PCOS is the acronym for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, a hormonal disorder that affects women in their reproductive years. In fact, up to 10% of women in the United States suffer with this frustrating condition, which makes weight loss difficult and can result in infertility. PCOS presents differently in everyone, making it hard to diagnose. Learn the signs and symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Causes of PCOS
While the exact cause of PCOS is not known, elevated insulin levels and high levels of androgens are thought to play a role. Genetics may also be involved. Insulin, a hormone secreted from the pancreas in response to glucose, begins to rise in PCOS. This leads to poor blood-sugar control, insulin resistance, weight gain, and eventually type 2 diabetes. High levels of insulin stimulate the ovaries to make more testosterone, compromising ovulation and conception.
Although androgens are typically referred to as “male hormones,” women make them as well, only in much smaller amounts. In women with PCOS, these androgenic hormones are elevated, and are responsible for male traits such as male-pattern baldness, hirsutism, and acne. High androgen levels also prevent ovulation, leading to irregular menstrual cycles and even infertility.
With each menstrual cycle, a follicle is supposed to release a mature egg. This process is disrupted in PCOS. The follicle, instead ends up as a tiny cyst, although this doesn’t happen in everyone with this disorder.
The occurrences of PCOS are increasing, most likely due to the obesity epidemic we’re facing as a society. Stressful lifestyles, and the bombardment of environmental chemicals and toxins are also implicated. High-carb diets, blood-sugar imbalances, inadequate exercise and poor sleep habits all lead to hormonal disruption. Addressing these issues will decrease the chances of developing PCOS.
What Are The Symptoms Of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
It’s common for the signs and symptoms of PCOS to present around puberty when menstruation begins. Symptoms may occur later, especially if weight gain has been substantial. Some women won’t be diagnosed until they try to get pregnant without success.
Below is a list of potential symptoms, which will likely be more severe in women who are overweight:
- Weight gain or an inability to lose weight
- Thinning hair or hirsutism, a condition of hair growth on the face, chest, back or stomach
- Acne that isn’t just on the face, but includes the chest and upper back
- Skin tags and darkening of the skin
- Mood swings
- Irregular or missing menstrual cycles
- Polycystic ovaries that may be enlarged, with cysts on the outer edges, leading to possible ovarian dysfunction
Diagnostic Lab Markers
Early diagnosis and proper treatment is critical because women with PCOS may eventually suffer from diabetes, heart disease, reproductive disorders, and possibly mental-health disorders. These long-term health problems are associated with PCOS.
There are a variety of diagnostic methods used to diagnose the condition including:
- An ultrasound can determine if there are cysts on the ovaries.
- A high-fasting insulin level over 5, and ideally below 3, can be an important marker indicating PCOS ( you will need to specifically request this test from your physician as it is not a routine marker on a blood chemistry panel.
- Elevated testosterone levels are a red flag.
- An A1C, a three-month marker of blood sugar, that is over 5 is suspect. Keep in mind that anemia, a common condition of low iron, can affect A1C levels making them not entirely accurate.
- Get your thyroid levels checked. PCOS and Hashimoto’s (autoimmune hypothyroidism) often show up together.
- Out-of-range prolactin levels are implicated in PCOS.
- Clinical signs and symptoms related to PCOS.
Get your A1C tested here, insulin here or a complete PCOS screening monitoring panel here
Strategies For Living With This Condition
Weight gain is common in PCOS so eating a healthy diet and implementing a regular exercise plan are non-negotiables. If weight gain continues unabated, it can lead to type 2 diabetes. Weight gain worsens the condition, but it’s a catch-22 because the hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS make weight loss difficult.
Dial in your macro nutrients. Have enough clean protein and good fat with every meal. Be mindful of your carbohydrate intake. Don’t eat more than 1/2 cup of starch per meal. Have non-starchy carbs at each meal to provide fiber and essential minerals.
[Read More: Burn Fat By Activating These Hormones ]
Track your blood-sugar levels to make sure they’re not rising. Postprandial blood-sugars levels are the most important to track, and put you in the driver’s seat of your health. An hour after eating, your levels should ideally be under 120. Healthy blood sugar levels will help balance insulin, and make it easier to lose weight. Lower levels of insulin will also reduce cravings. Fasting blood sugar levels, taken in the morning before you eat, should be under 90.
Determine your metabolic type. This is critical because eating the correct foods based on your genetics will balance your body chemistry, helping the control systems of the body to achieve homeostasis.
Environmental Toxins And Inflammation
Identify and eliminate inflammatory foods. Food sensitivities cause blood-sugar disruptions, adding fuel to the fire of hormonal imbalance and metabolic dysfunction. Eliminating gluten and dairy from your diet can be transformative. These foods are inflammatory and are hard to digest. Ditch the soy as well. It lowers thyroid function and imbalances hormones. Ignore the false health claims that soy is healthy.
Reduce inflammation by eating high-quality foods. Buy organic produce, grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, and free-range poultry. Avoid GMOs, they act as an antibiotic and disrupt gut bacteria that is so vital for digestion and immune function.
Clean up your environment by reducing your exposure to EMFs, which decreases detoxification capacity and fosters inflammation. Eliminate chemical-laden cleaning and beauty-care products. Anything you put on your skin goes directly into your bloodstream unlike food that gets filtered through your liver.
The Birth Control Pill And PCOS
If you’re on the birth control pill, please educate yourself on the negative aspects of this medication and find healthier alternatives.
Prescription medications reduce magnesium and B vitamins, which the body desperately needs to function properly. Everyone should be supplementing with magnesium and B vitamins on a daily basis, but particularly those who are taking prescription meds.
The birth control pill suppresses ovulation, which for most women will resume once they stop taking the pill. Some women’s ovulation, however can be suppressed for months after stopping the pill. A diagnosis of PCOS is not atypical in this scenario.
Get adequate sun exposure to raise your Vitamin D levels. 1,000 to 2,000 IUs per day is adequate unless you’re out in the sun regularly. Stay hydrated, get plenty of sleep, and manage your stress. Implement stress-reduction techniques that resonate with you and that you enjoy.
PCOS can be a complicated and frustrating condition to live with. If you’ve been recently diagnosed, take heart, there are diet and lifestyle strategies that can help. These strategies may even prevent PCOS.
Do you or someone you know have PCOS? How were you diagnosed and what are your symptoms? Let me know in the comments:)
(1) healthline: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
(2) Womenshealth.gov: Polycystic ovary syndrome
(3) NIH: What causes PCOS
(4) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and Diabetes
(5) Medical News Today: What is polycystic ovary syndrome?
(6) NHS: Symptoms: Polycystic ovary syndrome
(7) WebMD: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
(8) endocrineweb: What Causes PCOS? and How Will It Affect My Body?
(9) MedicineNet: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS, POS, POD, Stein-Leventhal Syndrome)
(10) NCBI: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Disclaimer: This article is strictly for informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice.