When Alisa Vitti started college at Johns Hopkins University, she didn’t just gain the “Freshman 15,” she put on 60 pounds. Her acne went from mild, teenage breakouts to full-blown cystic acne and she developed severe insomnia, anxiety, and depression. It wasn’t just the transition and stress of starting something new that triggered these issues — she was dealing with endocrine issues that led to her getting her period just six times between the ages of 12 and 22. Ultimately, she was able to reverse PCOS naturally and went on to found FLO Living Hormone Center, create the MyFlo period tracking app, and write the bestselling books WomanCode and In the FLO. Today, she continues to inspire others to write their own PCOS natural treatment success stories, and to take control of their hormones and menstrual cycles to live their best lives.
PCOS Symptoms, But No Diagnosis
Vitti had been dealing with hormonal issues for most of her post-pubescent life, becoming amenorrheic (meaning she didn’t get her period) at age 12. “When everyone was lamenting getting their period every month, I got mine only six times for a whole decade,” Vitti says. And of those six, some were chemically induced by synthetic progesterone. There were other symptoms, too, and she never felt truly healthy, but she was able to push them aside and continue to live her life.
But by the time freshman year rolled around, her health issues came to a head, and could no longer be ignored. Her weight ballooned, full-blown cystic acne spread across her face and back, she suffered from severe insomnia, anxiety, depression. But still, there were no answers. She’d go to the gynecologist and ask questions: why wasn’t she getting her period? Why was it so irregular? Why did she feel so off? But she was always told that there was nothing wrong, and no testing was done.
At Hopkins, when it became undeniable that something was wrong, she took matters into her own hands. She found a journal of obstetrics and gynecology in the Hopkins library, and her jaw dropped when she read an article about a condition called Stein-Leventhal disease, which is now known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). The description perfectly matched how she felt; she had every single symptom listed.
The next day, she showed up at her gynecologist’s office without an appointment, carrying the journal article with her. She told her doctor, firmly, that they needed to do some different testing, to look at her ovaries and see if there were cysts present. She needed clarity. “We did the test and her doctor said, ‘Oh, look at that. Your ovaries are covered in cysts. You do have PCOS,’” Vitti remembers.
Vitti then asked her doctor what came next, but the doctor’s answer was incredibly disheartening. Rather than discussing what could be done to reverse PCOS, she told Vitti that nothing could be done, that it was a condition she would live with for the rest of her life, and that it would get increasingly worse. There would likely be complications down the road, like obesity, diabetes, infertility, cancer, and heart disease. But still, the doctor said, nothing could be done.
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Taking Matters Into Her Own Hands to Reverse PCOS
For her whole life, Vitti had planned on becoming an ob-gyn, and had started college with that intention. But, as she puts it, “the experience of having such a major situation with my own hormones really opened my eyes to some of the limitations of traditional gynecology for chronic hormonal issues.” After all, she’d been undiagnosed for seven years, and was now being told that she had to resign herself to a life with this condition, that she could not reverse PCOS and would need to accept all the complications.
“I just remember thinking, no, this is not my future. There’s got to be a better way,” Vitti remembers. Suddenly, she saw the faults in the way that conventional medicine treated chronic hormonal conditions: a hands-off approach that centered on women’s acceptance of the disease.
“I just thought that that was unacceptable because we could do better,” Vitti says. She proceeded to do her own research on the disease and what could be done to ease her symptoms and reverse PCOS. Eventually, this research led her to develop the protocol that is now used at FLO Living to help women reverse PCOS and heal other hormonal issues.
When she finally applied the protocol to herself, she witnessed a massive transformation: her skin cleared up, her weight melted off, and her menstrual cycle was restored.
You can get more in-depth information about the protocol at FLO Living and in the WomanCode book, but it breaks down into three major steps. First, treating the root cause rather than spot-treating symptoms. Second, relying on food rather than pharmaceuticals, turning to functional nutrition in specific sequences that address the particular hormonal needs of each phase of a woman’s cycle. And third, adjusting lifestyle based on the 28-day clock of a woman’s biology.
Building Flo Living Hormone Center
After Vitti’s experience healing her PCOS, she knew that she needed to shift course. Being a conventional ob-gyn within the conventional medicine system would not fulfill her goal of helping women everywhere balance their hormones and feel their best. That’s where the inspiration to build FLO Living Hormone Center came from. “The FLO Living Hormone Center was really something that I needed a long time ago when I was dealing with my own hormonal health issues,” says Vitti. “I really wished there was a place where I could’ve gone when my period started becoming problematic, where I could talk to someone about the issues that I was struggling with, where I could test my hormones as much as I wanted or I could get some effective, natural treatment and track my progress and symptoms.”
That place didn’t exist, and so Vitti created it. FLO Living is a virtual online health center (or “global menstrual healthcare concierge platform,” as Vitti describes it) to help women reverse PCOS, like she did, but also solve any other hormonal symptoms and better understand their cycles to live their best lives. It uses Vitti’s “WomanCode System” to allow women to better understand their nutritional and energetic needs throughout their cycle, with the end goal of feeling great all month long, improving fertility and libido, and deriving power, not issues, from hormones.
“A lot of the messaging that we’re given as women about our reproductive health is lacking in enough science and practical wisdom that we feel like we should also avoid it,” Vitti says. “Then it ends up causing us to make the choice in our own healthcare of doing nothing, which we know is really dangerous from great research that’s long been out there.” As an example, she cites a study that determined that if you have untreated PMS — which is a serious hormonal imbalance resulting from too much estrogen and insufficient progesterone — in your 20s and 30s, it increases your likelihood of developing the four big diseases of inflammation after menopause: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia. In other words, PMS isn’t something we should be joking about, but something we should be taking very seriously. With FLO Living, Vitti hopes to change the conversation around PMS, hormonal conditions, and female health in general.
