Lalla Hirayama was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) in 2015.
Image: John Liebenberg

She was weight training at the gym and running frequently, but still kept piling on the kilograms. It was only when her hair started falling out and she started having extreme skin breakouts, that actress and television presenter, Lalla Hirayama, really started worrying.

"I craved fried foods and sugar, struggled to sleep and started losing my memory, not a good thing when your job is to remember scripts," she said, looking the picture of health and finally back on top her game when we met last week.

Hirayama is currently on a national awareness campaign to spread the news about a condition that afflicted her three years ago. In 2015 she was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age.

"The saddest thing about PCOS is that it often goes undiagnosed," she said. "The symptoms mimic regular Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) symptoms - weight gain, bloating, acne, headaches, body pain - so I thought it was just a phase. But I had acne on my chest, back and neck, and hair in unwanted places, so eventually I couldn't ignore it."

PCOS sufferers may have infrequent or prolonged menstruation and excessive levels of the male hormone, androgen. Ovaries sometimes develop cysts and the condition can result in infertility, and can cause other major health problems like diabetes and heart disease.

"When I was first diagnosed I felt like I'd been handed a death sentence - I was told that it would be difficult for me to fall pregnant and that I could have a heart attack," she said.

An endocrinologist prescribed the typical PCOS treatment - a combination birth control pill and the diabetes medication Metformin to improve insulin resistance and lower insulin levels.

"The treatment made me expand even more," said Hirayama. "My skin got worse, my hair kept falling out and I could barely wake up in the morning. It wasn't working for me."

After doing as much research as she could, Hirayama started buying up everything she could get her hands on - herbs, vitamins, tinctures - whatever she thought could offer some relief.

"My oestrogen levels were 100% higher than normal and nothing I took seemed to make much of a difference."

Over this period the actress pretty much had to put her life on hold. "I was even offered the cover of a magazine that I'd been hoping for and had to turn it down because I was too heavy. I realised that this condition wasn't going to be cured, that it is a lifelong problem."

Travelling with her television show, Lalla Land, which saw her interviewing A-list celebrities around the globe, Hirayama was able to source a special blend of homeopathic medication unavailable in SA. She started to shed weight and her energy levels improved.

" [Finding a special blend of homopathic PCOS medication] was such a relief as I'd taken such strain in my career and was even mocked on social media for my weight gain "
- Lalla Hirayama

"It was such a relief as I'd taken such strain in my career and was even mocked on social media for my weight gain," she said.

Hirayama notes that about one in seven women of child-bearing age suffers from the condition and 70% don't even know they have it.

Hirayama was also thrown a lifeline in dealing with the disease when she contacted her uncle, Dr Russell Cooper, who lives and works in Australia.

Cooper's CV extends across many disciplines of medicine, complementary medicine and mind body medicine. He graduated from Wits and has worked as a senior medical officer in multiple disciplines of medicine all over the world. He's widely experienced in Anti-Ageing Medicine and specifically bio-identical hormone replacement therapy.

In Tasmania he runs the Anubha Mountain Health Retreat, a progressive and nurturing centre for patients seeking a complementary approach for physical and spiritual wellbeing.

"PCOS is a very complex condition that has a cosmetic layer - acne, hair loss, unwanted hair growth and also behind-the-scenes inflammation caused by hormonal imbalances that can have a long-term serious negative effect on the body," Cooper explained.

With a wealth of expertise on the subject, he informed me of the complexities of the condition, which you can read about at lifesource.org.za.

"Very basically, without the correct functioning of the hormones, so many things go wrong," he said.

Though he admits the contraceptive pill is an extraordinary breakthrough, he believes the long-term effects can be problematic for some people, including PCOS sufferers. "The artificial oestrogen and progesterone levels can play havoc with the system," adds Hirayama.

Instead Cooper and Hirayama have developed a supplement to help alleviate the effects of PCOS. It's a carefully sourced blend of nutritional and plant extracts to help with the many metabolic and hormonal dysfunctions.

After an explanation by Cooper of the powerful natural ingredients and their positive effects on the body and emotional wellbeing, I have to admit I am gagging to try the product, though not diagnosed with PCOS. I suggest they develop a similar holistic solution for all hormone-related conditions, particularly the dreaded PMS. 


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