What in the heck does PCOS stand for?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is what it stands for. It’s a mouthful – so you can understand why it is reduced to the acronym PCOS. This condition is associated with hormonal imbalance and metabolic dysfunction, and often affects a woman’s appearance. PCOS makes losing weight difficult, which is a frustrating aspect of this condition. This post will address PCOS and weight-loss success.
This hormonal disorder is surprisingly common among women in their reproductive years, affecting up to 10 percent of women in the United States. Despite the rate of occurrence, there is still much that is unknown. It presents differently in everyone – making it even more mysterious.
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 intake, begins to rise in PCOS. This leads to poor blood-sugar control, insulin resistance, weight gain, and eventually, type 2 diabetes. These 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 these as well – only in much smaller amounts. In PCOS, however, these androgenic hormones become elevated, and are responsible for male traits such as male-pattern baldness, hirsutism, and acne. Theses high androgen levels 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 are facing as a society. Stressful lifestyles, and environmental chemicals and toxins are also factors. High-carb diets, blood-sugar dysregulation, inadequate exercise and poor sleep habits all lead to hormonal disruption. Addressing these issues will decrease the chances of developing PCOS.
Do you have any of these symptoms?
It is common for the signs and symptoms of PCOS to occur around puberty, and the beginning of menstruation. Symptoms may occur later, however, especially if weight gain has been substantial. Some women will not be diagnosed until they struggle to become pregnant.
Below is a list of possible symptoms, which could be more severe in the obese or overweight.
- Weight gain or an inability to lose weight
- Thinning hair or hirsutism – meaning too much hair, which can include the face
- 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
Markers associated with diagnosis
Early diagnosis and proper treatment is critical – as those with PCOS may eventually suffer from diabetes, heart disease, reproductive disorders, and possibly mental-health disorders. As you can see, long-term health problems are associated with PCOS.
There are various ways to diagnose PCOS:
- 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 can be suspect. Anemia, a common condition, can affect A1C levels so they aren’t totally accurate.
- Get your thyroid levels checked. PCOS and Hashimoto’s (autoimmune hypothyroidism) often show up together.
- Prolactin levels that are out of range can be indicative of PCOS.
- Clinical diagnoses – meaning the signs and symptoms point to PCOS.
Living with this condition
Implement a healthy eating and exercise plan as weight gain is problematic in PCOS. If left unchecked it leads to inflammation and type 2 diabetes. This is a frustrating aspect of this condition because the hormonal imbalances and metabolic disturbances make it more difficult to lose weight.
Dial in your macro nutrients. Have adequate clean protein and good fat with each meal. Be mindful of carbohydrate intake. Consume no more than 1/2 cup of starch per meal. Non-starchy carbs provide fiber and essential minerals.
Track your blood-sugar levels to make sure they are not rising. Postprandial blood-sugars levels are the most important marker to track. This puts you in the driver’s seat of your health. An hour after eating you want your level to be around 120. Controlling your blood sugar will help balance insulin levels, making it easier to lose weight. Cravings will be reduced, as well, enhancing your weight-loss efforts. Fasting blood sugar levels – taken in the morning before you eat – should be under 90.
Determine your metabolic type. This is critical as eating the correct foods based on your genetics balances body chemistry. It will also give your endocrine system the best chance of reaching homeostasis. You can learn more about Metabolic Typing by going to www.nutritionmba.com.
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 can be transforming. These foods cause inflammation and are hard to digest. Ditch the soy as well. It lowers thyroid function and messes with hormones. Ignore the false health claims that are commonly attached to soy.
Reduce inflammation by eating high-quality foods. Buy organic produce if possible, grass-fed meat, and healthy fats. Always avoid GMOs. They act as an antibiotic and disrupt gut bacteria so vital for digestion and immune function.
Clean up your environment by reducing EMF exposure, which decreases detoxification capacity, and fosters inflammation. Ditch chemical-laden cleaning and beauty-care products. Anything put on the skin goes directly into the bloodstream. Food, at least, is filtered through the liver.
Medication and PCOS
If you are 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. Everyone should be supplementing with these nutrients on a daily basis, but those on medications, may need higher doses.
Get adequate sun exposure to raise your Vitamin D levels.
Stay hydrated, get plenty of sleep, and manage your stress. Find techniques that resonate with you, and that you enjoy.
PCOS can be a complicated and frustrating condition to live with. If you have been newly diagnosed, take heart that there are diet and lifestyle strategies that can help. They may even prevent PCOS.
I would love to hear your experiences with this disorder. How were you diagnosed and what are your symptoms? What strategies have you found helpful? Please leave you comments and questions below. You may just help someone who needs you!