‘PCOS & Acne – What Can Be Done?’ by Melissa Madgwick published in Great Health Guide (Oct 2015). PCOS is a hormonal disorder caused by low levels of progesterone & high levels of testosterone. Because of the hormones being out of balance, skin issues such as acne can develop. When the underlying disorder (PCOS) is treated, acne will also subside.
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GREAT HEALTH: PCOS & Acne – What Can Be Done?
written by Melissa Madgwick
In the three previous issues of The Great Health Guide, I described my experience with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormonal disorder caused by low levels of progesterone & high levels of testosterone (an androgen or male hormone). It is defined by irregular, abnormal or absent menstruation and infertility. The androgenic hormone testosterone, causes acne, excessive body hair and hair loss or balding. Frequently there are high levels of insulin and insulin resistance leading to excessive body weight. All of these symptoms vary between individuals, some symptoms may be absent while others are much worse.
If you are suffering from PCOS related symptoms, ask for a blood test today from your health care professional and see if your progesterone levels are very low like mine were. If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS, like me, you probably feel like you’ve reached a dead end, are alone and an outcast from ‘real life’. But please know, you’re not on your own. At least 1 in 10 women are diagnosed with PCOS during their reproductive lives.
Acne affects about 1 in 3 women who have PCOS. When acne is linked to PCOS, the imbalance of hormones with higher levels of androgens may cause more intense acne and ‘flare-ups’. Acne are lesions or cysts that develop rapidly in areas of the face and neck. They form as a result of high levels of an oily substance (sebum) from the sebaceous glands beneath the surface of the skin. The pores of the skin become blocked with sebum, dead skin cells and bacteria which become infected and inflamed. The pores burst open releasing sebum, bacteria and white blood cells into the surrounding tissues.
My personal battle with PCOS and acne lasted for ten years. My ‘normal adult life’ consisted of terrible acne breakouts lasting three months at a time, terrible menstrual pains and heavy bleeding, fluctuating weight and zero sex drive. My acne story was pretty horrific. I actually hid in my house for three months while my skin was at its worse due to PCOS. The pictures below show me before being diagnosed with PCOS. Acne progressively got worse after these pictures were taken.
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Why is your skin breaking out?
One of the primary reasons for the break out of acne is hormone imbalance of progesterone and testosterone associated with PCOS. Since this type of acne is a result of PCOS, when the underlying disorder is treated to rebalance hormones, the acne will also subside. However since acne is a very obvious external symptom, it can be reduced in severity by external measures of cleanliness, diet and reliable skin preparations.
What about life style?
Life style factors such as chronic stress, lack of any exercise, poor sleep patterns, and a diet which is high in sugars and carbohydrates but low in vegetables, fruits and fibre, may contribute to worsening of acne related to PCOS.
Many of these lifestyle factors are closely interrelated and feed into a perpetual vicious cycle, leading in general to chronic poor health with symptoms of type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, joint and skin inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, polycystic ovarian syndrome, fatigue, anxiety and depression.
Here are my 5 top tips to achieve better looking skin today: Please note this information is not intended to replace treatment provided by your Medical Practitioner. It is important to check with your Medical Practitioner and Nutritionist to verify any of these tips below.
1. Drink plenty of water: Make sure you are drinking at least two litres of good quality water daily. More water can be drunk depending on your body size. Do not over drink as your electrolyte balance can be disturbed. Keeping your level of fluids high makes such a big difference to your energy and also does wonders for your skin. It hydrates your skin and flushes out toxins more easily.
2. Get your digestive system working: Digestive problems can be caused by many factors. The digestive system can become inflamed due to poor dietary factors and chronic stress. The flora of the gut is dynamic and changes in this flora will set up inflammatory responses to molecules or toxins that would normally be eliminated. The gut (the internal epithelial surface of the body) and the skin (the external epithelial surface of the body) are the largest areas exposed to foreign particles from the environment. If the person’s immune system is weakened by disease, chronic stress, cancer treatments, poor diet and life style, then these most exposed areas of the body will become compromised and will not be able to maintain their normal defence even to the usual flora. I believe that a compromised immune system could be one of the most underestimated causes of acne in PCOS. Tip numbers 3 and 4 will help you get your digestive system functioning properly.
3. Change your diet:
a. Minimize your sugar intake particularly the monosaccharide fructose. Table sugar is equal amounts of fructose and glucose. Fructose is added as a sweetener in most processed and packaged foods, including soft drinks, cereals, bread and most low fat dairy products to improve the taste of reduced fat products.
b. Eat fruits and vegetables
that are low in fructose including blueberries, strawberries, melon, kiwifruit and bananas; broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cucumber, lettuce, tomatoes, green peas, seaweed, olives, sweet potato and zucchini. Use ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, basil, oregano, pepper and mustard to flavour foods in place of prepared sugary sauces.
c. Eat plenty of fish with high levels of omega 3 oils (salmon and other oily, cold water fish).
d. Fibre from low fructose fruits, vegetables and some grains (oats, quinoa, brown and white rice) is important to keep the digestive system healthy and bowel function normal.
4. Stop stressing and start meditating: As mentioned in Tip 2, chronic stress and persistent negative emotional states are very likely to cause inflammation in the body, joints, digestive system and also in the skin. Start meditating for 30 minutes a day, do a few minutes of deep breathing and stretch your whole body several times a day.
5. Supplements: Women with PCOS tend to be deficient in a number of key vitamins and supplements. So make sure you are getting enough inositol, folic acid, omega 3 and vitamin D as a start. They will never replace your nutritional and lifestyle changes, but they can complement and accelerate their impact on your hormones.
If you can take a few things from this article and put my advice on lifestyle into practice, you should eventually heal yourself from PCOS and from acne which is one of its worst symptoms. I know, I did after three months! You can rebalance your hormones, get back into reality, feel whole again and face the world – literally!
For more information on the points above or to learn how to healed yourself naturally from PCOS, please feel free to visit my website where I share more about my journey, tips, knowledge, experience and support. Also if you are suffering from hormonal acne, please look at my new website – Heal My Acne – that will provide ideas on how you can start clearing up that stubborn acne for good.
Author of this article:
Melissa Madgwick is a 29 year old woman who is on other side of healing from polycystic ovarian syndrome. Her life now revolves around health. She is an avid health advocate who specialises in working with women who suffer from PCOS and eagerly helps others overcome the PCOS disease holistically.