Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome, AKA “PCOS” is a common hormonal disorder which affects approximately 5-6 million women in the United States ALONE. This condition, which most commonly affects young women of reproductive age is often under-diagnosed and awareness for this physically and emotionally distressing condition is lacking.
So, What Exactly is PCOS?
“Poly” means many, and “cystic” refers to the cysts that are commonly found on the ovaries of women with PCOS. HOWEVER, contrary to the name, a woman does not have to have cysts on her ovaries to be diagnosed with PCOS and when we are describing the cause of PCOS, we mean the cause of the hormonal imbalances. The EXACT CAUSE of PCOS is unclear but genetics are considered to play a part, and having a family history of the condition increases your chances of getting it. Environmental factors also play a huge role in development of this condition and it is closely linked with being overweight or obese.
Symptoms of PCOS
PCOS is associated with a range of SYMPTOMS, the presence and severity of these symptoms varies between women. The symptoms associated with PCOS are largely due to the excess of male hormones produced in the female body- these hormones are known as “Androgens”. For example, many women with PCOS produce excess testosterone, which is associated with a range of common symptoms of the condition.
IRREGULAR PERIODS are one of the most common and often upsetting symptoms associated with PCOS, other distressing symptoms include excess hair growth on the face and body (hirsutism), acne, hair loss (alopecia) and male pattern balding, infertility and obesity/weight gain or trouble trying to lose weight are also common. The presence or extent of these symptoms varies between individuals. PCOS is the leading cause of infertility in women and it is estimated that 40% of those with PCOS experience infertility or problems trying to have babies.
The hormonal imbalances found in women with PCOS also affect how the body handles sugar. Insulin resistance plays a prominent role in PCOS and is the root cause of many symptoms. Insulin is known as a storage hormone. It is required to take glucose out of the blood and bring it into the body’s cells where is can be used for energy. Therefore, when a person is “Insulin Resistant” their body’s cells don’t respond to insulin. This causes a cascade of problems such as excessively high blood sugar levels. The body then responds to this problem by producing MORE insulin to counteract the issue and try to normalize the blood sugar levels.
So, What Is The Problem With Too Much Insulin?
Insulin is a VITAL hormone in human the body, responsible for maintaining steady blood sugar levels. However, excess amounts of insulin will promote FAT storage. Also, consistently high Insulin levels will stimulate the ovaries to produce more testosterone causing a multitude of problems commonly associated with PCOS. FURTHERMORE, the surge of insulin that happens after a woman suffering from PCOS eats a meal is associated with increased sugar cravings.
So How Is This Condition TREATED?
There is no CURE for PCOS, however treatment generally involves managing the symptoms. Diet and exercise play a VITAL role in treatment and management of the condition. Weight loss of only 5-10% in women with PCOS has shown to regulate menstrual cycles and improve insulin sensitivity. Treating the symptoms of PCOS is ultimately aimed at reducing the risk of long term health issues that are commonly associated with the condition such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease due to metabolic and hormonal imbalances.
AWARENESS of PCOS is lacking worldwide and often the symptoms of PCOS are something that women around the world shy away from speaking about. National PCOS awareness month is in September but it is ALWAYS the right time to be informed about such a common and important condition affecting 1 IN 10 women around us. Nutrition, diet and lifestyle approaches are a FUNDAMENTAL component of managing this hormonal condition.
JOIN US next week to read about the importance of “Managing PCOS through Diet and Lifestyle”. Is there ONE “special diet” one should be following?? Are there certain nutrients that women should eat more or less off? Have any supplements or herbal remedies been scientifically proven to have beneficial effects in PCOS?? Next week we will break down the science behind diet and PCOS.
Keep an eye out on @lorrainekearneynutrition Instagram page to read more!