Last year, after almost ten years my suspicions were finally confirmed when I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (pcos). As the name suggests it is referring to a condition in which cysts grow on the inside of the ovary. The side effects of this can be one or more of the following - acne, irregular periods, weight problems (gaining weight), excess body/facial hair and infertility.
You may wonder why I am writing about this on a dance website, but pcos effects millions of women, and in my, quite extensive experience, GPs are about as useful as a chocolate fire guard. Their usual answer for pcos, suspected or confirmed, is the contraceptive pill, which ultimately does nothing to help those suffering with pcos, except mask the symptoms by pumping your body full of hormones and giving you a fake period.
The more I talk to my friends about it the more people I discover have pcos, and the more grateful I am to dance. The main tool in my dancing is my body, and a need for it to be functioning at its optimum level has driven me to question and dig further for information relating to pcos. It also ensures I am surrounded by people who offer alternative (in relation to the social norms) ways of viewing the body.
I try to share the information I have learnt where ever possible, and it frustrates me greatly that many women are struggling unnecessarily because they are lacking basic advice. I was discussing this with a friend of mine recently who suggested I blog about it on Article19, his reasoning being that the large majority of dancers are women, a good point I think you'll agree, so here we are.
Its something I feel strongly about and I think most of this information can improve the general health of female dancers (and some of it male dancers too), so I hope you find this information useful.
Speaking to a nutritionist was the first time that I learnt that pcos is related to insulin. There for it is vital to give your body the best chance to balance itself by aiming to maintain constant blood sugar levels. The nutritionist recommended a book called the 'Patrick Holford Low-GL Diet Cookbook'. This explains a lot about which foods release sugars at a slower rate, and which foods to avoids. It works on a points system so you know how make better choices about what foods you can eat to have the least effect on your blood sugar, for example one large punnet of blackberries is worth five points, as is one date, highlighting which is the best snack to have to least affect your blood sugar.
Keeping blood sugar constant also means more energy, something very useful in dance! Since learning about this book I tell as many people as I can - dancers, non dancers, and those with or without pcos, I highly recommend it.
The nutritionist, who was treating me for suspected pcos, also advised me to take a herbal supplement called 'Vitex', or Agnus Castus know for assisting female health. I would advise you to check with a trained practitioner if this is right for you before taking it.
Recently, I read an article about a study in America researching the effects of flax seed to reduce the amount of testosterone (causer of acne and excess body hair) in women with pcos. It was initiated because a woman in her thirties saw her testosterone levels drop by 80% after a few months of taking flax seed daily, so if you are have pcos this maybe something you want to include in your diet.
Through acupuncture, aged twenty four/five, my periods became regular for the first time in my life. I no longer have acupuncture but have since maintained regular periods, I believe, by aiming to follow the Holford diet (I am no saint when it comes to this..) and the supplements mentioned above. For female health regular periods are vital, and with the intense physical workload of dance, particularly in training, it can be hard to maintain. For women with pcos it is even more important help reduce the risk of infertility.
Listen To Your Body
An osteopath at the British School of Osteopathy told me what I thought was a strained psoas muscle from dancing was more likely to be muscle irritation caused internally by an inflamed ovary/hormones. When he told me this it was like a light had come on. It all made sense. Be sensitive to your body, make connections and when and where you can go and see different types of practitioners.
As I mention pcos can cause acne, and I feel the best chance you can give bad skin is by using completely natural (organic if possible) products. Weleda is a great range because they are 100% natural but very reasonably priced.
Also using natural oils to clean the skin can really help. I use a mixture of about 40% castor oil and 60% almond oil. I got most of my information from www.acne.org
(Note about oil cleansing: it make take a little tweaking find the right ratio of oils for your skin).
Non Hormonal Drugs
If you do have pcos and suffer from acne or excess body hair there is also a drug called spironolactone which is non hormonal. It is an anti androgen, which basically means it stops the testosterone (the cause of acne/hair) attaching to the skin and hair follicle. Talk to your GP about this, and be prepared to fight your corner. Generally, you have to see a specialist to get this drug prescribed.
I hope all of this helps those of you who do have pcos, and I hope those of you who don't have also gained some useful/transferable information.