Holistic Canna Health for PCOS
A Multi-Pronged Approach for Optimal Women’s Health and Wellness
By Anthony Ricciuto
What is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a condition that affects close to 17 million American women. It is a hormonal imbalance that causes numerous health issues, affecting many different systems in the body. It is believed about thirty percent of the women that suffer from this condition exhibit all of its symptoms, making it a very frustrating and hard condition to treat. This leaves many doctors baffled on how to deal with numerous areas of concern.
Some of the Common Symptoms of PCOS
The root issue with PCOS is elevated androgen levels which are typical in males. This leads to problems with menstrual conditions that include excruciatingly painful monthly cycles, amenorrhea, and even infertility. Many women suffer from the formation of ovarian cysts causing yet another chronic ailment to deal with. Those affected also find it very hard to lose body fat, and fail to get their weight under control. They will typically store fat, not in the hips and glutes like the majority of women. Instead, they will have thin legs and arms all the while carrying around that dreaded keg around their midsection. This also sets women up for other health-related issues that intertwine with higher androgen levels. This includes cardiovascular disease, acne and skin issues, facial hair growth, and female pattern hair loss.
All Arrows Point to Insulin
What you have to realize is that PCOS is in reality largely a hormonal issue. You may think that it is simply the female hormones like Estrogen, Progesterone, and Prolactin that have some say in the matter. But one of the biggest hormones affecting the severity of PCOS is Insulin. It is the strongest anabolic hormone in the body and regulates many different metabolic processes. Basically, it is released by the pancreas in response to consuming some form of carbohydrates like sugar. Insulin clears sugar from the bloodstream and then transports it into your cells.
Insulin Resistance is a Major Factor in PCOS
As a sports nutritionist, one of the main things I focus on is nutrient partitioning through food combining and natural supplementation. Your food selection, portion size, and the hormonal response triggered by that choice will have Insulin direct those nutrients into your muscle cells or fat cells.
I think the choice is obvious and partitioning them towards muscle cells is your best bet for many reasons. The problem lies in the fact that many people become Insulin Resistant. In layman’s terms, this refers to a decrease in insulin receptors on muscle cells that allow the uptake of nutrients like glucose and amino acids to enter the cell. This is the onset of Metabolic Syndrome which will now start affecting different organs in the body.
When this happens blood glucose levels stay elevated and the pancreas releases more Insulin in hope of getting the job done. This is known as Hyperinsulinemia. This just takes things from bad to worse. Now you have elevated blood glucose levels and an overproduction of Insulin that is going to help drive what you just ate into your fat cells. Thus providing the ideal environment for not only fat storage, but also numerous health conditions like Cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, vision loss, and much more.
Monitoring your Blood Sugar from Several Angles is a Must!
This is why the first and most important thing you can do to help this condition is to improve your Insulin Sensitivity through diet and natural supplementation. In my clinic when I am dealing with a woman that suffers from PCOS, I measure her level of Insulin Sensitivity through three different parameters. I have her perform an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test, and a Hb-A1C test through requisition from her doctor during her next blood draw. On top of that, I use different protocols using a glucometer to constantly monitor how her current nutrition regiment is helping improve nutrient uptake.
Optimal Nutrition is a Must
Making sure your diet is dialed in to combat PCOS is critical for improvement. If you think you can eat what you want and not pay the consequences I am sorry you are dead wrong. With that being said there a few basic things you need to remember. Higher carb diets don’t work so well due to the fact that they do lead to Insulin Resistance. This is why an Autoimmune Paleo template works very well, as does a Mediterranean Cyclical Ketogenic format. They both consume lower amounts of carbohydrates and the choices are ones that are very healthy. Sugars, processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and fast foods are some of the worst offenders for PCOS. Studies have shown that by following a moderate approach to carbohydrate intake from lower glycemic whole foods, menstrual regularity improved. Positive changes with blood markers like lipid profiles and better-balanced androgen levels were also noted.
Now that we have your carbs under control it’s critical that we look at your fat sources. Most people take in way too much Omega 6 fats which cause inflammation in the body. A diet high in sugar/refined carbs and Omega 6 fats will dramatically increase inflammation leading to greater pain and worsening of PCOS symptoms. I can monitor your body’s inflammation level through blood markers like HS-CRP and Fibrinogen. When the diet is changed for the better not only do those numbers improve but so does the patient’s pain level.
I recommend cutting out the Omega 6 fats found in processed foods and bad oils like corn oil and vegetable oil. Instead implementing more Monounsaturated (Omega 9) and plant-based saturated fats is a better idea. Two good examples would be extra virgin olive oil and unrefined virgin coconut oil. Increasing your Omega 3 fats is also important and the best source is fatty cuts of fish. I will touch more on this later in the supplement section.
Omega 6 Fats Increase Inflammation in the Body!
Resistance and Cardio Training for the Win
Now that you have the nutrition end of things dialed in now we have to look at what you are doing in terms of physical exercise. One of the best things you can do to improve your Insulin Sensitivity is resistance training. In fact, many women do way too much cardio and too little weights, but the reality is it should be in reverse. No don’t worry, you will not get all “Jacked Up” if you lift weights 3-5 days per week but in fact, you will tone up and burn fat at a much better rate than if you performed just cardio alone. Performing multiple circuits, with low rest periods and higher rep ranges will help to decrease blood glucose levels and also improve your Insulin Sensitivity. Performing some form of exercise at least 4-5 days per week is recommended to keep blood sugar levels stable.
Natural Supplementation for PCOS
Another thing that should be mentioned is the benefits that different natural supplements can have. Here we would focus on supplements for improved Insulin Sensitivity, blood glucose disposal agents, and compounds to reduce inflammation in the body from multiple pathways.
My favorite compounds when it comes to getting blood sugar and Insulin Sensitivity under control are Chromium Polynicotinate, R-ALA, Berberine, Cinnamon, and Vanadyl Sulfate. They all have different properties so I will stack a few of them in staggered doses throughout the day. They are especially effective during times of elevated blood sugar levels either through diet or hormonal responses triggered by stress.
For reducing inflammation I am a big fan of fish oil, which also improves Insulin Sensitivity as well. Curcumin is another supplement that I like due to its anti-inflammatory benefits. This the main active compound in Turmeric. Combining these two together at proper doses can dramatically help reduce inflammation.
Omega 3’s in Fish Reduce Inflammation and Optimize Blood Sugar!
Making sure you are not deficient in your micronutrients is another thing that must be addressed. Vitamin D3 and Magnesium are very important and should be monitored with blood work. Vitamin D3 is not actually a vitamin but a hormone. This is why it has so many different health benefits. One being dramatically strengthening your immune system and this is why you are hearing so much about it now during this Covid pandemic. Magnesium is responsible for over 300 enzymatic processes in the body making it one of the most valuable minerals. It can help improve Insulin Sensitivity, reduce anxiety and palpitations, and set you up for a good night’s sleep to name a few.
Lastly, we need to look at adaptogens. These are compounds usually herbal in nature that help your body deal with increased levels of stress in one form or another. One issue many women deal with PCOS is Adrenal Fatigue. I have used several different adaptogens for my clients with success. I have found that Holy Basil, Ashwagandha, Reishi, Chaga, and Licorice root to be most effective for PCOS patients at regulating either elevated or crashed Cortisol levels which is critical for maintaining stable blood sugar levels.
Reishi Mushroom is one of the Best Adaptogens Ever!
Metformin: Is it the PCOS Miracle Drug?
I am a big fan of the drug Metformin and for good reason. For those of you not familiar let me explain. It is a drug formulated for Type II Diabetics. Now you may be wondering why I am such a fan of Metformin? No other drug in the last fifty years has been studied as much as Metformin. Now without getting into the deep scientific mumbo jumbo, I will break it down for you quite simply.
Metformin has numerous health benefits and this is why I personally have taken it for several years and I am not a Diabetic. First off it helps improve your Insulin Sensitivity level. This can be confirmed by blood work showing that your body is utilizing glucose much more efficiently. It not only helps lower blood glucose levels, but it also reduces the amount of insulin released by the pancreas. Next, it increases the number count of Insulin receptors on muscle cells allowing you to uptake nutrients more efficiently where you want them…in the muscle! It also decreases receptor sensitivity on fat cells making it harder for your nutrients to be partitioned in the wrong places like your love handles.
Metformin is Truly a Wonder Drug for Numerous Conditions!
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of its role in glucose management. Metformin also has numerous other attributes in terms of preventing Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes, reducing your chances for Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and much more. Because Metformin alters some different metabolic pathways in the body, many scientists and physicians believe it can actually increase your lifespan by activating the AMPK pathway.
Many women with PCOS find it very effective and that is due to improving their Insulin Sensitivity level. When combined with a customized nutrition plan, it can work wonders on keeping Insulin production in check, leading to balance elevated androgen levels. By doing this it can also decrease inflammatory markers in your blood and thereby reducing your pain response from two different pathways.
What can Cannabis do for PCOS?
The last topic I want to discuss in relation to PCOS is cannabis. One of the beautiful things about this plant is that it helps relieve symptoms of so many different health issues making it a wonder drug. With my practice, I also help guide my clients on how to properly implement cannabis in its many forms and strains to help with a wide variety of conditions and PCOS is no different.
First off I have found with my clientele that cannabis dramatically helps reduce pelvic pain in women suffering from PCOS. For some, the pain can be moderate, while for others it can be completely unbearable. Many women resort to opiates to help dissipate the pain. I am not a big fan of opiates and staying clear of them if possible is a good idea due to their addictive nature and the long term health issues associated with them.
