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Olwen Anderson's Blog

A letter to my younger self about hormones and PCOS

Thursday, March 31, 2016

This is a letter to my younger self about helping hormones. It's what I wish I knew back then; my journey with PCOS would have been so much easier with this knowledge:

Well, dearest, you’re probably feeling lost, uncertain and confused about what to do to ease your PCOS symptoms. So this is all the advice I really wanted you to have about how to help your hormones at the beginning of your reproductive years. Knowing this will make such a positive difference in helping you overcome PCOS faster. So here are my tips:

1. You’re transitioning from being a child dependent on your parents to an independent woman. That transition means developing your own opinions, and taking action based on what is right for you. This might not be what other people think you should do.

2. Other people have their own ideas, biases, deficiencies, perception gaps, education and opinion. They may think they know what you should do; but you have your own opinions, and your body belongs to you.

3. The women in your family have had their own experiences of hormonal treatment; that doesn’t mean you have to go through the same bad experiences. Knowledge and treatments has evolved greatly, and continues evolving.

4. Develop skills in assertiveness (also known as ‘standing up for yourself’) they’ll stand you in good stead as you negotiate treatment choices.

5. Some practitioners are truly interested in your care; others may be dismissive, but you really do matter. Don’t be put off by a bad practitioner experience; don't let them put you off. Keep looking, you’ll find the right practitioner and the right treatment for you.

6. Beware of extremist approaches because the most effective path usually lies somewhere on the spectrum between one extreme and another. It’s not correct to presume that natural remedies are all you need; sometimes medical intervention and medications are essential. It’s equally untrue that orthodox medical treatment is the only answer to your hormonal problems.

7. Read widely, deeply, and from many different perspectives; then form your own opinion on the best way for you.

8. Periods are supposed to be easy and painless, and pre-menstrual problems aren’t an inevitable part of being a woman.  Help is available, no matter what your hormonal problem, and yes, your concerns are worthy of careful consideration and treatment.

Lots of love,
Your future self. x x

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Sore breasts before your period? This could be why

Monday, March 28, 2016
Feel like you ‘bloat up’ with fluid just before your period? This could be contributing:

Too much oestrogen in relation to other hormones can cause fluid retention and a distinct feeling of being ‘bloated all over’, or even painfully swollen breasts. How? It’s because one of oestrogen’s roles is to draw water into tissues. As a result, some weeks of the month clothes that usually fit well have to be left in the wardrobe in favour of ‘comfortable’ garments. Some women can identify when they’re likely to just ‘swell up’ until their period arrives, then they can almost feel themselves deflating as the excess fluid leaves them. It’s the fall in oestrogen that comes with your period that reverses the fluid retention.

To reduce the excessive fluid retention, your estrogen production needs to be modulated (tamed), using herbs and the right diet to discourage excess oestrogen production.

This is an extract from ‘When Good Hormones Go Bad’ a free e-book available from my website

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Seven clues you may have PCOS - and what to do next

Sunday, March 27, 2016
PCOS (or polycystic ovarian syndrome) is a widespread hormone condition that can steal your fertility, erode your self-esteem and increase your vulnerability to adult onset diabetes. Here are seven clues you may have PCOS, and what to do next.

1. Your periods are irregular, or completely absent; perhaps only every few months. This is the clue that often prompts women to seek help; because your periods should slip into a regular monthly-or-so rhythm within a year of starting.

2. You have thick male–pattern hair growing on your face and body. Hirsutism is the technical term for this self-esteem eroding symptom of PCOS. It’s caused by over-sensitivity to increased levels of androgen hormones.

3. You have intractable acne despite good skin care. Like hirsutism, acne diminishes your self-esteem, and is also caused by too much androgen (male) hormones in circulation.

4. You have had trouble conceiving a baby. Like infrequent periods, difficulty in conceiving can be the way many women discover they have PCOS. This can especially happen when you’ve come off the pill to try for a baby, because the dysfunction of your ovaries was masked by the pill’s artificial cycle.

5. You have to keep topping up with sugary or carbohydrate foods otherwise your energy slumps
, and it feels like immense sugar and carb cravings have control of you. Insulin resistance is a core trigger for PCOS and also a core focus for treatment. 

6. Your waist measurement is greater than 88cm and weight loss just doesn’t happen despite doing all the right things. The complex interplay between fat cells on your tummy, your ovaries, and the hormones they help produce can make weight really stick to you, unfairly.

7. Your moods aren’t the best – perhaps anxious or depressed, or experiencing mood swings. If the symptoms of PCOS weren’t enough to dampen your mood, then your insulin resistance can promote mood swings, and systemic inflammation can promote depression.

