My PCOS Story: Birth Control, Hormonal Acne, Losing my Period, and More | The Hart of Health Podcast S1 E27
Joané & Jonathan: (00:03)
Hi, I’m Joané Hart and I’m Jonathan Hart. This is The Heart of Health, a show where we focus mainly on health and self-optimization. Here, we like to talk about our experiences and knowledge when it comes to health and biohacking. Hope you enjoy the show.
Hi, everyone! On today’s podcast, I’m flying solo. Jonathan is at a bachelor’s party and I’m bored. So I thought, why not record a podcast telling you about my journey with polycystic ovarian syndrome. Now, if you don’t know, PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a hormonal condition that affects a lot of women. I can’t remember if the number is one out of eight women or one out of every to women, but a lot of women have PCOS. Now PCOS is usually associated with high androgens. So high levels of male hormones like testosterone, irregular periods, and then cystic ovaries. I have PCOS, and I’ve had irregular periods. I have cysts on my ovaries and the acne on my face is proof that my androgens are quite high. I do struggle with hormonal acne, which you know, is the bane of my existence.
It is my biggest problem currently. I would absolutely love, love, love to have clear skin. If you told me, Hey Jonaé, gain 10 kilos and you will have clear skin for the rest of your life. I would do it. I want clear skin more than anything else right now. Hopefully, I will get there. I’m still staying positive. I am determined that one day I will get there, but unfortunately, because I have PCOS, this has been quite a challenge. I started getting acne when I was about nine or ten years old and I thought it was normal. I was starting the whole puberty thing. I got my period when I was about thirteen. I had acne all through high school, but I thought it was just your typical teenage acne and that it would go away in my twenties.
Spoiler alert, it did not. At the end of high school, beginning of university, just before I turned 19, I went on hormonal birth control and things were never the same after that. Before that, throughout high school, I got my period once a month, it was regular. It was very predictable and I wasn’t worried. But then I went on the pill and I started getting my period two weeks out of every month. I would bleed for two weeks. It would either be one week on, one week off, two weeks on, two weeks off and it made life a little challenging. I didn’t really understand what was going on. I tried to speak to a doctor about it and all I got was, well, maybe that’s just how your body works. I suspected that I might have PCOS, but doctors don’t always like it if you go to them and say, I think I have this condition, but I started suspecting it.
Then when Jonathan and I met, we started dating and I changed birth control. I got the Implanon, which is this little thing that they put in your arm and it stays in there for three years. It just messed up everything within a week. My skin became 10 times worse than it was before, which was very, very difficult considering that Jonathan and I had just started dating. I was in a new relationship. My skin was very bad. I didn’t know what was going on, but I had the doctor take out the implant within a month, but it took very, very long for my skin to just recover or get back to the level that it was beforehand. I went on Accutane for months and months.
And the backache was just terrible. And then eventually my skin became a bit better, but I went to the doctor and spoke to her and said I think I might have PCOS and these are my symptoms. She did a scan. Saw the cysts on my ovaries and confirmed that I had PCOS. It was helpful to finally have a diagnosis. And if you don’t know, PCOS is mainly, with what we know, caused by insulin resistance and then also high stress and cortisol levels. So I think that my PCOS was also caused by high cortisol. I’ve always been on the more anxious side and I was on a very carb-heavy diet. So the whole being insulin resistant thing made a lot of sense to me. As soon as I was diagnosed with PCOS, I switched to a low GI diet at first.
And then I cut out gluten. I cut out dairy for a very long time and now I only eat it on special occasions, I cut out soy, I cut out a lot of foods that were inflammatory and started experimenting with my diet further there. But I was still getting my period two weeks out of every month that didn’t go away. That didn’t change. My skin got better because of the Accutane and I kept trying to adjust my lifestyle because I was also struggling to lose weight and PCOS makes it very difficult to do so. A lot of women with PCOS will gain a lot of weight. Other symptoms include excess hair growth and losing your hair. I’m lucky that I don’t have those symptoms. I mainly struggle to lose weight and I have acne and then I have the cyst on my ovaries.
