What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
While you may never have heard of polycystic ovarian syndrome, it affects 1 in 10 women and is commonly undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because its symptoms vary so greatly. However, it is crucial that women suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are able to identify some of the signs and symptoms associated with this disorder so that they can ensure proper diagnosis and can begin treatment, as symptoms can lead to more serious diseases.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a hormonal disorder within the endocrine system that disrupts the way women ovulate. Women with PCOS produce excessive quantities of androgen hormones, particularly testosterone, and their eggs are not released by their ovaries often causing ovarian cysts. PCOS is commonly treated as purely a gynecological disorder, but it is in actuality a complex endocrine disorder that affects the entire body. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a very serious disorder. In fact, it is the leading cause of infertility in women and can also lead to heart disease and diabetes.
What Causes PCOS?
PCOS is caused by insulin resistance, which leads to the production of excess androgenic hormones. This can be genetic and also caused by environmental factors. Insulin is a hormone that controls how the body processes sugars, starches and other foods. Many women with PCOS have too much insulin in their bodies, because their bodies can’t process it correctly. Excess insulin in the body can then increase the production of androgens, which causes the symptoms of PCOS.
Symptoms of PCOS vary widely, but some of the common symptoms are as follows:
- Excessive weight gain and obesity (even if exercising frequently)
- Irregular or absent periods
- Ovarian cysts
- Excessive facial or body hair
- Skin tags (growths)
- Thinning hair
What to Do If You Suspect You Might Have PCOS
Unfortunately, there is no single test that will diagnose PCOS. However, if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, talk to a healthcare professional who will perform a series of tests to help you determine if you have it, including pelvic exams and blood tests. If you are diagnosed with PCOS, I will be writing another post soon about how to treat it through nutrition therapy, rather than conventional drugs that generally only treat symptoms rather than getting to the root cause.
In a previous post, we discussed the basics of polycystic ovarian syndrome and its causes. This post will address how to treat it naturally without putting harmful drugs into your body.
Conventional drugs, such as oral contraceptives and Metformin, which suppresses glucose production by the liver, do not cure a woman’s resistance to insulin, which is the main cause of PCOS. Instead, they simply mask the symptoms rather than addressing them directly. Other conventional forms of treatment include exercise and a low-calorie diet. However, the best way to naturally treat PCOS is through a balanced, healthy diet, not simply a low-calorie diet. A balanced diet will help the body’s endocrine system produce the right amount of hormones to relieve PCOS symptoms. While we will provide basic dietary guidelines, it’s important to see an endocrinologist or an OBGYN who specializes in PCOS.
Striking a balance when eating meals is the single most important thing for treating PCOS. Your plate should consist of a fairly equal amount of protein, unprocessed carbohydrates and vegetables. It’s important to eat protein throughout the day, ensuring that you start your day with a high-protein breakfast, in order to stabilize your blood sugar and help balance your hormones, including controlling insulin surges. Protein also increases your metabolism most quickly after eating it.
While many people avoid carbohydrates altogether when dieting, this causes extreme hunger. Instead, focus on consuming unprocessed carbohydrates, such as whole grains with high fiber content. Refined carbs, such as white breads and pastas, increase insulin and therefore, increase hunger. Focus on eating protein at the same time you eat carbs, so that it is better digested. Portions should be limited and carbs should consist of about 40% of your daily intake of food.
Vegetables and fruits are a crucial aspect to your diet and provide nutrients, as well as fiber to keep you satiated. Vegetables contain less sugar and carbohydrates than fruit, so they can and should be consumed unlimitedly.
Lastly, healthy fats are key to helping reduce symptoms of PCOS. Saturated fats from butter and fried food can worsen insulin resistance, while healthy, monounsaturated and omega 3 fatty acids support healthy hormone balance and act as an anti-inflammatory. These come from sources such as olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocados and olives.
If you have trouble getting enough of these foods into your diet, you can take additional supplements. The most important omega 3s to incorporate are DHA and EPA. Other helpful supplements include magnesium, chromium, zinc, cinnamon cassius, green tea extract and vitamin D. Herbal and botanical extract supplements can also help balance hormones to relieve PCOS symptoms.
If you’re interested in starting a routine to treat your polycystic ovarian syndrome naturally, speak with our nutritionist, Christine Doolittle, or another healthcare professional who specializes in PCOS.