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PCOS vs. The Vegan

Updated: Mar 15

I’m the vegan that refuses to say things like: “It tastes just like chicken!” I’m the vegan that still loves the smell of my grandmother’s recipes coming to life. I’m the vegan that said I could never be vegan and yet, here I am approaching 7 years on a plant-based diet. What happened, you might ask? I was diagnosed with an incurable disease, that’s what happened.

Like most women, my monthly menstrual cycle was a bit of an enigma. We’re told it should come every 28 days, but we’re also told that irregularity can occur due to stress or your workout routine. So, for the 9 years that I struggled with an irregular cycle, I thought nothing of it. I actually only became concerned when my flawless skin became inflamed with cystic acne.

I never struggled with acne, even in childhood, so adult acne was certainly jarring. At my annual visit with my gynecologist, I mentioned my acne and we discussed possibly using birth control as a means to manage it. She followed up with questions about when my last cycle was – 45 days ago. The surprise in her face took me aback. Forty-five days is long, but not unheard of right? I thought to myself. She promptly suggested that I have a few other tests – a blood sample and a vaginal ultrasound – which could be administered today. She explained that I may have something called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). I’d never heard of such a thing, but apparently 1 in 10 women struggle with it and many of them go undiagnosed, just as I had for the past 9 years.

Within days, she confirmed that I not only had PCOS, but I was also pre-diabetic, which is a common occurrence in women with PCOS. She explained that my treatment plan would include a medication to regulate my blood sugar and ironically, birth control. This birth control, she explained, would help regulate my hormones, clear my skin, and allow for a scheduled shedding of my uterine lining. She explained that “this shedding process is crucial and necessary because the blood will accumulate each month whether it sheds or not, and those excess blood cells are a breeding ground for cancer cells.” Really comforting right? Like most people in the presence of an authority figure, I did what I was told. I took the birth control as directed.

Within a week, I felt slight pressure in my leg, but chalked it up to muscle soreness from my workouts. Within the second week, I felt pressure in my chest, like an elephant just decided to rest there. I felt breathless and my heart was racing. I immediately called my mother, who lived 350 miles away, and cried as she sternly suggested I go to the emergency room. I cried out of frustration, not only because I felt unwell in this moment, but also because I did everything the doctors tell you to do. How does someone that works out 3-5 times per week, does not smoke, does not drink, has no pre-existing conditions, eats lean meats and vegetables and only consumes processed food in moderation get diagnosed with something that will require them to take medication for the rest of their life? All of those thoughts rushed my mind as I put on a scarf and gloves, and cried my way to the emergency room. As soon as I described my symptoms and the medication I was taking, it seemed that the nurses and doctors suspected the same thing my mother and I suspected, I had a blood clot in my leg and the chest pain could have been a precursor to a heart attack. While I could have self-diagnosed on one of those handy, yet terrifying websites, those symptoms were written on the back of my prescription. Known side-effects of birth control include blood clots and heart attacks. Luckily, I did not have a blood clot and I was not having a heart attack, an ultra sound and EKG proved, but it was clear that my body was not a fan of the drugs I had been prescribed.

Following my initial diagnoses, I searched the web for more information about this common disease that so many women struggled with. Even though my doctor told me there is no cure and it can only be treated with medication, I still typed in: “How to cure PCOS.” To my surprise, I found several blogs of women sharing how eating 3 large salads per day cured their PCOS, or how drinking a gallon of beet juice per day eliminated all of their symptoms. I found those articles interesting, but a little too eccentric for my taste.

After my trip to the emergency room, I went back to the internet to find more articles of women discussing how eliminating certain foods and sticking with a strict workout routine made all the difference. I even stumbled upon a few helpful documentaries on Netflix. One documentary showed a man cure his inflammatory illness by doing a juice cleanse. He ate no solid foods and drank tons of vegetables. He adopted a plant-based diet and rid himself of all of his medications. Again, this seemed a little far-fetched for me, but I was certainly intrigued.

