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The Early Years
My period started for the first time at the age of 15. Embarrassed it happened so late, at the time, I know now how fortunate I was to be a “late bloomer.”
My period knocked me down from the very beginning. Throughout high school I spent one full week a month curled up in the fetal position suffering through debilitating cramps. Just rolling from one side to another left me moaning in agony. The pain often stressed me out so much I would find myself over the toilet bowl, unable to keep any food down.
As an athlete through college, people always told me, “I don’t want to hear any excuses. Exercise is good for cramps.” However, physical activity only compounded the pain.
Once college ended and I hung up my cleats for good, I took up running to stay in shape. I found distance running activated my menstrual cramps even when I wasn’t menstruating. A week before my period would start, right at a mile into my runs my cramps would begin. The more I tried to push through them the more intense they would become. The pain ended only by stopping mid-run to sit down wherever I happened to be. With my head between my knees, I would wait out the pain. Once it ended I would be able to get up and continue my run.
Deep down I understood something bigger had to be going on, so I addressed it with my gynecologist. She waved it off, telling me, “That just happens to some women. Take a couple ibuprofen before your runs.” (I tried. Not helpful).
During this stage, I helplessly decided this was my life. I cursed my luck that my periods were heavy, painful, and unpredictable. I submitted to the thought I’d suffer this way forever, and always kept a full bottle of ibuprofen with me to make it through.
On top of my unpredictable, painful, and heavy periods my face broke out horribly freshman year of college. Completely embarrassed by my acne, I never looked at anyone and hid my face behind my hair.
I visited a dermatologist during Christmas Break and began crying when he shaded in the entire cartoon face on his clip board to note my breakouts. He suggested I speak with my gynecologist about starting birth control.
My gynecologist agreed with the dermatologist that beginning a birth control pill would be good for my acne and my periods. The first brand I tried gave me a 15 day period, and only stopped once I took six birth control pills in one day at the suggestion of my gynecologist. The second brand only made my acne worse. Finally, on lucky number three, I found a brand that cleared my acne, regulated my periods, and took away the pain.
I thought, “How amazing! How lucky we live in a world with advanced medicine like this.”
I continued to take my prescribed birth control pills for two and a half years. I only stopped once I was no longer on my mom’s insurance and my prescription ran out. Too lazy to refill, I decided to see what would happen if I no longer took them.
My period was absent for six months! From January to June, I nervously waited for my period to come back while secretly freaking out I irreversibly screwed things up forever. Finally, after six missed periods it came back, and it came back just like before, with fury.
My acne, too, came back. Once, again I started crying when my mom asked me what was happening with my face.
“I’m 23,” I thought. “I’m not supposed to struggle with acne.” So, I decided it was time to receive a new prescription of birth control.
Diagnosed With PCOS
At this time I moved to a new city and began seeing a new gynecologist. I brought in an empty pill pack for her to see, and she immediately freaked out. Apparently, for two and a half years, I routinely took prescribed birth control pills containing estrogen levels known to CAUSE CANCER in women. She reduced the estrogen, but still prescribed me birth control.
After listening to my ailments, she decided to run some tests. Six vials of blood drawn and tested later we ruled out anemia, cancer, and a few other things. She explained to me she believed I suffered from PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). PCOS was a new term to me, so she described it as a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age. After an ultrasound showed a cyst on my right ovary, I checked all three diagnostic boxes.
PCOS women tend to struggle with infertility. Obviously, scared by this my doctor reassured me drugs would get me pregnant if we weren’t able to on our own.
Taking Matters Into My Own Hands
I liked my doctor. Her sweet and upbeat demeanor put me at ease, but her comment about fixing my fertility with drugs before I even tried to conceive did not sit well with me. I thought something else had to exist.
At that time, I began living a health conscious lifestyle. I ate a vegetarian diet and continued to run five days a week, but I still took my birth control. In August of 2015 my husband and I decided we’d begin trying for a child in the Spring of 2016.
I worried about my ability to conceive, so I made the decision I would stop taking my birth control in October to allow my system to even out to “normal” by the time we began.
Plagued with worry about not conceiving, I prayed constantly for a solution to appear to me. Then, one day, as though it were divine intervention, I woke up and before I opened my eyes I saw the word “Vegan” in my mind. I thought, “I should research veganism.” This thought shocked me. Though, I followed a vegetarian diet for over a year and a half, I always said I would never go vegan, too extreme.
