Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) sounds pretty intimidating, especially if these words are uttered by your physician after an exam. So many questions might start running through your mind: How serious is this? Can I do anything differently? So what now? Whether you have been diagnosed, are curious about the symptoms as a preventive measure, or simply interested in the information, here is a look at 8 things you may not know about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.

1. The name can be deceiving

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most prevalent hormonal imbalances affecting females to date and is considered the most common type of endocrine disturbance in women of reproductive age. An astounding 5 to 20 percent of females experience PCOS during their childbearing years.(2)

“Polycystic” refers to the numerous benign cysts on a woman’s ovaries.(2) This can be confusing if there is not an emphasis on the word “benign.” Many people think of cysts as mysterious and catastrophic. “Benign” means harmless, and these cysts are harmless in the sense that they are non-cancerous; however, they can boost the amount of male sex hormones, known as androgens, in a woman’s body, causing masculine attributes like excess face and body hair, thinning of scalp hair, and possible infertility.(2)

2. It’s radically undiagnosed

PCOS goes widely undiagnosed, with fewer than half of women being accurately diagnosed, leaving millions of women with no clue as to what is creating their issues. Two of the primary reasons that physicians have difficulty determining the presence of, and treating, PCOS is because there is no single test that can identify the problem, and the symptoms of PCOS resemble those of other hormonal disorders, such as adrenal or chronic fatigue and thyroid disorders.(2)

3. Insulin is significant

The Insulin-resistant effect of PCOS is found in approximately 50-70% of all women diagnosed with PCOS. This is critical because of the high numbers of women who are unaware of their diagnosis and therefore do not address the issues, leading to an increased risk for diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension and glucose intolerance.(2)

Insulin is a hormone that aids in the movement of glucose from the bloodstream to the cells to utilize as fuel. Glucose/sugar is the primary source of energy for the body. When cells stop reacting to insulin, the amount of sugar entering the bloodstream is multiplied.(4) This becomes a no-win cycle as the insulin in the body increases to strive to get the glucose to move into the cells and out of the bloodstream.

Spiked insulin levels can:

  • Increase appetite resulting in weight gain and difficulties losing weight, in spite of your best efforts
  • Cause major health issues including metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes
  • Accelerate the production of androgens by the ovaries resulting in masculine features in females
  • Cause skin to develop areas of dark, soft, thickened spots known as acanthosis nigricans.(4)

4. Can lead to serious health risks if left untreated

In addition to diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and glucose intolerance listed above, if left untreated, PCOS can also lead to cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, obesity, mood disorders and inflammation.(4)

5. You can empower yourself

The symptoms of PCOS can greatly vary and are susceptible to a host of everyday factors that are within your control.(2) The most recommended, and most effective, treatment of PCOS is a commitment to lifestyle change.(5) Research has shown that even simple lifestyle adjustments can have profound effects on the management of symptoms of PCOS.(4)

There are numerous ways that you can aid in your own healing regarding PCOS:

  • Eating brightly colored nutritious foods
  • Exercising regularly, at least 20 minutes per day
  • Decreasing stress, physical and emotional
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Taking herbal supplements
  • Avoiding or minimize endocrine disruptors, such as pollution, chemicals in beauty products, and non-organic items
  • And resting!(2)

Research has shown that for those with PCOS who struggle with weight gain and insulin resistance, an ideal diet would be rich in vitamins and minerals, low in sugar, with a low glycemic index. For the woman with PCOS combined with adrenal problems and fatigue, the best approach is one of rest and an intake of nutritious calories. It is important to concentrate on what you choose to add to your diet, rather than what you’ll eliminate. Be sure to allow the occasional treat, which will help you feel less deprived and therefore more likely to stick with it. Keep your eye on naturally bright-colored foods, like peppers, broccoli, and carrots, as these are the highest in nutritious goodness. (1)