So, I cut out a lot of foods that weren’t good for me, switched to a low carb diet, a ketogenic diet, and basically did everything that I found could help with insulin resistance. I even started doing intermittent fasting, which I really, really liked and saw benefits from that. But then, with my addictive personality, I took things too far. I started doing 48-hour fasts and a three-day fast. I did the fasting-mimicking diet a few times where you only eat like 500 to 800 calories, for five days in a month. So I started doing that and in the middle of 2017, we went to America. We went to New York and Orlando. At this point, I was still getting my period for two weeks out of every month. And I got my period while we were in New York, but then we missed our flight from New York back home, which was a big shock.
And from that point on, my period did not stop for a year and a half. I was continuously bleeding for a year and a half. I’m not joking. I really do believe to this day that us missing our flight from New York and the shock of that had something to do with it. When you don’t stop bleeding, you usually have too little progesterone compared to how much estrogen is in your body. And if you have PCOS and if you have high testosterone levels, that can actually convert into estrogen. So the PCOS was definitely causing that I believe. I really, really struggled to get my period to stop, but I continued with fasting and things like that. But then in September 2018, we got married. The day after we got married, we decided to go onto the carnivore diet for a month because we were so desperate for something that was going to get my period stop.
So we did carnivore for a month, but we didn’t do it properly. We had a lot of pork and chicken, which yes is carnivore, but there’s also quite a bit of omega six and linoleic acid in it. I think that was causing quite a bit of inflammation for me. And I gained a bit of weight in that month, but what happened then is we did the carnivore diet as an elimination diet. We then decided to add foods in one at a time to see how they affected us because I wasn’t sure if something in my diet was affecting me. Then I realized that kale and that’s do not agree with me, definitely do not agree with me. So we did that and I started taking a DIM supplement because I read that…I think it’s diindolylmethane or something like that.
Don’t quote me on that. I can never remember the full name of DEM. I started taking that and within two days, so this was a month into the carnivore experiment, and in two days of taking the DIM, my periods stopped. I was just overjoyed, but then I got it again a month later. And then it disappeared for a year and a half. I did not get my period for a year and a half. So for three years, my menstrual cycle was me bleeding continuously for a year and a half, and then not bleeding for a year and a half and get not getting it, was a little more devastating than getting it continuously. I really was stressing about whether or not I would be able to have kids one day. I am not nearly ready, but you know, one day I like to have the option and you can’t have a baby if you don’t ovulate and if you don’t have a menstrual cycle.
What was weird was, my skin was still bad during this time and I got these phantom periods. So I would get PMS symptoms, but no period. I would get moody and bloated and just feel like crap, but I wouldn’t get a period. This was very strange and it kept on happening and happening for a year and a half. Then I did some research on cycle syncing. So adjusting your lifestyle, according to your menstrual cycle. Now your menstrual cycle is divided into two phases. Your follicular phase and your luteal phase. Your follicular phase starts the first day of your period and basically ends when you ovulate and then that’s when the luteal phase starts, which is when your body starts preparing the uterine lining for if you conceived a baby. It’s before you get your period.
So, because I wasn’t getting my period and I still wanted to apply the cycle syncing principles where you have a more relaxed lifestyle. You don’t exercise a lot during the luteal phase but you can do a little bit more during the follicular phase. I still wanted to do that, but because I was still getting these mood swings and fluctuations throughout the month, I kind of guessed where my body was in this whole phantom period cycle. Remember, I wasn’t getting my period, but it still felt like I was going to get it. So that week where I just felt like crap, I figured I’m just gonna act like this is the week before my period, because that is usually when women feel this way. Then the first few days of the time where I said, okay, this is now when I’m going to be on my fake period or pretend period.
Then I would relax a lot in that time. I also stopped intermittent fasting. I stopped exercising because those put stress on the body, which can make the symptoms worse. I stopped doing that. Within a month or two of doing cycle thinking, I got my period back. What I think is hilarious, is I would map out on my calendar how I would act according to which cycle part in a woman’s menstrual cycle I was in. And the day I got my period was the day before I’m marked period on my calendar. So the day before I scheduled my period week, I got my period. So it’s almost like my body synced with my cycle thinking plan. I think there definitely was something to the mood swings and fluctuations I was getting before which helped me figure out when to do what and when to mimic which cycle.
