PCOS Symptoms + Causes
PCOS Symptoms + Causes
Did you know that 20% of women are affected by polycystic ovaries and nearly 5-10% of females actually suffer from PCOS? That’s a lot. This article is meant to teach you what PCOS is exactly and its symptoms and causes associated with it.
PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome is becoming an increasingly growing problem among women. Often, PCOS is rooted with insulin resistance as a primary cause of the illness.
How Does It Develop?
Our ovaries have follicles which are tiny, fluid-filled sacs that hold the eggs. When the egg is matured and released, it travels down the uterus and continues on for fertilization etc. However, for women with PCOS, immature follicles bunch together and form cysts or lumps. Research shows that the elevation of androgens (male hormones) may inhibit the egg’s development. This failure to mature then also inhibits ovulation. When it comes to fertility, women with PCOS may have periods on occasion OR have periods but don’t ovulate. Eggs are not released, making it difficult to get pregnant. PCOS is the number one cause of infertility according to the Office Of Women’s Health.
Cysts develop when an egg fails to be released and developed normally. Cysts can grow up to the size of a golf ball – some women have symptoms and some women don’t. The egg grows under FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and continues with LH (luteinising hormone) where the cyst will swell. This is when most women experience pain and potentially, extra bleeding in their cycle making their periods heavier. The issue lies where there is not enough hormone (or due to hormonal imbalance) to initiate ovulation and allow the egg to continue in development as a normal cycle would proceed.
PCOS causes the ovaries to stop ovulating. This means that the normal cycle of estrogen followed by progesterone ceases or fails to work properly. This can result in infertility and other problems as identified below.
Symptoms Associated With PCOS
Common symptoms associated with PCOS (and that we see at our clinic) include:
- Abnormal menstrual cycles
- Irregular periods
- No periods
- Acne on face, chest or upper back
- Heavy or prolonged bleeding during period
- Chronic fatigue
- Excessive facial hair
- Hair loss or hair thinning
- Skin tags
- Recognizable cysts on the ovaries
- “Apple” shape (holding onto weight at the mid-section)
- Depression/mood swings
Causes of PCOS
PCOS is strongly linked with insulin resistance. When we help our clients improve their blood sugar regulation via their diet and lifestyle, we start to see improvements with PCOS and symptoms associated. This in turn makes a difference for re-regulating androgens.
Women with PCOS have greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome (essentially the precursor to Type II Diabetes). They have greater risk of experiencing insulin resistance or decreased insulin sensitivity. Note that PCOS is not always found with those that have metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance.
Family history has been identified as an important factor of developing PCOS in addition.
An imbalance of estrogen and progesterone (elevated estrogen levels in comparison to progesterone) is also noted in women with PCOS.
Insulin Resistance + PCOS
You’re probably curious about the link between the hormone insulin and PCOS. With poor diet choices (highly processed foods, high refined sugar/ high glycemic-index foods, low fiber etc), your body will eventually become resistant to insulin. The pancreas will continue to produce more and more insulin with the intention of properly helping stabilize blood sugar levels. With this chronic influx of insulin in the bloodstream, insulin naturally stimulates the increase of androgens in the blood (male hormones). This is why many women with PCOS may have more facial hair or body hair. While andogens increase, a protein called sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) becomes suppressed. SHBG is meant to keep the sex-hormones properly balanced in the blood.
Insulin stimulates the ovaries to produce now predominantly male hormones in addition to higher insulin levels and glucose levels. This is when we commonly see women with more facial hair or arm/back hair, thinning head hair in addition to having an “apple-shape” physique.
How PCOS Is Diagnosed
Your doctor will most likely order a number of blood tests as well as an ultrasound. The blood tests will test for high androgen levels, LH, fasting insulin, estradiol, estrone, prolactin, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. As well as low levels of SHBG.
At our clinic, we help women with a very bio-individual approach taking lifestyle, chronic symptoms and other health issues into account. However, to kick-start your health journey, there are a few very important things you can do:
- Maintain a low-glycemic diet & stabilize blood sugar levels. This is absolutely the key to managing PCOS.
- Lose weight if applicable.
- Exercise consistently.
- Avoid dairy.
- Avoid caffeine for a period of time.
- Manage stress.
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