Many patients with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome are either overweight or obese. In fact, studies show that up to 85 percent of overweight or obese women present the likelihood of developing PCOS at some point in their life. As debilitating as the disease can get, it’s fairly common among young adult women. Nearly 1 in 10 American women capable of reproductive function are susceptible to PCOS.
But what is it that makes PCOS so harrowing to live with?
The first thing I’m going to underscore here is that PCOS is not a specific disease per se; rather it’s a group of symptoms. At its core, PCOS is an endocrinal disorder that causes hormonal imbalance issues in women.
What happens is that the brain begins producing certain hormones in abnormal amounts. The hormonal disorder then affects the woman’s reproductive health, causing trouble conceiving and problems with the menstrual cycle.
To offer more detail—an ovary has tiny follicle sacs that host multiple eggs. Once the eggs have matured, they leave the ovular sac and travel to the uterus to complete the fertilization process. But if you’ve got PCOS, the eggs will leave the sacs long before they have matured. They will then merge with one another and distribute themselves on the outer walls of the ovary in the form of tiny cysts. So now the eggs released from the ovaries are not able to perform their reproductive functions, hence result in fertility issues.
But infertility isn’t the only trouble with PCOS. It can have crippling effects on our endocrinal system, causing problems with digestion, insulin resistance and overall levels of androgen in the body.
What are the effects of PCOS on my body?
An abundance of the wrong hormones can impact tissues across the body and leave you at risk of developing conditions that you wouldn’t otherwise think are related to PCOS. Now, before I delve deeper into what the symptoms are, let’s uncover the most fundamental side-effects of PCOS that should serve as a warning sign to any woman.
- Irregular menstrual cycle: Women diagnosed with PCOS have problems with their menstrual cycle and will either get their periods infrequently or will not have them at all. The former condition is known as oligomenorrhea and the latter is known as amenorrhea. Some women may get light periods with PCOS because of ovulation dysfunction but others may continue to receive heavy periods.
This could be because the endometrium; that is, the lining of the uterus continues to build itself when it’s not shedding its walls in every cycle. One way to tell if your irregular periods are linked with PCOS is to check the annual number of periods you receive. An average woman will have her period anywhere between 10 to 17 times a year. However, women with PCOS may only experience their menstrual cycle 6 to 8 times per annum.
- Infertility: The imbalance in hormones greatly upsets a woman’s ovulation patterns. The main issue is that when your ovaries are not capable of releasing a mature egg, there’s no fertilization process happening. Hence, PCOS women find it difficult to conceive. According to researchers, PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility among women of childbearing age, affecting about 80 percent of them. But what’s even more troublesome is that many women don’t realize that they’re dealing with infertility as they continue to menstruate despite problems with ovulation.
However, all is not lost with PCOS.
Women, who desire children should focus on getting into the best state of health they can. This means correcting nutritional deficiencies, balancing hormones, improving the health of your gut and sticking to the proper diet.
What are the observable signs of PCOS?
Infertility and irregular periods are not the only effects of PCOS. There are plenty of other things you can and should be on the lookout for. Just remember that PCOS symptoms can begin to manifest their presence right after puberty and can continue long into your adult life—so just because you’ve always had a condition doesn’t mean it’s not a cause for concern.
We’ve all been through some serious episodes of acne but this isn’t a regular case that you can brush under the rug. PCOS acne is of a particular type. One warning sign is that PCOS acne almost always occurs on the lower half of your face. This includes your neck, jawline and chin areas.
PCOS acne is also significantly more discomforting than regular acne. Why is this? Well. This has more to do with the testosterone levels in your body. An increase in testosterone can over-stimulate your skin’s sebaceous glands and cause too much sebum production. This will leave you at risk of clogged pores—a ripe ground for bacteria to spread and produce inflamed skin.
Alongside acne, you might also endure tiny, dark patches on your skin. They usually occur on the nape of your neck or the elbows. These patches may be a symptom of insulin resistance and perhaps indicate the beginning of diabetes.
We have talked about this in the past- There is no need to worry, you can always give me a quick call. If you are struggling for a natural approach to correcting or improving your PCOS contact us today.
Abnormal hair growth
We know that women tend to have different bodily hair growth patterns than men but among women with PCOS, these patterns can be reversed. Excessive levels of androgens in the body can lead to increased amounts of testosterone. This can trigger the growth of coarse and thick hair on the face, back, chest and abdomen areas and the condition is known as Hirsutism.
Problems with weight
According to studies, women diagnosed with PCOS are at an 80 percent risk of being overweight. But the opposite is possible too. Some researchers argue that women at normal weight may also have PCOS but because the disease is in its early stages, the signs aren’t immediately visible.
Since PCOS has links with several other medical conditions, I would advise women to also keep an eye out for these symptoms if they’re concerned about a PCOS diagnosis:
- Hair thinning on the scalp
- Diabetes or prediabetes
- Frequent mood swings
- Hashimotos Autoimmune Thyroid disease
- Trouble sleeping; including sleep apnea and insomnia
You can read more about the signs of PCOS in my previously published article, here.
How to maintain a healthy diet with PCOS
Being diagnosed with PCOS can significantly alter your life. But you can diminish the effects of the disease on your body if you follow an optimal nutritional diet plan. Now, before we get into the dietary rules, there are two things that you need to remember about why PCOS develops.