6. Symptoms are varied

You may have a family member or friend who you know has PCOS. Her symptoms may be completely different from your own. This may lead you to believe that you don’t have PCOS, so it’s important to know that you could have completely different symptoms. While symptoms of PCOS vary greatly from person to person, the most common ones include:

  • Acne
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased libido
  • Erratic menstrual cycles
  • Difficulty getting pregnant
  • Weight fluctuation, often gaining more than losing
  • A spike in testosterone leading to masculine features such as an increase in body and facial hair and thinning head hair(2)

7. Pregnancy

Women with PCOS are at risk of infertility, but there are ways to even the playing board. The foods you choose to eat can have a profound impact on your chances of being able to conceive. Diets specifically focused on enhancing fertility emphasize:

  • Equaling your daily intake of protein with carbohydrates to calm insulin spikes
  • Eating foods low on the glycemic index such as kale or beans
  • Stocking up on the fiber-rich foods
  • Including essential fatty acids in your diet every day
  • Choosing organic or as low chemical as possible
  • Enjoying five small meals per day.
  • In addition to fertility-enhancing foods, there are a number of herbal and/or vitamin supplements to support healthy conception:
  • Whole food multivitamin
  • Chromium
  • Vitamin D and Calcium
  • Cod liver oil
  • Licorice root
  • Maca
  • White Peony
  • Vitex
  • Tribulus

Also, bio-identical progesterone can aid in decreasing estrogen dominance that can occur in some women with PCOS, because it imitates the natural cycle and supports the body in regaining its own healthy cycle, namely regular ovulation. DIM is another option, as this supplement balances the hormones and helps break down estrogen in the body, resulting in healthy estrogen metabolism.(3)

8. We heal in community

As with any personal issue, it can feel difficult, and oftentimes isolating, to undertake it all yourself. From family and friend support to community and physician support, healing can best be achieved in community. With others dealing with the same or similar concerns, you may receive suggestions that have worked for others that you would not have otherwise known about. Today, you can find support groups for all kinds of ailments in an Internet search engine, and there is great power in people coming together to support one another.

There is no cure for PCOS, and healthcare approaches usually focus on the symptoms rather than the syndrome because the manifestations can differ so dramatically from individual to individual.(2)

Healthcare options typically range from Hormone Replacement Therapy to professional nutritionists. Hormone Replacement Therapy can be used to imitate hormones that the body may be deficient in by means of injections, topical ointments, gels, and capsules with the aim of helping to return hormone levels back to active state. Other healthcare options include:

  • Ovulation induction- methods used to stimulate ovulation, such as aromatase inhibitors, gonadotropins, and glucocorticoids
  • In vitro fertilization methods
  • Antiandrogens – decrease androgen production
  • Metformin – oral antihyperglycemic for type 2 diabetes mellitus
  • Electrolysis – direct hair removal when masculine traits are present
  • Topical treatments for hair removal
  • Bariatric surgery – a last resort weight loss surgery only used for the dangerously obese(7)
  • Many women find complimentary options extremely helpful to balance out the hormonal chaos in the body.

These options may include:

  • Massage therapy- induces relaxation and increases blood flow for healthier circulation
  • Chiropractic attention- realigns where the body has gotten out of sorts
  • Herbal remedies (discussed above)
  • Acupuncture- works with the meridians to enhance blood flow to the ovaries(2)

Whether you choose to go it alone or in the support of a community, you can increase your chances of success, and your peace of mind, by speaking with your physician first. Dr. Jorge Peláez of the Florida Health and Wellness Institute, with his passion for supporting his patients in their healing journeys, will be happy to give you feedback and recommendations for your plan. It can be helpful to write out any questions or issues you have and bring them to your appointment. Your health is important. Handle it with care.



References:

  1. Role of Diet in PCOS
  2.  Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  3. Diet and PCOS
  4. PCOS
  5. Exercise and PCOS
  6. PCOS Diagnosis and Management
  7. Risk, Management and Treatment of PCOS