Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder among women that we are all familiar with — whether you have it or you know someone who has it. But sometimes the facts on PCOS get confusing. Women are often told by doctors they have PCOS due to their weight, but in reality the issue is actually about hormone levels and insulin, the master hormone.
Penn Medicine states that the correlation between weight and PCOS is about the body’s inability to use insulin properly (Insulin Resistance), which can lead to weight gain. But PCOS affects women of all shapes and sizes. Often, lifestyle changes are recommended so that the way your body uses insulin can change, and, thus, this may better regulate your hormone levels.
Usually, there are three main symptoms of PCOS. Irregular periods, the absence of periods, or prolonged periods; more male hormones (androgens) — which can cause excess facial and body hair, acne, and thinner scalp hair or male-pattern baldness; and multiple ovarian cysts.
Experts say that if you have at least two of these PCOS symptoms, doctors will see if PCOS is the cause. Complications can occur down the line, such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes, so it’s best to see a doctor if you are exhibiting any symptoms of PCOS, or even better, it's a signal that lifestyle changes need to be made.
Despite what we know about PCOS, there are some facts that are not spoken about and here are a few of them:
1 - You Are Not Alone
Don’t be disheartened because you are not alone. 1 in 10 women of childbearing age are affected by some form of PCOS, it is that common! Silver lining here is that there are efficient ways of managing and reversing the problem.
2 - No Prescription/Medicine for Curing PCOS
Your doctors will mostly prescribe you birth control pills and/or Metformin. Not only do they have serious side effects, they end up only masking the symptoms instead of curing them. There is nothing wrong with taking medication when it is actually needed, but there is enough research to show that lifestyle and dietary changes should be the first line of defence!
3 - Diet and Lifestyle changes are Indeed the First Line of Treatment
If you are consuming processed and inflammatory foods, you cannot expect your hormones to come into balance. Learn about the foods that are scientifically good for you, and get moving so that you get the blood circulating and those endorphins going. Make these a part of your lifestyle for the long run.
4 - You CAN get Pregnant
It may take longer than usual, but if you pay more attention to your lifestyle, diet and cycles more than other women, women with PCOS can start a family.
5 - Stress Aggravates PCOS
When in stress, the brain signals the body to produce more cortisol, adrenaline, nor-adrenaline as well as additional androgens (male hormones). All these affect the body’s ability to function normally.
6 - Cysts may not be present in all PCOS cases
Diagnosis in now largely based upon symptoms dubbed the “Rotterdam” criteria.*
These criteria include the original National Institutes of Health** and EAE-PCOS Society diagnostic criteria. To be diagnosed with PCOS, a woman must present two out of the three criteria:
Polycystic Ovaries (on an ultrasound)
Even with these criteria in place, diagnosis can be tricky. Characteristics can vary widely based on life stage, genotype, ethnicity, and environmental and lifestyle factors such as body weight and eating habits. Birth control pills may also interfere with test results because they lower androgen levels.
7 - You are likely to have Nutrient Deficiencies
Most women with PCOS have some level of nutrient deficiencies. It could be caused due to inadequate nutrition or consumption of inflammatory foods. It could be a genetic mutation like MTHFR that makes processing certain nutrients difficult. Birth control pills and Metformin both deprive the body of vitamin B, so pay special attention to your levels of vitamin D, magnesium, omega 3, inositol, and zinc.
8 - You can thrive despite having PCOS!
Owing to a woman’s qualities of having higher pain thresholds, superior spatial skills, and the fact that they have stronger bones and muscles, with the right guidance, all the issues related can be resolved so that you may live the best possible life with PCOS.
*Rotterdam ESHRE/ASRM- Sponsored PCOS Consensus Workshop Group. Revised 2003 Consensus on diagnostic Criteria and Lon-Term Health Risks Related to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Fertility and Sterility, 2004; 81, 19.
**Zawadaki, R and Dockerty M, Diagnostic Criteria for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: Towards a Rational Approach. In: Dunaif A, Given JR, Jaseltine F, Merriam GR, editors. Current Issues in Endocrinology and Metabolism: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Boston: Blackwell Scientific, 1992: 337.
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