Now it’s seven months later, I have gotten my period seven months in a row. What is really exciting is my cycle now is the way that it was in high school. I get my period for seven days a month. It happens like clockwork at the same time every month, when I’ve checked it, my symptoms are the same and it’s great. Everything is great. Apart from the acne on my face, everything else is great. I even started losing weight recently. I didn’t try to lose weight for the first six months that I got my period back just to give my body some time to settle in. And then after my sixth period, I thought, okay, this is the time when I can now try to lose weight. And then if I lose my period because of it again, then I’ll just stop with my weight loss efforts.
But so far so good. I haven’t lost it yet, and I’m not doing anything too hectic to lose weight, but I am losing weight. Finally, finally, finally, something’s happening. Something’s changing. I don’t want to jinx it, but part of why I want to lose weight is because a lot of women who have lost weight with PCOS, (they say you should aim to lose 10% of your body weight), improve their symptoms significantly. A lot of women who have managed to lose weight, ended up falling pregnant. I’m really curious to see if I lost 7% of my body weight, would my skin improve? As I said, getting clear skin is the most important goal for me right now in my life, because it really affects me. Six years ago when my skin became really bad after Jonathan and I started dating, I just became really depressed because of it.
And I remember just looking at myself in the mirror and feeling devastated and convincing myself that if Jonathan saw my face, he would leave me immediately. He would not want to be with me anymore, even though he knew exactly what I looked like. I remember hiding under the covers because I didn’t want him to see my face. I was just so down and depressed. And over the last few months, my skin has become bad again. So it was better for five years. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t perfect. I still broke out constantly, but it just wasn’t as much. And then a few months ago it became worse. I definitely think the masks that we have to wear has something to do with it but I also started trying to lose weight. What I think happens is your fat stores estrogen, and they also store other things.
When you lose weight, your fat cells release the toxins. They release the estrogen trapped in there and then all of a sudden that is floating around in your system and it can make you break out. A lot of people break out when they try to lose fat and lose weight. It’s just because your skin is one of your body’s detoxing systems. It’s going to, if you have a lot of crap stored in your body, if you have a lot of toxins stored in your cells, it can come through your skin. And I think that’s what happened with me. Then I also started experimenting with different acids like salicylic acid and lactic acid and I started using retinol. Every single one of those can make you break out in the beginning. You can go through this whole purging stage.
So whatever was under the skin, was going to come out in the next few months. Basically, everything comes out at once. So the last few months, my skin has been quite bad. I started going for chemical peels and then after every peel, I just break out because I think it’s also just a whole purging thing. Then the last time we also did some lasers and next time I’ll also get some lasers done. But yeah, my skin has been bad recently. I don’t want to complain too much because I am so grateful that I got my period back. And I know that I’m losing weight. I got my period for seven months in a row now. Things are better. I feel better. I am crying about a quarter of the amount that I did last year. I cried a lot when my hormones were so unstable.
My mental health has been a lot better. I haven’t been crying a lot. I feel a lot better. So I know that my health is improving. I know things are going in the right direction and my skin being quite bad right now could just be part of the whole healing process. Who knows? I do know that I do need to get more sleep and reduce stress more, and hopefully, that will make an even bigger difference. However, I am still grateful for the progress. I am still grateful that now I feel like it will be possible for me to have a baby one day if I want to. My worst problem right now is my skin and I’m very grateful for that because, well… Obviously I want it to be gone, but a lot of women with PCOS, are morbidly obese.
A lot of women really can’t get pregnant. Obviously, I don’t know what my body’s going to do if I’m at that point in my life where I want to see if I can get pregnant, but a lot of women with PCOS have struggled for months or years to get pregnant and a lot of women lose their hair. I just think that is quite devastating. Unless you just want to be total bad-ass and rock the whole no hair look or just get a cool wig. I think because PCOS affects your appearance so much, a lot of women even get beards. It really affects your self-confidence. It’s not easy walking around with acne. It’s not easy for women who walk around and they have very thin hair or they have a bald spot on their heads or they have a beard or they have both. Some women get a beard and lose their hair and really gain a lot of weight and struggled to lose it.
