Hearts and hormones are an inseparable team. Unfortunately, for women with PCOS there are inherent and harmful events happening which can threaten their cardiovascular wellbeing. In particular, there are fundamental problems relating to estrogen; the master hormone of cardiovascular health!
In women with PCOS, estrogen is not produced in adequate amounts, and what is made often doesn’t function properly. In addition, it may not be metabolized and disposed of as it should through the usual systems of gut and liver detoxification. What results is a state in which the cardiovascular and metabolic systems of the body are not properly working, due to a functional state of estrogen deficiency.
Although not routinely understood and appreciated, it is estrogen which maintains all cardiovascular structures and supports them in their work to sustain optimal functioning. Too little estrogen, along with poor estrogen function, results in the same sorts of issues seen in older, post-menopausal women, who have well-recognized estrogen deficiency. You can actually consider PCOS to be a state of accelerated aging, contributing to cardiovascular ills similar to those common in menopausal women.
Women with PCOS, similar to menopausal women, suffer from significant rates of diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, generalized vascular disease, and to cardiac issues related to the conduction system (the rhythm system) – leading to arrhythmias, tachycardia, and poor heart function.
Underlying those estrogen issues is the newly recognized fact that PCOS women have a tend to make estrogen poorly. All estrogen in the ovaries is derived from testosterone, the precursor hormone. Women with PCOS do this conversion process less well than “normal” women.
Some women possess the genetic tendency to naturally have higher testosterone levels and lower estrogen levels, which in ancient times was perfectly fine, but now their PCOS ancestors truly suffer, as the ubiquitous environmental toxins we must all face each day exacerbate this natural tendency. In the end, PCOS women often see their cardiometabolic health deteriorate.
Why is estrogen so vital for heart health?
The heart and blood vessels all love estrogen and have numerous receptors for it. The heart has many receptors, not just for estrogen, but for estrogen metabolites. In arteries, estrogen is needed to keep blood vessels flexible and strong, through its support for the production of the gaseous antioxidant, nitric oxide.
In nature, estrogen helps other hormones to do their job better. The heart needs an enormous amount of energy and estrogen is key to it getting what it needs. In addition to estrogen’s support directly through its own receptors, it also indirectly supports the heart through its metabolites, and through its numerous and critically important actions supporting all mitochondria in their functioning (they are the energy-producing factories of the heart cells).
Estrogen also helps heart cells keep the proper beat. Estrogen contributes to the maintenance of the conduction system, which keeps blood pumping well and with a perfect synchronization.
What can be done?
We can’t fix all that happened years ago during the key times of your development when you were likely exposed to endocrine disruptors. Those chemicals added to your inborn hormonal issues, but no worries – we can most certainly make things far better!
Women with PCOS have been given a bad deal, there is not doubt about that. But all is not lost – not at all! Much can be done to keep your ticker and blood vessels humming … and this can happen with natural therapies.
Here’s a five-step program to help your PCOS heart keep ticking nicely, and for a long time to come.
- Eat as many servings of vegetables as you can – the goal is nine cups! Vegetables have antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, and fiber – all of which are so beneficial! Women with PCOS tend to have diets high in dairy, fats, animal meats, and sweets – which is the standard American diet! No-one can thrive on such inflammatory and manufactured food items – least of all a woman with PCOS!
- Work on stress – I love guided imagery, but hypnosis, meditation, yoga, and breath work are all wonderful. Women with PCOS tend to be more stressed out than others, and we now know that stress can be a harmful ingredient to the heart, the blood vessels, the brain, and elsewhere. A mind-body practice is a necessity!
- Get enough sleep – go to bed between 10pm and 11pm and stay sleeping for between 6.5-9 hours if you can. Get a sleep apnea study if you snore, you get up to go to the bathroom more than once at night, or if you regularly awaken tired. Sleep is not optional for heart health – sleep-deprived women have significantly higher risk for many cancers, metabolic and heart issues, hypertension, weight gain, and depression!
- Get some sun – getting some rays can put you in a good mood, help clear acne, and get those necessary prerequisite rays to make Vitamin D. If you can’t get in enough sun exposure, be sure to get a vitamin D level check and supplement based on the results. Getting outside is also a great stress buster!
- Get fit – have fun and exercise most days. Exercise is the universal medicine as it treats everything! Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week, plus doing weight training for three sessions weekly. You can and must do this – and please enjoy! Make sure you sweat and then shower soon afterwards, as sweating is a great detox practice! Women with PCOS tend to carry high toxic loads, so think of exercise and sweating as truly necessary for health and fertility – they are indeed one!
Bonus suggestion – ditch the birth control pill in favor of a condom or diaphragm. Birth control pills increase the risk of diabetes, hypertension, and autoimmune disease – and likely lots more! Women on oral contraceptives have impaired functioning of their hormones and disturbed natural rhythms. Please don’t add to the problem – we have more than enough on our plates!