I made an appointment with my doctor and she described another prescription that would be similar to the birth control, but would hopefully not cause the same side-effects. I explained that I appreciated the effort, but I had no interest in taking any more medication. I explained my in-depth “research” online and how people saw a reduction in their symptoms by adopting a plant-based diet. Considering our first interaction, I should not have been too surprised, but she stated: “If you do not take this medication, your blood cells will continue to populate in your uterus and you are going to get uterine cancer. You will never be able to have children.” Too stunned to say the things I thought of later on my drive home, I said: “okay.” That was the last time I met with that doctor.

I continued to do more research and began to back-pedal. I thought, being vegan is a bit extreme. Maybe I can just eat all organic foods that won’t have any random chemicals. I realized in that moment, I wouldn’t be able to go out to eat with family and friends anymore. There would be no way for me to guarantee everything given to me at a restaurant or a family member’s home would be organic, but I told myself, that would just be my life.

I moved back to my home state, and my mother was very supportive of my new “organic lifestyle.” We made some of our favorite foods with all organic spices, meats, cheeses, etc. I thought to myself, being organic isn’t that hard. I can still have the foods I enjoy.

Then the documentary that I watched came back to my mind. Organic seemed like a nice idea, but if I have a hormone imbalance, and eat animals that have their own hormones and are given additional hormones to make them large enough for a hefty profit, won’t that just make things worse? I had a lot to consider.

On the morning of May 18, 2015, I woke up and it was decided. I was going to go vegan. I did not see any down side. Sure, I would have to learn some new recipes and I couldn’t eat some of my favorite foods anymore, or so I thought, but I would be fine because I would have clear skin and my body would be able to heal and function the way God intended.

Though I am a pensive and pragmatic person most of the time, when I become excited about something, my impulsive side comes out. Still having meat and dairy in my refrigerator, I had just decided to change my life. I emptied my refrigerator, threw a lot of things away and gave away the rest. My life as a vegan began. As I continued to learn and follow inspiring vegans on social media, I quickly learned that to be vegan is more than a diet, it is a lifestyle and a compassionate way of being. For me, becoming plant-based was an overnight decision, but to become vegan would be a lifelong journey.

As I learn more, my compassion for the animals and my concern for our planet continues to grow. I have made my share of mistakes on this journey, for example, trusting the word of the dubious waiter at the restaurant when they tell me they are positive their breadsticks are only coated in oil, not butter. Or when the curious restaurant owner tells me that they have vegan options and presents me with a dry and lifeless salad and I’m left with no option but the, maybe vegetarian, Italian dressing they have in the back. Things have certainly been interesting on this journey, but I am positive I will not go back, I can’t.

My skin has cleared up significantly, within months I had naturally regulated my blood sugar without the help of any medication, my sleep became more efficient, and most exciting of all, I had my period arrive on day 28 for the first time in 16 years after completing a rigorous detox.

I have the lightest and most pain free cycles I’ve ever experienced in my life. I honestly had no idea it could be this way. When I consider just how good my grandmother’s macaroni and cheese tastes, versus just how excited I am to experience healing, I simply cannot justify making such a trade.

Being plant-based does not mean that I no longer get to eat all of the foods I used to enjoy, it means that I have to get creative in the kitchen and find new ways to bring those familiar tastes back to life. To be plant-based has made me more open minded when it comes to food. Before making this transition, I never ate mushrooms, peppers or onions. I had no clue what a jackfruit was and would never dream of completing a 90-day detox and practicing Qigong, but here I am. I cook with peppers and onions often, fried oyster mushrooms are my fave and I do an annual detox just to reset my tastebuds and to experience a new level of healing.

If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, please be encouraged. Your doctor may be telling you that you have an incurable disease and there is no hope, but if there is any part of you that wants to explore your other options, please advocate for yourself and make the lifestyle changes that make sense for you. You can experience healing. Our bodies know what to do if we just get out of their way!

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