And I just feel so bad. I can sympathize. I have the condition and it affects me a lot and there are women who have it way worse than me. So I am grateful that it’s not as severe currently. I’m very hopeful that in the future it will just get even better and better. And who knows, maybe if I’ve lost 10% of my body weight, then things will be even better. Hopefully, my skin will clear up. It’s already getting a lot better. I think what made a difference as I started taking Cod liver oil recently, which has vitamin a and I also started taking zinc. A lot of the time people have acne, they have a vitamin A deficiency, they can have a zinc deficiency and vitamin B6 or B3, one of those two, can also play a role.
So my skin is getting better. Hopefully, in a few months, it will be even better and I’ll feel confident again. I haven’t really been posting a lot of photos because I’m so insecure about my skin and it really makes me socially awkward as well. I’m sorry if I know you and I see you in public, but my skin is terrible and we are not very close friends, I might hide from you. I might try to avoid you as much as possible, just because I don’t want you to see my skin. When my skin became really bad, six years ago, I started doing that. I just developed this habit of hiding from people that I knew in public, because I didn’t want them to see how bad my skin became. And it was hard as varsity because, on the university campus, people walk around all the time and I just became so awkward because I just felt terrible about what my skin looked like.
Lately, with my skin being so bad again, I don’t want to see people. But, I force myself to do it because I just really don’t want PCOS to affect the way that I feel about myself so much. I’ve worked so hard to have the level of self-confidence that I have. It’s not sky high, it’s not super high, but it is much better than it used to be. I still get down about the way I look sometimes but I try to give myself a pep talk and say, no, it’s okay that your skin looks like this. You are healing, you got your period back, that’s already a big win. You should feel proud of that. It’s silly, but I just really have to coach myself through those hard moments. And whenever I see my skin and it feels like my heart just drops and I just get so down.
I instantly try to pick myself back up because I don’t want to let it make me feel like crap for half an hour or an hour or the whole day. I don’t want it to affect my relationships. I don’t want it to affect every other aspect of my life. So I try to focus on other things. Yes, I might give myself one or two minutes to feel bad about my skin because it does suck. It’s not easy to go through this. And of course, I want it to be gone, but I’m not going to dwell on it. I might feel bad for one or two minutes, but then I have to move on and focus on more important things. I have hectic deadlines with work. I have so many other things that I can focus on in a day, productive things, things that will make me feel better about myself.
And yes, I’m taking all the steps I need to every day to improve my hormones even further. I’m still on a low carb diet most of the time and I’m still cycle syncing. I’m doing everything that I can to reduce stress and anxiety. And I’m gaining momentum and it’s getting easier. It’s getting better. I can see that my skin is getting better and who knows where I’ll be in a year, but I’ve had some heavy, hectic rollercoaster rides with PCOS. I mean bleeding continuously for a year and a half, then losing my period for a year and a half. My body has not made it easy over the last few years, but we’re friends. We’re cool. I still love my body. I was dancing the other day around the house, you know, I wanted to exercise, but I didn’t feel like doing a normal workout.
So I just put on some music and danced around and it was just so much fun. And it almost just felt like the celebration of my body and how it can move. And with the exercising that I’ve been doing again lately, I’m just so excited about what my body can do physically. Those are fun goals to have and fun things to experience. So, I don’t hate my body. Yes, my skin sucks, but you know what? I can do all these cool things. And I am grateful for that because there are so many people who, who can’t exercise, who are amputee, or who are battling some sort of illness. Yes, my skin gets me down, but there are so many worse things that I could be experiencing in life. And I don’t want my skin or my PCOS to define my life and to define me, or to interfere with the quality of my life because I could die next week.
I could die tomorrow. It sounds morbid but it’s true. It is true. I could die at any moment. What if I die next week and then the last time that I spent on earth, all I did was dwell on my skin. And all I did was stress about what my skin looks like and that’s just no way to live. Yes, it will get me down for one or two minutes, but I’m still very positive. I’m still trying to focus on all the positive things in life, getting sunlight every day, doing things that I enjoy and it just makes things a lot better. And I do think that if you’re constantly gonna stress about your PCOS symptoms, if you’re constantly going to stress about your acne or your weight or your hair falling out, things aren’t going to get better.
