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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome | PCOS

Written by Paul Kriegler, RD, CPT - Life Time Weight Loss

Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is a puzzling group of symptoms related to hormone function and fertility in women.  There’s no apparent cause for the syndrome, so unfortunately there’s no agreed upon treatment protocol that can be prescribed to work for every woman affected.  In this three-part series, we’ll explore what PCOS is, how it develops, and what one can do about it once it’s diagnosed. 

PCOS is diagnosed when women present with any two of the three following conditions/symptoms:

  • Abnormal or absent menstrual cycle
  • Excess androgens (male hormones) or physical signs of higher levels such as excess body hair, adult acne, or male-pattern baldness
  • Polycystic ovaries (multiple cysts)

As you can see by the definition of the diagnostic criteria above, not every woman with cysts on their ovaries has PCOS, and not every woman with PCOS has polycystic ovaries.  Puzzling?  The good news is it doesn’t take and endocrinology wiz to figure out the delicate dance of female hormones is off-beat. 

Most women will feel the abnormal swings in hormones as it often affects other mood and energy –controlling hormones such as insulin.  Most women will also sense their cycles are irregular, abnormally light or heavy, or completely absent.  Most women will be well aware of excess body hair.  None of those instances require a blood test or medical exam to determine.  Mother Nature gave us the ability to be the best judge of how we feel. 

A few other hints which may indicate an imbalance of normal hormone function commonly observed in PCOS are obesity, insulin resistance or “pre-diabetes”, type 2 diabetes, or acanthosis nigricans – or a darkened, velvety skin condition on the nape of the neck, armpits, or inner thighs.  The obesity pattern seen in women with PCOS usually follows more of the male “apple shape” pattern of weight gain versus the typical fat storage in hips & thighs. 

The exact causes may be a mystery, but according to the Mayo Clinic several factors may play an important role in the development of PCOS.  Let’s look at these in a bit more detail:

  • Heredity.  There’s evidence that shows if your mother or sisters have PCOS, your chances of also having the syndrome are also higher.  Can’t change this factor much…
  • Abnormal fetal development.  Newer research is pointing to imbalance of maternal hormone levels also programming fetal hormone patterns to eventually be out of balance as well.  This is a phenomenon that doesn’t show up in the child until adolescence when puberty starts.  Unfortunately, this factor is as equally difficult to influence as genetics.
  • Low-grade inflammation.  Now we’re talking.  Inflammation has numerous well-known causes (and a few others that we strongly suspect).  In most cases, once the source(s) inflammation is/are discovered, or even suspected, there may be some specific dietary and lifestyle modifications that can be suggested to minimize its effects on overall metabolic function.  Don’t get caught up in how different dietary components affect biochemical pathways or hormone function.  Just know that carrying out certain behaviors can reduce and minimize inflammation, and the outcome of those behaviors will lead to fewer negative effects of inflammation.  Then do the behaviors – consistently. 
  • Excess insulin.  This is not an isolated problem to PCOS or even women for that matter.  We’ve raised several points of concern about dietary trends contributing to insulin resistance and have provided recommendations to minimize the chances of IR progressing to full blown diabetes.  Insulin is, by simplest definition, a growth and storage hormone.  If one wants to grow less and store less energy (as fat), one must stimulate insulin less violently and less often.  The nice part is many of these dietary modifications also go hand in hand with controlling inflammation (and losing body fat); reducing overall carbohydrates, increasing natural & omega-3 fats, and eating adequate proteins and plants to build resiliency.   

From my perspective, there’s enough info sprouting from these symptoms & conditions to put together a list of nutrition-related behavior changes miles long - behaviors which may minimize and even reverse the presence of some of these symptoms, simply by enabling the body to better heal.   We’ll explore those behaviors in a future article.  For now, please share your experiences and questions below!

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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Reader Comments (4)

Are any other symptoms aside from the three given above like headache, nausea or something? I'm experiencing two of the symptons above, does it mean I have a PCOS?-Sarah-

January 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCheap Brochure Printing

Good Question. Unfortunately, the article is not meant to diagnose you with PCOS, just merely educate people about it. There are several other symptoms in addition to the "diagnostic" criteria listen above, many of which will be discussed in part two of the series. If you are struggling with the symptoms mentioned, please visit your physician, as you'll need to partner with them for successful management of any diesease process relating to these symptoms. Stay tuned!

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Kriegler, RD/LD

It is true that many women with PCOS also suffer from Candida overgrowth?

October 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPCOS and Pregnancy

@ PCOS & Pregnancy, this relationship is not quantified well in research, so there is not a solid relationship to describe here.

October 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Kriegler, RD/LD

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