These are just some of the signs of PCOS. Your medical practitioner can ascertain the official diagnosis and offer medical treatment options. Your naturopath can also help, through natural remedies and by coaching you through the diet and lifestyle changes essential to successful treatment of PCOS. 

Ready to take the next step? Have a look at this article about how to empower your PCOS Diagnosis. 

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Constipated? Here’s the reason to pause before you reach for wholemeal grains.

Sunday, March 27, 2016
Intestinal works seem gummed up? Your reflexive response might be to reach for the ‘wholemeal’ grains – perhaps some spoonfuls of wheat bran, a high fibre breakfast cereal, wholemeal bread. After all, they’re full of fibre and roughage, aren’t they? Well, yes, but I’d like to point out a time when they might not be so helpful, and what to reach for instead.

You probably know already that a high-fibre diet will provide the ‘bulk’ that the caterpillar-like movement of your intestines needs to move everything along comfortably.

And you probably already know that there are two major forms of fibre, ‘soluble’ and ‘insoluble’. The ‘soluble’ types soak up fluid and create a lovely soft gel-like texture that moves through your gut gently. The ‘insoluble’ types also soak up fluid but they can be somewhat scratchy.

Some people have particularly sensitive, easily irritated intestines
, and if you’re one of them then this article is for you. The intestines of sensitive people can sometimes react in an unexpected way to high-fibre grain foods like bran, wholemeal bread and pastas, high fibre wheat-based cereals and the like. Their digestion responds by coming to a complete halt, exacerbating the existing constipation.

Why would this happen? I suspect that a gut primed to over-react to certain foods, encounters the modern varieties of wheat protein and responds with an inflammatory reaction. Perhaps the intestine tries to deal with this irritating substance on the spot rather than allowing it to move along and irritate even more of the intestinal lining.

So what should you eat instead? Consider reaching instead for those unglamorous heroes of nutrition, vegetables. They’ll provide lots of gentle fibre, a mixture of soluble and insoluble fibre types that can deliver even more fibre than those grain-based helpers.  Grab a bowl the size of your head, chop up, grate or shred two cups of mixed vegetables (raw or cooked) and you’ve just served yourself 13g of fibre – half your daily minimum requirement. Repeat daily.

One last tip: Resist the urge to create a drinkable sludge-like mixture with those vitamisers because the action of chewing and allowing your stomach to do the mechanical breaking down will help prompt your intestines to get moving again.

If you enjoyed this article, why not download your free copy of “Understanding IBS and Diverticulitis”

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How fast can you fix me

Saturday, March 26, 2016
“How soon can I expect results?” That’s a reasonable question to ask your practitioner as she issues directives about changes to your diet and lifestyle, and hands over supplements to support your recovery. If your practitioner doesn’t automatically volunteer this information then I suggest you ask the question yourself. But if you feel disappointed at her response because your recovery won’t be instant, then you and I need to do a little reality check.

We’re encouraged to expect instant results in our modern western culture. Like vending machines that dispense packaged food to be consumed instantly and provide an energy boost just as fast; like caffeine-laced soft drinks. Television shows imply that complex problems like medical issues can be solved within 30 minutes (including ad breaks). And even microwaves are in on the act, heating food for consumption within seconds. So let’s just accept that our expectations about results are skewed due to our life experience.

When it comes to your health, though, there is a great deal of complexity involved. Particularly with hormone conditions like PCOS or chronic gut problems. There’s the effects of stress as well as your unique experiences of life so far. Your habitual food intake. Whether you exercise, or not, and then there’s the biggies: How well you can communicate your symptoms and how well your practitioner can listen. There’s what you actually experience and what you can describe.

The problem that’s brought you to the practitioner’s clinic might have begun last week, or it might be the cumulative effects of years of poor health practices. Unlike those 30 minute TV shows, if you’ve had the problem for a long time (i.e over three months) then unravelling the cause and effects is going to take a wee while. 

The other big question is: How much are you able to help this process along, through following the practitioner’s directives about diet and lifestyle?. The supplements aren’t going to fix everything, immediately; but it’s reasonable to expect them to start easing your symptoms soon. The key is to keep talking with your practitioner to establish what you can expect. 

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Choosing The Right Health Practitioner For You' 

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Therapeutic dating and health care

Saturday, March 26, 2016
Image credit click via MorgueFileGot some health problems or emotional concerns? If you peer into the middle distance, you will see a large group of people, waving. They’re a diverse bunch of practitioners and therapists who have made it their life calling to help people like you feel better. Let’s leave them there for a while as we have a chat about health care in general and you in particular.