They might just get worse because of the stress, because remember a lot of the PCOS symptoms can be caused by stress. So I’m trying not to stress too much about my skin because trying to reduce stress overall and hopefully by being more relaxed about things as well, they’ll get even better. But yeah, I’m feeling positive. Obviously, not every day is easy. It’s not like it doesn’t bother me. It does. I still get down, but I’ve learned how to talk to myself. I’ve learned how to pick myself up when I’m down, I’ve learned how to do all of those things. And I think I’m on the right track. I think I’ve chosen a great path to recovery. I’m carnivore-ish. I’m not strict Keto. I’m trying not to follow really, really strict rules with my diet, which sounds funny because there are so many foods that I don’t eat, but that’s because I don’t want to eat them because of the negative effects that they’ll have on my body.
I enjoy the foods that I’m eating. I’m loving my diet currently. I’m eating fruits now and then. So I’m not being super restrictive on that because when I was keto, strict keto, I never had fruits and I really like fruit. So I’m just trying to stick to animal foods and plant foods that are low on the toxicity scale. So plants that are low in oxalates and low in anti-nutrients. So mostly fruits. I’ll have avocados and ‘ll have olives. I’ll have fruit, but you won’t really see me eating spinach or kale. No, I don’t think that is too good for my body. But yeah, I’m enjoying my diet. So I’m not suffering or struggling too much with that. I’m enjoying my exercise program. I downloaded the Jillian Michaels app and I’ve been working out with her every day. I absolutely love her.
I think she also has PCOS and just seeing how absolutely gorgeous she looks. I just love her so much. How absolutely gorgeous she looks having the same condition that I have, it just gives me hope. It just makes me feel like there is hope. And I’ve been working out with Jillian every day. It feels like she’s my own personal trainer. I’ve been having fun with my whole fitness and health journey. I think I’m on the right track.
I’m just rambling now. I should probably end this podcast. As I said, Jonathan’s not home. I was bored. It’s quite fun and nice to do this whole podcast thing. If you have PCOS, first thing, I’m sorry, this sucks. I know that it’s not nice to have PCOS so I’m sorry that you have that. Know that there is something you can do about it, know that you can adjust your lifestyle to improve it. Reduce stress and try to manage your insulin levels by following a low carb diet or at least a low GI diet.
So on days where I have fruit, I guess you can say I’m following more of a low GI diet. Just don’t listen to your doctor when they say the only thing you can really do is go on birth control to try and fix your PCOS symptoms. I think go with lifestyle first. A healthy, low inflammation diet, low inflammatory foods, and exercising, unless you’ve lost your period and you’ve been exercising a lot. In that case, I’d say stop exercising and see if that helps you. Because if you are already under a lot of stress from work and everything else, it can be a bit too much, but I’ve managed to reduce the overall stress in my life enough for me to feel safe, exercising more. I think exercise is a way better stress than a lot of other types of stress because exercise is a type of stress. I think if you can get more beneficial types of stress over bad stress, that is good.
However, if you have a lot of bad stress, you don’t necessarily want to add more stress, even if it’s from a good source, like exercise. For me, because I’ve gotten my period back and because it’s been back for seven months, I feel safe exercising regularly again, and I’ve been feeling good. It’s been great for my mental health. And even if my skin isn’t clear yet, just the mental health benefits i’ve been feeling from my lifestyle, from eating carnivore-ish and from exercising and reducing my stress. It’s already been worth it. And hopefully, my PCOS symptoms will improve even more. Hopefully, I’ll be able to look as healthy as Jillian Michaels one day, regardless of my condition. So yeah, that was my PCOS story. Sorry, if it was all over the place. I’m not really gonna dive into more things about what you can do if you have PCOS.
It is very individual. Basically what I can say is try to reduce your stress, try to manage your blood sugar and insulin levels and try to do what you can to make yourself feel good when your skin is bad or you’re gaining weight or you’re losing your hair or something like that or if you’re struggling to become pregnant. Try to do what you can to still feel good and to still see the good things in life and still get some enjoyment out of it because I’ve been there. I’ve let my PCOS take over and ruin so many days for me. Now, I just give it a few minutes and then I move on.
So this is the podcast for today and until next week. I hope you have a good week. If you have PCOS, good luck. Let me know if you have any questions and if you would just like to tell me your PCOS story because so many women have it. And maybe if we can all talk to each other about it more, we can learn things. Maybe there’s something that worked for you that could work for me. I don’t know. I hope so. I’m always looking for something that will help. I hope you have a great week and yeah, bye.