What exactly is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder which affects 1 out of every 10 women in their childbearing years. Women with PCOS experience higher levels of insulin production and androgens (male hormones) than other women. It is because of these high levels of hormones that PCOS can cause a variety of symptoms including irregular or a lapse in menstrual cycles, difficulty becoming pregnant, weight gain, acne, increased risk of insulin resistant diabetes, excess hair growth on the face, stomach and back, and even heart disease.

PCOS & Fertility

PCOS affects fertility due to the hormonal imbalances and overproduction of both androgens and insulin. Androgens are male hormones that are produced naturally in all women, however, women with PCOS produce a higher level of these hormones which can prohibit the development and release of eggs from the ovaries during ovulation. Insulin is a hormone that controls the metabolism of sugar, starches, and other food, and converts them into energy for the body to either use or store. Insulin is elevated in women with PCOS which leads to insulin resistance. This resistance puts women with PCOS at a higher risk for developing diabetes. Insulin and androgens directly correlate with each other as studies show that excess insulin leads to an increased production of androgens. In addition to the effects on normal ovulation, high androgen levels can also lead to acne, excessive hair growth, and weight gain. Weight gain is extremely important to note here, so let’s just touch on this topic for a minute. Weight gain, especially for women with PCOS, occurs mainly in the abdominal area and is a direct effect from excessive insulin present in the body. This “visceral fat” leads to higher levels of LDL (damaging cholesterol) and lowers the levels of HDL (good cholesterol). Having insulin resistant diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or being overweight are all associated with heart disease. In fact, studies have shown that women with PCOS are twice as likely to experience a future cardiovascular event like a heart attack or a stroke.

 If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, taking action and gaining control of all your symptoms as early as possible can significantly reduce your risk of developing complications such as excessive weight gain leading to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. By treating your symptoms as a whole, you will also address other complications such as fertility and potential difficulties that can occur during pregnancy.

Ways you can take action today

First, please consult with a medical professional to receive a proper diagnosis and consult on a treatment plan that best fits you and your lifestyle. With that said, adopting a healthy lifestyle is vital and is the best single-handed thing you can start today to help gain control of your symptoms, and can improve the chance of pregnancy and a healthy baby. It’s not an old wives tale, it is true that diet and exercise drive the overall health of your body, internally and externally. A healthy, balanced diet (not a restrictive one) and incorporating an active lifestyle will help keep you in a healthy weight range. Cutting back or omitting alcohol altogether, not smoking, practicing stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, yoga, journaling etc., and making sure you are getting enough quality sleep will all improve your symptoms and your chances of conceiving.

For more information please visit your primary care physician and browse this site, for additional articles on engaging in an active lifestyle including balanced eating, stress reducing techniques, and exercise.

Additional Resources: