Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) Part 1

For the month of February our blog posts are going to have a focus on Women hormone health issues we are going to look at a few conditions that affect many women one being Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. We will look at what the condition is, common causes, treatment and management options. So let’s get started.

PCOS is a very complex syndrome it affects about one in seven women worldwide (Hecktman, 2013) and is one of the most common endocrine disorders for women of reproductive age. PCOS is a syndrome meaning its condition is characterised by a group of symptoms.

There are a vast number of hormonal imbalances that are intricately intertwined in PCOS. A brief summary is given below, for a more in depth exploration, please read next week’s blog by Denise.

Ovarian cysts are formed when ovulation doesn’t occur as it is supposed to.  Within each ovary there are sacs called follicles that contain eggs.  Normally, one or more eggs are released during each menstrual cycle this is ovulation.  In PCOS the eggs within the follicles do not mature and are not released from the ovaries.  Instead, they form small cysts in the ovary – ovarian cysts. Having ovarian cysts is not enough for a diagnosis of polycystic ovaries.  You also must have other symptoms of PCOS. Typically a combination of the following symptoms is present:

  • Ovarian cysts
  • No menstrual cycle, irregular or infrequent menstrual cycles
  • No ovulation
  • Infertility
  • Hair growth on the upper lip or chin
  • Hair loss from the head
  • Acne
  • Body fat around the waistline
  • Dark skin under the armpits, neck, groin or breasts

What causes PCOS?

PCOS is caused by hormonal imbalances.  An imbalance in a number of different hormones can lead to symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome.  Imbalances in the pituitary, ovaries, pancreatic and adrenal hormones have all been linked to PCOS.  Insulin resistance (a lack of responsiveness to insulin in the cells of your body) is an important factor in the development of PCOS.  Between 60 – 80% of women with PCOS have high concentrations of circulating testosterone, and secrete excessive androgens this excessive secretion impacts the signalling pathways.

Next Week Denise will explain the hormones that are involved and how they affect you. These will include Luteinizing hormone (LH) ,Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) ,Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) and the role Insulin has to play. High levels of insulin, or resistance to insulin in the tissues, is thought to be a primary cause of PCOS. Many believe that insulin imbalances are the first step in the cascade of hormone imbalances that occur in PCOS.

PCOS also has a genetic component – if a family member has it (your mother, aunt or grandmother) then you are more likely to develop it.

The below is a brief you tube clip on PCOS causes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qz4V_oNoclY.

What about treatment?

The cornerstone of treatment for PCOS is improving response of the body to insulin. This often involves exercise and consuming a whole foods diet that is low in refined and processed sugars. Botanical medicines and nutritional supplements may also be used to address specific hormone imbalances such as elevated testosterone or decreased sex hormone binding globulin.

Can my diet affect PCOS?

Absolutely it can, this is due to the way insulin interacts with what we eat. It is really important to consume a diet that is of a whole food base, is natural, and unprocessed. reduce refined carbohydrates, increase protein levels and consume good healthy fats. Avoid foods that are going to stimulate glucose production in your system; these are foods like white rice, white flour, cakes, fizzy drinks, alcohol, caffeine, and all of those high sugary foods. The youtube clip below gives a good explanation as to what types of foods to eat for PCOS.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sC6KwRJD-kQ

There are many diet models out there that you can follow such as the Mediterranean diet, Palo diet etc, but the key to it is keep it simple for you, reduce or if possible remove all high processed,high GI foods stick to whole foods, unprocessed and low GI.I recommend drinking green, spearmint, nettle or oak straw tea, these tea’s are nourishing and full of antioxidants that will also aid in relieving some of the symptoms that you suffer with PCOS.

Next week

Denise will go into more detail on the hormones that are involved in PCOS and how they impact you, she will also speak to you in more detail on managing PCOS. Often this is hard to do alone so please do consider working in with a naturopath that can come up with a treatment plan that will support you.

Reference

Hechtman, L. 2013. Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Saintt Louis: Elsevier Health Sciences APAC, Print.