“It’s really important for us to understand how our bodies work,” Vitti says. “It is not mysterious, and your body is so responsive to the right inputs. My experience of watching my body transform is not unique.” Since her journey to reverse PCOS, Vitti has spent 17 years working with tens of thousands of women around the globe, providing them the knowledge, resources, and guidance they need beyond their annual gynecologist exam. “When you really need to take action around your cycle, there needs to be a place,” she says. “That’s why I ended up opening up this center, because I needed it and we all need it.”
Alisa Vitti on the Long-Term Side Effects of the Birth Control Pill
One of the biggest ways in which women today interact with hormones is through birth control — 98% of sexually active women in the U.S. have used hormonal birth control at some point, and 62% are using it currently. But, according to Vitti, many women aren’t aware of the long-term side effects of the birth control pill and other forms of synthetic birth control, though that is beginning to change.
“I think women are starting to really ask more questions about this,” she says. “We’re eating clean, we’re exercising in different ways that are really body-aware, we’re living these more health- and wellness-based lifestyles. Then, we’re taking this medication to suppress something that is really part of our biological process.” More and more, she’s seeing women question their dependence on birth control, and looking at the benefits vs. the drawbacks.
So what are those drawbacks? Vitti explains that if you’re taking synthetic hormones, you’re suppressing ovulation and your period completely. The pill has a specific cocktail of estrogen and progesterone that simulates pregnancies, which “shuts off the ovarian conversation altogether,” as Vitti says. When you bleed on the “off” week, it’s not an actual period — it’s something called a “breakthrough bleed,” which occurs because the estrogen and progesterone isn’t there to suppress it, but it doesn’t mean you’re having a cycle or ovulating.
In terms of long-term side effects of the birth control pill, this can mean that a woman’s period goes away altogether, especially if she’s on the pill for a long time. Additionally, there’s what Vitti calls “Synthetic Birth Control Syndrome.” This occurs because birth control contains hormones where the molecular structure has been manipulated and modified, which means it’s not always a perfect fit for your cell receptor sites for these hormones. As a result, some women essentially have an allergic reaction to the synthetic, modified hormones, leading to the unpleasant side effects that many women assume are just part of being on birth control.
These immediate side effects are short-term, but there are also long-term side effects of the birth control pill. Over time, the synthetic hormone combination starts to diminish and deplete key micronutrient stores in the body that are essential for proper endocrine function. This is a big problem, Vitti explains, because many women who go on birth control to deal with an issue (such as PCOS, fibroids, or endometriosis) are already deficient in key micronutrients that your endocrine system needs to create proper hormonal balance. The birth control further depletes these micronutrients, while also suppressing symptoms so that women don’t feel urgency around healing the root cause of their issues. These two things in combination mean that by the time women get off birth control, which can be after a decade or more, they’re extremely deficient in essential nutrients and suffering from hormone imbalance, both of which impact fertility. “I see this unfortunately all too often where women then at 35, 37, they’ve been on the pill for 10 to 15 years or longer, 20, and they’ve had something going on that has been unaddressed and then they go off and they want to get pregnant right away,” Vitti says. “The longer that you are on the pill, the longer it takes to recover.”
For those who need or choose to be on the pill, Vitti recommends they take supplements to combat the micronutrient deficiency. For this particular purpose, she created the Balance by Flo supplement line, which came out of 17 years of researching what were the essential micronutrients that every woman needs for her endocrine system to function optimally. In order to protect yourself against long-term side effects of the birth control pill, Vitti says, it’s important to “make sure that you’re supplementing adequately so that you’re not further becoming depleted. Your bank account isn’t going into the red. You can at least end the day with a neutral balance.”
Conclusion: Takeaways from Alisa Vitti’s Journey to Reverse PCOS
Alisa Vitti’s journey to reverse PCOS tells us a lot about not only the complexity of the female endocrine system, but also the lack of awareness, science, and advocacy for female health in conventional medicine. Her story and interview highlights rarely discussed issues, like the long-term side effects of the birth control pill and environmental causes of infertility, and also sheds light on the importance of hormonal balance for long-term health and disease prevention.
Since we filmed our interview with Vitti, she wrote a second book called In the Flo, in which she shines a light on the root causes of why so many women are struggling with managing both their health and all that they have to do in their lives. Vitti believes the reason is that women are ignoring their infradian biological rhythm. She asserts in the book that caring for that is equally, if not more important, than caring for women’s circadian clock, and how the infradian biological rhythm’s impact is felt in 6 major systems of the body: reproductive, brain, metabolism, immune, microbiome, and stress response systems. She then lays out a plan for women to support their infradian biological rhythm with a diet, fitness, and time management program. You can find both of her books below!
Watch our full interview with Alisa Vitti to hear her discuss a wide range of topics related to women’s health, including: why PMS shouldn’t be a joke, why your period while taking the pill really isn’t a period, how hormonal birth control affects future fertility, how being on the pill covers up pre-existing conditions, the alarming rise of precocious puberty, her favorite online resource to avoid harmful chemicals, the importance of addressing hormonal issues when you’re young, how meal timing affects the endocrine system, what your period blood can tell you about your health, her wellness non-negotiables, what to do for each phase of your cycle, and why she wrote WomanCode.
The recovery story above is anecdotal and specific to this particular individual. Please note that this is not medical advice, and that not all treatments and approaches mentioned will work for everyone.
The information contained in this article comes from our interview with Alisa Vitti, a holistic health coach. Her qualifications and training include graduating from Johns Hopkins University and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Alissa is also a speaker and the author of several bestselling books. You can read more of Alissa Vitti’s story here.