Is PCOS Preventing You From Being Healthy?

Have you heard of PCOS which stands for polycystic ovary syndrome? It’s a health condition that affects hormones in women and can bring about a variety of symptoms. You might be experiencing some of these symptoms already without knowing that PCOS is the root cause. Let’s dive deeper into this topic below.

What Is PCOS?

Polycystic refers to many cysts, which grow in the ovaries. They are small, filled with fluid, and contain an immature egg. This egg will never mature, resulting in the lack of ovulation, which then leads to irregular levels of estrogen, progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone. This change in the hormone levels affects the female body in different ways, more on this in a bit.

PCOS can occur in women age 15 to 44. According to the NHS, 1 in every 5 women in the UK has PCOS. Do note, though, that 50% of these women do not exhibit symptoms.

Main Features of PCOS

1. Irregular Periods

Women who have PCOS do not menstruate regularly. It’s either your period is delayed or you completely miss it within a month. The reason for this is because the ovaries are not releasing eggs like they normally would due to the lack of ovulation caused by the cysts.

2. Excess Hair on the Body

With hormone levels fluctuating, estrogen hormones are low while androgen hormones increase. This means the body has more male hormones which cause unusual hair growth on the face and body. Further, the extra androgens in the body also affect the menstrual cycle.

3. Polycystic Ovaries

This can only be checked when you undergo a transvaginal ultrasound. Your results will show if you have an enlarged ovary and if several cysts are present in the ovaries.

What Causes PCOS?

Doctors have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of PCOS. However, studies have shown links to inflammation, genes, and insulin resistance as the cause of higher androgen levels in the female body.

  • Inflammation – According to this study, women with higher inflammation in the body are more likely to have PCOS. Being overweight is a factor, too.
  • Genes  A study shows that PCOS may be passed down in the family.
  • Insulin Resistance – Insulin resistance happens when the body cannot convert insulin into energy properly. The cells in the muscle, liver, and fat no longer respond to insulin as they should. This can lead to type-2 diabetes, prediabetes, and gestational diabetes. Based on a study, 70% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance.

PCOS Symptoms to Watch Out For

If you have PCOS, you may experience these symptoms:

  • Irregular periods which can be less than eight in a year
  • Heavy bleeding when you do get your period because the uterine lining doesn’t shed when you miss periods
  • Hair growth on the face as well as the chest, belly, and back
  • Acne and oilier skin on the chest, upper back, and body
  • Weight gain despite efforts to lose weight
  • Hair fall and thinning
  • Skin darkens in the creases of the neck, groin, under the breasts
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Low sex drive

How Does This Affect You?

One of the most problematic effects of PCOS is infertility. Women have a hard time getting pregnant due to the lack of ovulation. Another health issue is metabolic syndrome since 80% of women with PCOS are either obese or overweight (1). Factor in insulin resistance, you are at risk of having high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and low HDL cholesterol.

This can further progress to sleep apnea where you might have breathing pauses while you sleep. This disturbs your sleep and can make you feel restless and lethargic upon waking up. Of course, there are also several health problems brought about by lack of sleep.

Endometrial cancer is a possibility. When the uterine lining builds up when you miss periods, the thickened lining increases the risk of having endometrial cancer.

Let’s not forget the shifting moods resulting from hormonal imbalance. This can cause depressive symptoms in women, too.

How to Treat PCOS

The most common medical treatments for PCOS are birth control pills and metformin. Birth control pills help in restoring hormonal balance as it provides you with a daily dose of estrogen and progestin. It also helps with reducing excess hair growth and reduces the risk of endometrial cancer. Meanwhile, metformin is usually used by type-2 diabetes patients because it helps improve insulin levels by controlling the body’s blood sugar level.

However, it is imperative for women with PCOS to make lifestyle changes together with taking medication. Taking medicine alone will not treat PCOS. It is vital for women to change their diets and exercise regularly to lose weight (2). You can try to target losing 5-10% of your body weight as this can significantly help regulate the menstrual cycle.

Here are some of the natural ways to treat PCOS (3):

  • Reduce consumption of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in the food you eat. You can get AGEs from animal-derived and processed foods.
  • Complement metformin with calcium and vitamin D supplements
  • Taking magnesium helps manage blood sugar levels while taking chromium supplements help in lowering blood sugar in diabetics
  • Three grams of omega-3 fatty acids a day can help in lowering androgen level

Diet and Exercise Tips:

  • Focus on high fiber vegetables as they fight inflammation; eat kale, spinach, and broccoli if you can
  • Tone down on the carbohydrates because these are high in sugar. It is suggested to start with 35 grams of carbs a day. If you feel a lack of energy or the symptoms worsened, you can increase it to 5-10 grams a day until you get your energy back. Once you adapt to that, start going down 5-10 grams a day until you can reach 35 grams.
  • Get proteins from low-fat meat
  • Resistance training can help with fat loss as it increases muscle mass in women. This type of exercise can also help lower the androgen level of the body
  • To reduce inflammation and improve insulin resistance, aerobic exercises are great for you. They can help get your menstruation cycle back on track.
  • Meditate 30 minutes before sleeping as this will help you de-stress as well as improve the quality of your sleep. Sleep issues are more common in women with PCOS, which is why it’s vital to get those recommended sleeping hours — 7 to 9 hours a day.
  • Try doing yoga 30 minutes a day to improve insulin resistance and reproductive hormone levels. It’s also effective for de-stressing.

To add, be curious as to what alternative healthcare providers such as nutritional coaches or naturopaths can recommend to support your treatment.

Get Checked

If you observe the signs and symptoms above, talk to your gynecologist. For some women, these symptoms can cause discomfort. For other women, the infertility issue can be affecting them mentally and emotionally, too. Get checked so you can get the appropriate treatment right away.

 

Sources:

  1. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
  2. Polycystic ovary syndrome: a complex condition with psychological, reproductive and metabolic manifestations that impacts on health across the lifespan
  3. 6 Natural Treatments for PCOS