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Managing PCOS Naturally

Naturopathic Doctor Urges Women to be their own Advocate
Author: Jen Brignall-Strong
Photographer: Dave Hunter
2 years ago
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When Dr. Jennifer Strong, ND read about The University of Windsor’s H.E.A.L Lab research in issue 143 of The DRIVE Magazine, she knew she had something to add to the conversation.

The naturopathic doctor works in partnership with the Victory Reproductive Care clinic and was directed to the article on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome research by an office colleague.

“One day Dr. Pattinson stopped me in the hallway and asked, ‘Did you read that article about PCOS in The DRIVE?’” she recalls. “Once I read it I thought, ‘There’s so much we can offer these women.’”

“I felt for the researcher; she described how these women felt alone and that there weren’t many answers,” she continues. “A lot of patients I see, that’s their story too. They’ve gone through conventional care and they’re not getting the answers they need or the treatment they need because that model of care often isn’t designed for that.”

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine disorder for women of reproductive age. Symptoms include infrequent, prolonged, or abnormally heavy menstrual cycles and elevated levels of male hormones that can result in excess facial and body hair, severe acne, and baldness. If left unmanaged, the condition can lead to serious complications including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and an increased risk of uterine cancer, infertility, and depression.

For the past three years, Dr. Strong has worked with her colleagues in traditional medicine to offer women a more holistic approach to managing a variety of reproductive health conditions, including PCOS.

“At the fertility clinic, my role focuses more on the lifestyle aspect. What can we do and what can the patients themselves do to better their care?” she explains. “That’s where I’m able to spend more time and explain to them what they can do that fits into their lifestyle.”

The partnership came as a result of the patients she’d been seeing in her own family practice over the past decade, explains Dr. Strong.

“I had a few patients that were also patients of Dr. Victory. There was one particular woman who was going through fertility care and was enrolled in a clinical trial with a new medication,” she recalls. “She didn’t know the name of it, so I wrote to Dr. Victory to see what it was.”

Shortly after, the two doctors met to discuss how working together could support fertility clinic patients and a partnership was born.

“We really approach it as a team,” she says. “It’s quite a unique situation. With naturopathic medicine, we have so much to offer; especially in cases like PCOS where there are many different factors involved. Then bridging that with conventional care because they are able to do more in terms of testing.”

Naturopathic medicine is about learning how your body works best, making choices that support your health goals, and being mindful of your physical and emotional needs. Holistic PCOS treatments complement conventional healthcare and have been supportive for patients of the fertility clinic and women at her own family practice, notes Dr. Strong.

“In terms of a patient’s goals, not everyone necessarily wants to get pregnant, so when we have a fertility patient who’s doing an IUI in a few months, their treatment plan is going to look very different than someone who’s not looking to have babies but is suffering from PCOS.”

Dr. Strong notes that there isn’t one set protocol for managing the disorder, and while there are guidelines, every case is different in terms of what women are experiencing. Weight is often a discussion point, she says, so figuring out the best dietary guidelines is the first course of action.

“From there we look to see if there’s any emotional support that’s needed for anxiety or depression because stress plays a huge role in how you metabolize your food. Then we add in supplements if needed and look at what would be helpful,” she says, noting that supplements like fish oils are often used to reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and regulate mood.

While there’s a little more time and effort involved in discovering the root cause of the symptoms, Dr. Strong says the end result is more substantial and lifelong.

“With PCOS, women often struggle with anxiety and depression just from feeling crummy all the time,” she continues. “When we help them get more regular periods or manage their weight or we see cholesterol levels come down, it’s really great to be a part of that. If they would have just gone a more conventional route like using birth control to regulate their period without looking at the nutrition portion of it, I’m not sure they would have achieved that same level of success.”

She also stresses the importance of being your own advocate when it comes to your health.

“If you’re not feeling better, go back with more questions,” she says. “Keep having the conversation. I know it can be frustrating when you feel like you’re not being heard, but always ask if there’s another specialist or a counsellor or even a pelvic floor therapist. There are a lot of options. It doesn’t end with a diagnosis. We need to find something else; another person, another plan, another route to healing.”

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