Registered Nurse and Hormone Expert Camille Lawson shares the 7 most common PCOS symptoms and what you can do if you have one (or all) of them.
Did you know that last month there were 40,500 Google searches for PCOS symptoms? That seems like a very high number to me and tells me that women are starved for some facts about the most common endocrine and metabolic disease affecting women of reproductive age (puberty to menopause). Approximately 10-20 % of women in this age group struggle with this problem so you are not alone!
What is PCOS?
It is when cysts on the ovaries cause a hormonal imbalance, leading to many other symptoms (remember that all of our hormones are interrelated and one or two out of balance can cause BIG problems). A woman may have polycystic ovaries, defined as larger than normal ovaries where the undeveloped follicles eggs appear in clumps rather than degenerating as in a normally functioning ovary, without having PCOS, BUT all women with PCOS will have polycystic ovaries. The symptoms caused by the resulting hormonal imbalances define the difference between suffering from PCOS and from polycystic ovaries (often without symptoms).
Typical PCOS Symptoms:
- Irregular or missed periods because of not ovulating (or infrequent ovulation)
- Excess hair growth and/or acne caused by increased androgens (hormones)
- Weight gain often leading to obesity that seems uncontrollable (related to next symptom)
- Hyperinsulinemia (insulin resistance with elevated insulin levels) = Hormone imbalance
- Infertility – PCOS is a leading cause of female infertility
- Mood shifts – resulting hormonal imbalances may cause mood swings, depression and anxiety
- Headaches and/or sleep problems such as insomnia or sleep apnea
Historically, various medications were/are routinely prescribed, such as, birth control pills, Metformin (helps with insulin), and Clomid (induces ovulation) to name a few. More recently, research into nutritional approaches to PCOS has begun to revolutionize the treatment of PCOS. I am such an advocate for using nutrition and the proper supplements to allow our body’s natural ability to be healthy hormonally and otherwise to prevail so these new approaches are exciting and hopeful!
Some recommendations and the rationale behind them are:
- Weight management is key to help hormone levels return to normal – testosterone and insulin levels go down and often significant improvement in ovarian function occurs with weight loss. With weight loss comes improved insulin receptor sensitivity which many researchers think is the key to restoring ovarian functionality. The problem for many women is HOW to lose the weight! New data is showing that using Intermittent Fasting (Only water for 12-16 hours or even 24 hours) may improve insulin sensitivity greatly and promote weight loss with the subsequent hormonal improvements. Many studies now demonstrate this scientifically.
- Reducing net carbs (total carbs – fiber = net carbs) will promote weight loss and improve insulin sensitivity. Cut back on added sugars and grains to help achieve this.
- I love specifically how the femMED products Weight Management (helps normalize blood sugars which in turn helps lose belly fat due to insulin resistance) and their High Fiber Laxative (contains Psyllium and Inulin which both aid in regulating insulin levels) assist in balancing insulin which seems to be the key to managing PCOS.
- Probiotics (beneficial bacteria) have been shown to help control weight because poor levels of good gut bacteria make us store more calories, increase appetite and make us more insulin resistant. Find a good quality one – I like the femMED Probiotic because it does not need to be refrigerated and is very effective.
- Check Vitamin D levels with a simple blood test your physician can order – it is also important in controlling blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity. Low levels of Vitamin D are associated with weight gain in women with PCOS.
Bottom line from my own research is that getting insulin under control by managing weight could well be the number one factor in helping the symptoms of PCOS improve significantly!
As always, I commend you for becoming your own best health advocate – no one will care about your health the way YOU do!
To learn more: Dr John Lee has done extensive research on PCOS so do find some of his work