Several generations ago we didn’t have the understanding or resources for health care that we do now. For instance, war veterans suffering post-traumatic stress were classified as ‘shell shocked’, and this was assumed to be untreatable. Women experiencing hormonal turmoil were similarly conclusively dismissed. Family legend implies my great grandmother was institutionalised – permanently – for what we would now recognise as post natal depression. For either the war veterans or my great grandmother, their lives could have been so different if help were available. But during those less-evolved times there was precious little support available for non life-threatening health concerns, let alone mental health matters. Finding help – the right help – was challenging.

Which brings us back to that group of practitioners and therapists trying to catch your attention.  With their diverse methods, approaches and personal preferences, there’s likely to be several able to really help you create lasting change in your health. These days we have almost the opposite dilemma: Understanding of wellness has evolved, and alongside this a much wider range of available treatments as well as easier access to information. Our problem now is more about making the right choice. 

Identifying the best practitioners or therapists for you amongst the multitudes available can be a little like therapeutic dating. You book a consultation and converse for a while. By the end of this ‘date’ you’ve probably got an idea of whether you want to spend more time with that practitioner again. Like dating, you might have to talk with several different professionals before you find one you want to continue your treatment with.

Help is available and is easily located thanks to the internet; it’s up to you though to start reaching out for help, and to refuse to stop until you find the right practitioner or therapist for you. Don’t be put off by a bad experience with one practitioner, because there are many others who could be better suited to you. Like dating, you’ve just got to keep trying.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'choosing the right health practitioner for you'.

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Nine Clues That All Is Not Well With Your Gut

Friday, March 25, 2016

Here are nine clues that all isn't well with your gut function. 

  1. Your bowel movements change in form from one day to the next Sometimes all the way from watery diarrhoea to hard pellets within 24 hours.
  2. Your bowel movements can sometimes be 'pasty' or difficult to pass
  3. You see large food particles in your bowel motions that should have been digested
  4. After a bowel movement, you feel like you haven't evacuated completely.
  5. You experience pain across your abdominal region
  6. You have urgency with your bowel movements, sometimes to the point where you don't want to leave home 'just in case'.
  7. Your tummy gets increasingly bloated as the day progresses 
  8. You have embarrassing levels of flatulence
  9. You have an itchy anus
It’s important to see your doctor first if you have had these symptoms for more than three months: a professional diagnosis that there is nothing sinister happening is very reassuring. Then you can address what's causing the symptoms with your naturopath and utilise natural treatments.

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Empowering Your PCOS Diagnosis: The medical aspects

Sunday, March 20, 2016
By Imelenchon via MorgueFileThis is the third article in a series about empowering your PCOS diagnosis. Links to the first two articles are at the end of this blog post.

Why you need a GP as well as a naturopath

A visit to your general practitioner is highly recommended, even if you’ve already decided that you want only natural treatment for your PCOS. A medical practitioner can check that there’s nothing more sinister going on than PCOS, and arrange the tests that will enable you to measure your progress as you get better.

How To Find The Right GP For You

If you don’t already have a GP, look for one who specialises in women’s’ health – they’ll be more likely to have lots of experience with diagnosing PCOS. (Your naturopath may be able to identify suitably focused GPs in your area) If you’re keen to use natural therapies to rebalance your hormones, look for an ‘integrative’ medical centre (where doctors and naturopaths work side by side) or locate a doctor who practices in ‘functional’ medicine. The internet can be invaluable for your search, as can be reviews of associations like ACNEM ( which list integrative medical practitioners and their specific areas of interest. Often these medical practitioners will have a web site where you can get to know how they practice, and who they are as people. 

Pre-plan to Get More From Your Consultation

Before you go to that first appointment, whether it’s an integrative GP or not, make a list of the symptoms that are troubling you, and the dates of your menstrual cycle over the last year. Also take with you any prescription medications, self-prescribed medications or natural supplements that you’re taking. If you’re already seeing a naturopath, he or she can write a referral letter that gives your GP a head start. Expect this first appointment to be non-conclusive, and relatively brief compared to your naturopathic consultation; your GP will likely arrange some initial testing to rule out other disorders and ask you to return with this information before deciding whether to commence treatment and perhaps refer you to a specialist.

A good working relationship with your GP is vital. You need to feel assured that your GP cares, is acting in your best interests, and that you can tell her anything.  Although the government may be subsidising your consultations through Medicare, the practitioner is there to provide a service for you; so keep in mind that you are the customer. The atmosphere in a medical consultation can feel daunting; there is an immense imbalance of power. You’re in the practitioner’s personal space and you may feel very tiny, insignificant and unimportant. If you feel nervous, take a trusted friend or relative with you for support. They can also take notes – it’s difficult sometimes to remember all the details of a consultation and what you have to do next.