But, I pursued this thought. I began to research veganism. I soon ran into several anecdotal accounts of women successfully treating their PCOS with a vegan diet. Many whom were told by medical professionals they would never conceive on their own, but gone on to conceive multiple children without the need for medial intervention.
So Long Dairy
This research opened a whole new world for me. I learned the power of food, and how far removed humans have become to understanding the relationship between our food and our health. It is so much more than the numbers we see on a scale.
Dairy, I learned, is loaded with hormones, specifically estrogen. These high levels of estrogen interfered with my own hormones and contributed to their idiosyncrasy. Writing that now, it seems so obvious, but at the time it blew me away. Majority of the dairy we consume comes from cows. Of course, it causes humans so much harm. The purpose of any mammal’s milk (including humans) is to nurture and support its offspring to grow big and strong. So, cow’s milk intends to take a baby calf and make it into a 2500 pound adult.
Many mistakenly think consuming cow’s milk without added hormones is a healthy choice. However, cow’s milk without hormones is an oxymoron. Yes, you can eliminate the hormones added by man, but cow’s milk in and of itself is a hormone filled liquid, never intended for human consumption.
Dr. Michael Greger, MD
For insightful information about PCOS and the relationship to your diet I highly recommend checking out Dr. Michael Greger’s website nutritionfacts.org. Dr. Greger, a licensed medical doctor, dedicates his free time educating people about the relationship between food and health.
He created a video called The Best Foods For Polycystic Ovary Syndrome I found very informative. He also has a podcast under the same name, Nutrition Facts, and in his latest “Women’s Health” episode he addressed the link between dairy and PCOS. (I am in no way sponsored or affiliated with Dr. Greger, his website, or his podcast. I just love what he’s doing and want to spread the word).
Dr. Greger recently published a book titled How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease (that is an affiliate link to Amazon). In his book he discusses ways to treat and prevent many common diseases we are led to believe are unavoidable. I own my own copy and use it weekly as a reference book.
After I Eliminated Dairy
At this point in my life I was on the greek yogurt train like so many others. I ate a huge bowl of greek yogurt every morning for breakfast, truly believing I was making the healthiest choice.
I felt compelled to remove dairy from my diet as a test to helping my PCOS. Instead of easing myself into a diary free life, I jumped right in with both feet.
Things began to change after the first week. In fact, I felt horrible! Luckily, I knew to expect a detox period for the first two weeks. My body finally had an opportunity to rid itself of the toxins I consistently put in it day after day. I felt bloated, nauseated, and suffered through terrible headaches.
Then, literally one day I woke up and felt amazing! I still took my birth control, but decided even if this new diet didn’t help regulate my periods I would continue to follow it.
One month dairy free I ended my relationship with my birth control pills. I prepared myself for a few months of missed periods. However, my period surprised me when it painlessly arrived on time. I thought, “Maybe this is still due to lingering hormones from the pill.” So, I waited another month, and once again my period arrived on time without cramps. On top of that my acne never returned.
Excited about my results and that I was now treating the issue and not the symptoms, I was also furious. Furious because the solution was so simple. I spent years speaking with two different doctors, trying multiple different types of birth control, and never actually addressing the problem. Instead, I masked one problem and received reassurance we would mask the other (infertility) if needed.
How did I, someone with no medical training, come across the answer so easily but never heard it from those trying their hardest to make me better? That question infuriated my so much, and still does to this day as I continue to learn about our healthcare system (but that’s another topic for another day).
My husband and I began trying for a baby in the Spring of 2016 and after three short months we successfully conceived. We now are the parents to one healthy baby girl (not pictured below).
Two years later I still eat a vegan diet. Though, my eight week pregnancy ultrasound showed I still have a small cyst on my right ovary, I continue to live symptom free of PCOS.
My periods arrive regularly, the worst cramping I feel (if I experience any) is a subtle pain I only notice if I focus on it, and my acne is gone.
So, if you suffer from PCOS, feel like you’ve tried everything, and are fed up. I urge you to do your own research. Test out a vegan diet and see if it works for you. Believe me, this life, naturally symptom free of PCOS, is way better.
If you are interested in exploring a vegan diet, but have no idea where to start when it comes to meal prepping and planning I also recommend Dr. Greger’s How Not to Die: Cookbook. He offers tons of vegan recipes for those just getting started.
If you’ve treated your PCOS similarly please comment below. I would love to hear from you!
Or, if a change in eating habits has helped you with a different ailment I would love to know!
Related post: What I Eat on a Typical Day as Vegan, Breastfeeding Mom