Firstly, there is really no medical consensus over the exact cause of PCOS or even the best way to diagnose PCOS. While doctors and researchers still squabble to get the facts right, we know that one of Root causes is adrenal androgen excess and insulin resistance.
For those of you who are interested in a little more biochemistry and want to understand the functional medicine approach to PCOS, here’s a brief explanation: the pituitary gland that’s located in the base of your brain is responsible for producing two main hormones i.e. luteinizing hormones (LH) and follicle stimulating hormones (FSH).
However, in conditions of PCOS, the gland will begin producing an excessive number of both hormones, causing an androgen excess. The most notorious of these androgens is the male hormone, testosterone. High levels of testosterone will lead to chronic inflammation and Hirsutism. A byproduct of this situation is insulin resistance. With Insulin resistance, glucose is not properly shuttled into the cells.
With all this extra glucose in the blood and not in the cells, your body won’t have enough energy and you’ll be left with high blood sugar levels, high triglycerides and high cholesterol. To cope with the effect, your body will produce more insulin and so the cycle of insulin resistance continues. About 80 percent of women with PCOS have insulin-resistance problems and are at greater than average risk of developing diabetes.
The second thing that I would like to point out regarding a PCOS diet is that it’s not geared toward helping you lose or gain weight in any capacity. The aim here is to ensure you’re getting enough nutrients to counter the effects of inflammation, acne and insulin-resistance. As these begin to balance out, you may lose weight.
Diet principles for PCOS patients
The reason why I pointed out the weight issue with PCOS is because a lot of women who gain weight end up restricting their calories and nutrients thinking that losing the excess fat will solve the problem. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The real problem with PCOS weight gain is that many women end up eating emotionally, or just for the sake of sticking to a routine. One solution is to practice mindful eating habits. It’s important to be aware of the stuff that we’re putting into our bodies because food is more than just pleasure—it’s fuel!
Hence, it’s also important to remain cognizant of our bodily cues—when we’re actually hungry and when we’re full.
Eat slow and reduce your carbs
I have used Paleo, AI Paleo, and Keto diets quite successfully with my patients and I definitely recommend working with a functional nutritionist to keep your insulin levels from spiking.
One way to manage your insulin-resistance is to reduce the amount of carbohydrates and added sugars you take in.
Try to get your nutrients from whole foods that are grown organically such as vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts and organic grass fed meat. All these kinds of foods have the type of complex carbs, proteins, and fats that don’t wreak havoc on your endocrine system. They don’t spike your blood sugar levels and keep your cravings at bay—making it a sustainable dietary choice.
Get your fats from meat, eggs and fish
Healthy fats are just as important as healthy carbohydrates. Those of you who tend not to snack from time to time—you can enjoy a big filling of eggs, meat and fish. With the high protein and fat concentration, you’re likely to stay fuller for longer and won’t eat unhealthy foods that contribute to weight gain. And eating more good fats will not cause weight gain.
Eat foods that boost your microbiome
There has been plenty of research indicating the effects of microbiomes on our metabolism, gut health and digestion patterns. Women with PCOS often report poor gut health and that’s because their diets are lacking in the right kinds of probiotic foods. If you want more information on how to maintain proper gut health; read this article where I outline the issue in comprehensive detail. Another problem we see in woman with PCOS is a yeast overgrowth in the gut or SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)
Give up sugar
One of the most important things for PCOS patients is to quit sugar. This includes sucrose and fructose levels that you take in from fruits. The main idea is that sugar is highly inflammatory and in the presence of gut dysbiosis, yeast or SIBO, the sugar can feed the bacteria worsening the PCOS. Sugar wreaks havoc on your insulin levels, causing them to spike especially if you consume it after a meal. Many studies show that sugar is highly addictive and can mimic the effects of Opioids.
Cut out gluten and dairy
Many women with PCOS aren’t aware of gluten sensitivities which can make your insulin resistance worse. It’s the same thing with dairy. Foods like milk and cheese possess an insulin growth factor enzyme that will naturally spike your insulin levels. It’s really not worth the risk. If you are following a gluten free diet, be careful with many of the so called “gluten free” foods. These tend to me very high on the glycemic index and can quickly raise your Insulin levels.
Want a professionally designed diet program?
Maintaining a healthy diet can seem a bit overwhelming to most. If you’re someone who is used to eating foods that are high in starch, trans fats and sugar then you’ll probably find making necessary dietary adjustments harder than usual.
If you find this to be the case, we are here to help! We have several nutritionists that can help implement a PCOS diet and help you with accountability. To learn more about our nutritional services click here.
Our functional nutrition meal plan will be tailored to your needs.
You can also find some healthy PCOS relevant recipes on my page, here.
The important thing for all PCOS patients to remember is that what you eat can and will directly affect the severity of your symptoms. Rather than focusing on weight issues, it’s necessary to get your dose of nutrients for sustainable health.
If you’re interested in working with my office, please complete this short health survey. Tell us a bit more about your goals, your health concerns and the kind of help you are looking for. If you need dietary help or you are looking to dig deeper into the metabolic causes, we can help.
A member of my team will be sending you an email within 10-15 minutes of completing the health questionnaire. So be sure to check your email with several recommendations for further options!