Take Notes, Keep Your Records

Part of being empowered with PCOS is taking control of your health; so request a copy of any blood test results, ultrasound reports, and specialist reports. You are legally entitled to a copy as the reports form part of your patient records. The results will prove immensely useful in years to come when you can refer to them again. Also, if you have to move to a new practitioner, he or she will be streets ahead because you have your medical ‘history’ with you. Start your own folder, or put the results in your PCOS Workbook.

If you decide to consult a naturopath, he or she may refer to these test results and specialist reports to help in choosing the right remedies, and to monitor your progress.

The Prodding, Poking and Testing

Your doctor may arrange some blood tests, and do a physical examination. She may ask you to have an ultrasound picture taken to check for cysts on your ovaries, or to check the thickness of your uterine lining. You may also meet with an endocrinologist (a medical hormone specialist) or a gynaecologist (a surgical specialist in female reproductive systems). The specialist may do more tests, ask more questions, and do a more extensive physical examination. Then she will explain the medical treatment options available for you.

If you consult with a specialist endocrinologist or gynaecologist, he will write a letter to your doctor outlining his findings, and you’ll need to meet with your doctor again to discuss the next step. If you weren’t happy with the specialist you consulted with, or you don’t want to go ahead with the treatment he suggests, say so. It’s your choice. 
If you want to investigate potential natural therapies and don’t already have a naturopath, let your doctor know. She may be able to suggest a naturopath who specialises in PCOS treatment.  If your doctor is already trained in naturopathy, lucky you! You’ll be able to discuss alternative treatments with her on the spot.

Medical or Natural Treatment? You Can Have Both

Just as with any practitioner, it’s important you feel comfortable and safe with your doctor and specialists. If you feel your concerns are dismissed or minimised, consider switching to a new doctor. Fortunately we’re moving out of the dark ages, when women’s hormonal problems were dismissed as unimportant, but some practitioners with out-of-date attitudes remain.

If your doctor is dismissive of the benefits of naturopathy, and you definitely want to incorporate natural treatment, it may be time to shop around for a more enlightened GP.  At the very least your naturopath can help you manage the lifestyle changes essential to management of PCOS (diet, exercise and emotional wellness) which are acknowledged as the pillars of successful PCOS treatment. If you decide to utilise prescription medication you can still utilise a naturopath for help with navigating the essential lifestyle treatment elements. 

The other two articles on Empowering your PCOS diagnosis are:

If you enjoyed these articles, why not download the free e-book “When Good Hormones Go Bad”

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Empowering your PCOS Diagnosis An Overview

Sunday, March 20, 2016

You think you have PCOS. You’ve done the internet searches and your symptoms seem to match. So it should be a simple process, surely: Visit your doctor, arrange some straightforward blood tests, and get their agreement that yes, it’s PCOS, so here’s the treatment. How hard could it be? Ah, if only it were that simple. But PCOS is a complex disorder with multiple causes that presents in a different way for each woman. And to complicate things, other disorders like hypothyroidism (slow thyroid) or Cushings Syndrome (an adrenal gland problem) can mimic some symptoms of PCOS. 

This can be a frustrating and confusing time. I’ve noticed a lot of women on social media forums, understandably annoyed, venting their feelings about the absence of a definitive diagnosis.  Lots of waiting rooms, lots of testing, sometimes invasive.  The delays in access to a diagnosis and treatment can be especially painful if you are trying to conceive a baby and one month follows another without an answer. 

In listening to and talking with many women over the years (as a clinical naturopath in Australia) it’s become apparent that not everyone knows how to get the best results from their access to health practitioners (orthodox or complementary). So, as well as pointing out two obstacles you may encounter on your PCOS journey, this article is all about helping you get to the treatment and results that you want more effectively, with greater speed and less frustration. 

Obstacle 1: PCOS Doesn’t Appear In a Standardised Form

There’s only minor agreement in science about what having PCOS really means; mostly because there’s no standard clinical presentation. For you, that means there’s no definitive diagnosis, so one practitioner may label you as having PCOS, but another may decide that you don’t fit the criteria. 

Why bother then with the frustration of many hours spent queuing in practitioner waiting rooms; the unpleasantness and pain of blood tests and physical examinations? Because your symptoms might not actually be PCOS after all; lots of other disorders have symptoms which resemble PCOS but are actually something else entirely. Your medical practitioners will sift through the evidence of your symptoms and your test results, so they can establish whether it’s really PCOS, which variety of PCOS you have, and what your treatment options are. Which treatment you choose, once you’re more informed, is up to you.

