. She said she tried everything. Finally she went to a Natropath who told her to check the cosmetic prodcts that she was using for parabens. Apprently these lotions interact with hormones in the body. She had been faithfully using oil of olay for years. She said she started using paraben free products a eventually her period returned.
I just wanted to point out that it is not a good idea to deride a weight number over the internet. While 160 is likely a high end for someone of her height, 135 is pretty far on the other end of a low end for someone of her height (depending on frame), even though both numbers are within currently-acceptable (for now) weight parameters, we have no idea of body type, of muscle mass, etc., and weight can absolutely affect fertility, both being underweight and being overweight. It could be that 135 is too little weight for her frame. Also, it could be that body fat (rather than weight) is a factor. Too little and too much body fat also affects fertility. Also, big history of women + numbers (weight) = bad/disorders... I don't know about here, but it has been pretty prevalent for women. While I'm lucky enough to have avoided disorders, it has taken some pretty serious willpower to focus on how I look and how strong I am rather than on the number on the scale. I've weighed less, but been less strong/healthy than I am now.
That being said, I would suggest finding a health-care provider who listens to you. No matter how great anyone is, if he/she doesn't listen to you, then he/she is not a good fit for you. I also recommend acupuncture. I used it for migraines, and it worked, and I know it's also used for fertility issues. Even if it doesn't work for you, at least it's not a practice that will dump more drugs/hormones into your system.
The Pill is used to treat PCOS and get some women's systems rebooted, but I don't know about the low estrogen end of it--i've only heard of the high testosterone end of the testing. Of course, I'm not a doctor or RN or anything else, so that's just what I've seen/heard. You know, going to an NP (nurse practioner) might be helpful. I've found mine is MUCH better than a lot of MDs who are reluctant to refer me out to specialists (ego? I don't know), and who do not listen to me and my issues.
My wife just yesterday read a study suggesting that d. alata (Chinese yam) rebalances hormones. The study was on post-menopausal women but the hormone effects might be relevant. In particular, the study was considering yam as a replacement for soy.
Low carb flu during menstrual cycle? 2 Answers