The second issue is anxiety and depression. Many women that suffer from PCOS deal with anxiety at different levels. Now many of you may think this is a mental issue, but in my opinion, it’s not. When your hormones are imbalanced for both men and women, changes in the mental state will occur for either better or worse. This is the same reason why many men in their forties suffer from those same two conditions. This is due to the fact that their main hormone Testosterone is too low with much of it aromatizing into Estrogen. Once they supplement with prescribed TRT they feel like they have a new lease on life and no longer suffer from depression or anxiety.
So you must be wondering what strains do I use with my clients and other Cannabis modalities? So here are my top 5 Strains for dealing with PCOS that I have found most effective. I try to look at the breakdown of the terpenes as well as their THC and CBD composition. I also review the feedback from those who are using them and keep notes on the outcome. I like a combination of both since THC helps to mitigate pain quickly, and CBD helps reduce inflammation providing a one-two knockout punch that can’t be beaten. So let’s take a look at what I have in store for you.
My Top Cannabis Strains for PCOS
Created by Ken Estes, GDP is a longtime Cali favorite, and for good reason. It is a cross of Purple Urkle and Big Bud. Coming in around 18% THC, this calming India is just what you need to help with muscle spasms and cramps. This is why it’s such a hit with those suffering from PCOS. Its fruity flavor and smooth texture will have you coming back for more.
Grandaddy Purple is a Classic Strain!
OG Kush CBD
The brilliant minds at Dina Fem just had to take one of the most popular strains of all time and create this CBD version to leave a mark in the industry. This is a cross of OG Kush and an elite CBD strain. It’s so good that it won 3rd place at the 2017 Spannabis Championship. Coming in at 10% THC and 10% CBD making it one of the more potent 1:1 ratio hybrids. It is fantastic for day time use and one of my favorites by far for numerous medical issues.
OG Kush 1:1 is Amazing Medicine!
Pink Pain Killer
Created by master geneticist Thaddeus Conrad of Med-Man Brand you can be sure with a name like Pink Pain Killer it’s going to get the job done. This variation of Pink Kush is a crowd favorite in the Canadian medical scene. This potent hybrid comes in at 21% THC and 1% CBD helping you understand why it has won so many awards.
Med-Man and his Amazing Genetics!
This is another amazing creation of Dina Fem in collaboration with Urban Remo, the father of Canadian cannabis. It is an amazing Indica dominant hybrid created to help mitigate pain and help with cancer treatments. It is a cross of UBC Chemo and Bubba Kush. With a whopping 24% THC, you can rest assured pain will be a thing of the past after a few pulls on this one. It didn’t make the Top 10 strains of Hight Times 2017 list for nothing!
Remo Chemo is Medical Cannabis at its Best!
This phenomenal specimen by Ripper Seeds is another hit. Created specifically for medicinal patients focusing on pain, you can see why it has won several awards in this category. This is a pure Indica cross of Double Glock and Vanilla Kush straight from the Afghan region. Long-lasting pain relief and body effects make it perfect for subduing PCOS in its tracks.
Black Valley is a Top Favorite for PCOS!
What about Edibles, Tinctures, Tampons, and Creams
Now dry flower is not the only way to consume cannabis as you already know. I am a big fan of edibles and tinctures especially for pain issues and sleep disturbances. One reason why is the altered form of THC when processed through the liver is the 11-Delta THC form which is much more potent and effective than the 9-Delta THC form when inhaled.
While some of my clients prefer it in a gummy form, others like the faster-acting effects of a tincture due to its sublingual absorption cutting down on the digestive process. I also like it in capsule form as well. For some even a 10 mg dose of THC/CBD in a 1:1 ratio a couple of hours before bed will allow them to get a good restful sleep without having to deal with horrible cramps waking them during the night.
Cannabis Tinctures Provide Long-Lasting Relief!
Cannabis tampons or suppositories are another up and coming treatment for numerous women’s conditions. These can work wonders on women suffering from increased pelvic pain. Cannabis creams and transdermal patches should not be overlooked as well. They can provide topical relief that lasts for several hours and can be used anywhere without attention causing odors making it ideal for work and places where being discrete is a must. They come in a variety of THC to CBD ratios allowing you to experiment and see what works best for you. During times when pain is at an all-time high, some of my clients will microdose tincture along with a transdermal to provide two forms of relief.
So as you can see PCOS and treating it is no simple task. This is why a multi-pronged approach to subduing its symptoms is a must. Simply taking one piece of this puzzle and applying it may help in the short term, but will fail in the long run when all modalities are not utilized to their maximum potential. This is why I tackle this problem head-on with my clients from every angle possible making sure no rock is unturned when it comes to proper implementation of my PCOS protocols. While medical doctors may offer you a very limited version of your choices, you must take your health into your own hands and educate yourself from both traditional and holistic medicine. PCOS is not an easy syndrome to conquer. By dialing in each modality, you will see amazing progress in your journey to better health in no time at all.