Obstacle 2: Time to Talk it Through

Since diet and lifestyle changes are regarded as essential aspects of PCOS treatment by both orthodox and complementary practitioners, it makes sense to start your journey to wellness with attention to what you eat and how you live, guided by a practitioner that’s got time to talk it over with you. That often takes a longer conversation than the brief time you have with a GP. And that’s where naturopathy can fit in to your treatment plan.

You don’t need to wait for the official PCOS diagnosis; you can be treated as an individual by your natural health practitioner and start the process of getting better right now. Natural health practitioners assess where you are right now and apply treatment based on your unique experience of your disorder. Attention to diet, lifestyle and emotional wellness while you’re waiting for the official diagnosis can help speed your progress towards healthier hormones.

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Empowering your PCOS Diagnosis: How Your Naturopath Can Help

Sunday, March 20, 2016
(This is part 2 of a 3-part article series on empowering your PCOS diagnosis. Access the first article here)

Why Naturopathy for PCOS?

A naturopath is a natural health practitioner who uses therapies like nutrition, herbs, homoeopathic remedies and counselling too, to help engage your body’s inherent self-healing abilities. Naturopaths are trained to assess and treat your physical and emotional well-being from a functional perspective: that is, where you are at now, what your particular goals are, what your body is doing and how your emotional health is.

Don’t already have a naturopath? Ask around your local area for recommendations. Phone prospective practitioners for a brief chat about how they work, so you can gauge whether you want to work with them. Look at their websites, and look for testimonials from other clients. Check their accreditation with the website of their professional association. If they’re properly qualified and comply with professional standards, they’ll be listed there.

Buyer Beware

In Australia there are no restrictions on who can call themselves a ‘naturopath’. Unfortunately, there are some people who say they are, but aren’t adequately qualified, which creates a situation of ‘buyer beware’ in natural therapies. You need a professional clinical naturopath who is accredited with one of the major professional associations – like the ATMS ( or ANTA ( 

Finally, in choosing a naturopath make sure you consult within a clinic. Some naturopaths (qualified or otherwise) work within pharmacies and health food stores. This situation doesn’t allow for a private consultation. In a retail situation the naturopath is employed to sell supplements. That’s their job. They have sales quotas to meet. It’s not their job to have a long discussion with you about the complex physical and emotional contributors to your health, they are employed to sell supplements, and sell you something they will. There’s no ongoing supportive relationship, no follow up. Instead, you need a clinical naturopath; one who can undertake a more extensive investigation, become part of your support team, and help you focus on the fundamentals of your diet and lifestyle as well as choose the right remedies to rebalance your hormones.

In the Consultation

Your first consultation with your naturopath will provide her with extensive information about your medical history, your current symptoms, what is happening in each of your body systems (including your digestion and your immunity as well as your hormones) and your usual diet. She will also enquire about your stress levels and overall emotional health to assess how your mood could be contributing. Expect to spend at least an hour in this consultation. 

Feel free to bring a support person with you, because like any consultation, it’s easy to feel tiny and insignificant in a practitioner’s office. A support person can take notes, keep an eye on how you’re going, and help you back out gracefully if she senses you’re feeling pressured. 

More diagnostic tests may be required by your naturopath, including a functional pathology test like salivary hormone. This reveals what hormones are actually within your tissue fluid. It can reveal the levels of all three types of estrogen, their balance with progesterone, your testosterone levels, DHEA and cortisol.

Having talked things over initally, your naturopath will propose a tentative treatment plan, and begin the process of negotiation with you. Your naturopath is looking for the fundamental underlying causes of your unwellness that provide clues on where to start treatment. And, what your particular goals are. And, how hard you’re prepared to work to reach your goals. Expect to be given homework and directives. For example, you might be asked to change what you eat for breakfast, because this will alter your blood glucose regulation. Or to do a certain amount of exercise X times per week. A follow up appointment is likely to be arranged before you leave the clinic.

Don’t Give Up Your Power

It’s really important that you feel comfortable talking with your naturopath, because if you don’t, it’s unlikely that you’ll comply with his directives; and that means no results for you. If you’re not comfortable with your practitioner, feel free to move on until you find the one that’s right for you. Each natural health practitioner has their own assessment process, their own favoured ways of treatment and their own ways of talking with clients. If you don’t agree with that practitioner’s assessment then say so, or move on.

The third article in this series is ‘Empowering Your Medical Treatment’

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