Guest: Dr. Rebecca Harwin
Guest Bio: Dr. Rebecca Harwin is an international author and PCOS expert, and an experienced clinician.
Health Professional Radio
Katherine: Thank you for joining us today. Today our special guest is international author and PCOS expert, and an experienced clinician, Rebecca Harwin. Thank you for joining us today.
Rebecca Harwin: Hi! Thank you for having me again.
Katherine: Now, PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, is that correct?
Rebecca: Yes, that’s right.
Katherine: And there’s often a lot of signs and symptoms that indicate that you might have this condition such as … Maybe I’ll let you tell us a bit about it, firstly what PCOS is and what are the signs and symptoms.
Rebecca: Okay, the diagnosis is two or three out of the following: it’s absent or irregular periods, irregular being less than eight per year. It’s also higher than normal levels of testosterone, or what we think of as male hormone, and/or polycystic ovaries on ultrasound. So, if you fit two or three of those things, then technically you have the diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome.
The biggest issues that cause major problems with women include things like weight gain, obesity, immense trouble trying to lose weight, which can be pretty devastating, infertility, miscarriage â€“ recurrent miscarriage â€“ pregnancy complications. But other signs and symptoms also include things like acne, mood swings, and excessive hair growth. It’s quite vast, but definitely weight gain and infertility are two of the biggest issues.
Katherine: Right. And it’s interesting that you mentioned all of these symptoms because if you listen to them individually, I think a lot of both men and women experienceâ€”well maybe not men, menstruatingâ€”but, [laughter] in terms of getting acne and weight gain, and it’s hard for them to lose weight. You can apply that to a lot of people actually, with or without PCOS. So, maybe that’s a possibility why a lot of people aren’t diagnosed. Would you agree? Because some of the symptoms, people don’t take seriously, yeah.
Rebecca: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the things that isn’t realised is just the incredible commonness of PCOS. So, stats are that at least 11 percent of women have this condition, and more than 20 percent of indigenous women. But I’ve also seen other research in PCOS textbooks that show that it’s at least 17 percent. So, we know that there’s a huge number of women suffering from this condition.
The symptoms can vary quite a lot, so someone can have more of a mild case, whereas other people can have a fully-fledged [indecipherable 02:50] horrible experience with this. But when you look at the stats, 60 to 80 percent of women with acne have PCOS. So, that’s a pretty strong indicator; 60 to 80 percent of women with excessive hair growth have PCOS. So, again, that’s a pretty strong indicator.
If you’re looking at women attending infertility clinics, 90 to 95 percent of women with [indecipherable 00:03:12] infertility, which means they don’t produce an egg, have PCOS. So, it’s a very common condition with really very sort of standout features to look out for.
Katherine: Yeah. And with the acne, for example â€¦ when people in their teenage years, having a pimple here and there is pretty common, and I think they will dismiss that as just hormone. And some of the time it actually is that. But when you’re an adult and you’re experiencing adult acne, is that when you might question…?
Rebecca: Absolutely. I mean, there are certainly links between pimples in teenage years and pimples in adults. If you look at insulin, the hormone that is one of the drivers of PCOS, it is one of the hormones involved. So, when you look at people, like, [indecipherable 00:04:12] has done research into acne, he’s found that in communities where they don’t have any refined products like [indecipherable 00:04:19] or sugar, acne is pretty much unheard of in teenage years. But in Western society, we think that’s impossible, everybody gets acne!
But if you look at the lifestyle, it causes [indecipherable 04:32] in its natural state to help us grow anyway. So, when you compare that to adult female acne, insulin resistance again is a major issue for why that develops. We also know that high levels of testosterone can cause acne as well. So, if we connect insulin resistance to our lifestyle, it helps us address the [indecipherable 04:56], then we’re taking it the major causes of acne. So, absolutely, once you’re considered an adult, if you have acne, you need to be tested for PCOS.
Katherine: Right. And when we were talking about statistics just a bit earlier, why do you think it’s almost double or it is double in indigenous women? Is it hereditary?
Rebecca: Theyâ€™ve looked for genes in PCOS, and they can’t actually find any gene [indecipherable 05:28], one of the things I think might be an issue is with white Western people have had quite a terrible lifestyle for quite a long time, whereas you look at indigenous population, and they’ve been introduced to these horrible things like our lack of physical activity and higher stress levels and being disconnected from community and increased levels of refined foods. They’ve only been recently introduced to these lifestyle choices, so there’s been less time to adapt.
So, I think that might have some role as well.
Katherine: I see. We talked a little bit about PCOS and its effect on fertility. What is the link there?
Rebecca: Again, it’s often insulin resistance. So, when your insulin levels don’t work well, that can actually stop you from ovulating. And it also … if you think about why insulin resistance happens, it’s often common in stress. So, if you think back evolutionary-wise, if you’re about to get attacked by the proverbial sabre-tooth tiger, then the body reroutes all of your energy and your nutrition and your blood into actually doing things that are going to save your life in a life-saving situation. Producing babies really isn’t high on the priorities.
So we decrease our reproductive function to serve the purpose of survival. The problem is that the stress that we’re under nowadays isn’t life-threatening, yet we still have these responses like reduced fertility due to stress levels. We know that weight gain, for example, which happens with insulin resistance, is significantly linked to lack of ovulation, and if a women can lose five to ten percent of her body weight â€“ and that’s not just fat, that’s just across the board â€“ she significantly improves her insulin sensitivity and significantly improves her ovulation rate.
Katherine: I see. And youâ€™ve actually developed a program for women who do suffer from PCOS. It’s called “The 90-day PCOS Challenge: From Health Disaster to In Control.” Can you tell us about this 90-day challenge?
Rebecca: I was looking at ways that I could help women better, and helping, like, consulting with someone is a very powerful thing to do but being able to take someone through an actual program, a three-month program, is really powerful, and having different modules to help address and understand different issues like acne or infertility or what your hormones are actually doing, and getting daily emails to give you little tips and thoughts and keep you on track gives your body enough time to start to make considerable changes.
So, when you’re talking about hormone [indecipherable 08:31] you really do need at least three months’ worth of effort to bring about change. So, I thought that probably the best way to be able to help people the best I could was to put together a course that could hold their hand and take them through the process.
Katherine: I see. And they can take this course from anywhere in the world, can’t they?
Rebecca: Absolutely. [laughs] Yeah, one of the interesting things is that when I look at visitors to my website and my Facebook page, most of them are actually not from Australia. Thereâ€™s people from America, from the UK, from Trinidad and Tobago, from [indecipherable 09:10], from China. I wanted to find a way where I could help people, where time wasn’t important and where location wasn’t important. Because women suffer this condition from all around the world. And so having something that they can do at their own pace, in their own [indecipherable 09:29], without any judgment, I think is quite powerful.
Katherine: It is. And for those of you that would like to learn more, you can visit Dr. Rebecca Harwin’s website, which is conqueryourpcosnaturally.com. Thank for your time today.
Rebecca: Thank you very much.