With 1 in every 10 women being diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), this term has become even more common off late and people are more open to discuss this disorder. Better treatments and more awareness are helping women deal with this syndrome and the other health related complications that arise from it. Today, let’s discuss PCOS in detail to understand it better and tackle it better.
What are PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome, widely known as PCOS, is an endocrine system (hormonal) disorder that affects women in their reproductive years. The ovaries may develop numerous small collections of fluid (follicles) and fail to regularly release eggs. It is also known as or Stein-Leventhal syndrome.
Facts You Must Know-
- Most women with PCOS grow a number of small cysts, or fluid-filled sacs, on their ovaries. Though not harmful, they can still lead to an imbalance in hormone levels.
- Women may also experience menstrual cycle abnormalities (infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods), increased androgen (sex hormone) levels, excess hair growth, acne, and obesity.
- PCOS can prevent ovulation and is the most common cause of infertility in women.
- Women who can conceive with PCOS have a higher incidence of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and premature delivery.
What Causes PCOS?
Sadly, even after all this while, the exact cause of PCOS is not known. Most experts think that several factors, including genetics, play a role. However, there are associations with excess insulin and low-grade inflammation as well.
- Excess insulin. If blood sugar levels rise and your body produces more insulin, it may affect a woman’s ability to ovulate because it effects androgen production and increases it by abnormally high level.
- Low-grade inflammation. This term is used to describe white blood cells’ production of substances to fight infection. Research has shown that women with PCOS have a type of low-grade inflammation that stimulates polycystic ovaries to produce androgens, which can lead to heart and blood vessel problems.
- Heredity. Research suggests that certain genes might be linked to PCOS.
Associated Health Risks:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- High Cholesterol
- Elevated Lipids
- Sleep Apnea
- Liver Disease
- Abnormal Uterine Bleeding
- High Blood Pressure
- Obesity Possibly Leading to Issues with Low Self-Esteem and Depression
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver (Steatohepatitis)
- Depression and Anxiety
- Irregular Menses
- High Blood Pressure
- Decreased Libido
- Excess Androgen Levels
- Pelvic Pain
- High Stress Levels
- Skin Tags
- Male Pattern Balding
- Excessive Facial and Body Hair Growth
- Acne, Oily Skin, and Dandruff
- High Cholesterol and Triglycerides
Acanthosis Nigricans, or Dark Patches of Skin
- Insulin Resistance
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Depression and Anxiety
- Weight Management Difficulties Including Weight Gain or Difficulty Losing Weight
- Is PCOS rare?
Answer: NO. It is VERY common
- Does losing weight treat PCOS?
Answer: No. However, overweight and obese women can help balance their hormone levels by losing weight. Otherwise, treatment is aimed at managing symptoms. On a similar note, it is not just over-weight women who suffer from PCOS. It can affect women of all shapes and sizes.
- Can you get pregnant if you have PCOS?
Answer: Yes. Only, it can also take longer to become pregnant if ovulation is only occurring every few months.
- Do you still need to use birth control if you have PCOS?
Answer: Yes. Ovulation can still happen even if it’s not on a predictable schedule. Use some form of birth control if you don’t want to become pregnant.
- Does anything else, besides medication, help with PCOS?
Answer: Yes. Diet, exercise, and behavioural changes can have a big impact in preventing and managing PCOS.
DOs and DON’Ts for PCOS:
- Do some degree of cardio-based activity – at least 150 mins per week. A walk does not count unless it is brisk walking.
- Increase general daily activity. Move as much as you can in your daily life also.
- If you have a sitting/desk-based job, take a 5 mins break for every hour of sitting and walk around.
- Low glycaemic index diets – cut down sugar and refined carbohydrates
- Increase adequate protein in your diet
- No trans fats
- Snack in between – don’t let acidity set in or have late lunches/dinners
- Have regular meal timings
- Eat dinner early – try to finish eating by 8.30pm
- Sleep early, probably by 10 -10.30pm, as much as possible
- Practice some form of meditation, breathing exercises to help with stress management
- Add flaxseed to your diet
- Some Ayurveda practitioners recommend eating raw ginger with a little jaggery (very little, otherwise you’ll get your glycemic spike from that itself) in the morning, first thing.
For People who suffer from insomnia:
- Cut out coffee and tea after 6pm
- No TV, internet, phone after 9.30pm
How does Exercise help with PCOS?
Regular exercise seems to be most effective in improving insulin resistance, even without any noticeable change in weight or body fat measurement. Improving insulin resistance is very important as this is the cause of many of the complications in PCOS.
A minimum of 150 min of physical exercise per week is recommended. Regular physical activity will help to:
- Reduce androgens
- Improve insulin resistance
- Regulate cycles
- Induce ovulation
- Improve fertility
- Increase energy levels
- Improve self-esteem and mood
- Reduce anxiety and depression
These improvements are achieved even when weight loss doesn’t occur. Physical activity improves insulin resistance and helps prevent weight gain, rather than simply being about burning calories for weight loss.
What type of exercise should you do?
Any type of regular exercise is effective in improving PCOS symptoms. Whether it is moderate or vigorous aerobic exercise or resistance (using weights) exercise, women’s PCOS symptoms will improve.
This said, it is very important to pay to your doctor’s advice and follow up with them regularly. Hope this information helps you to stay on track and deal with it better. Don’t let PCOS stop you from being the woman you want to be. If there are any other answers or support you’re looking for, drop a comment below and I will be more than happy to help you out.