PCOS Awareness Month – What you need to know.

What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?

According to the PCOS Awareness Association, about 10 million women worldwide are affected by Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, otherwise known as PCOS.  The exact cause of this syndrome has not been identified, hormonal problems have been considered, along with the involvement of genetics and various external environmental factors.  PCOS is the leading cause of infertility in women and can affect the body both emotionally and physically.  Hormones which are affected by PCOS include Androgens (also referred to as “male hormones”), Insulin and Progesterone.

There is no special test to confirm whether or not you have PCOS.  Doctors start the diagnosis by taking a look at your history, paying special attention to the menstrual cycle, weight changes, acne and hair loss/growth.  This is followed by a look into the family history and a physical exam.  Lab tests may include blood sugar and androgen levels, as well as a sonogram to evaluate the ovaries.

PCOS

Symptoms of PCOS

Some symptoms of PCOS may begin shortly after puberty, while some symptoms can develop during the later teen years and during the stages of early adulthood.  Because these symptoms can be tied with other causes, PCOS may go undiagnosed for some time.

According to PCOS Awareness Association, women with PCOS typically have irregular periods, or even miss periods due to the fact they are not ovulating.  Some women may develop cysts on their ovaries, while some do not.

Other symptoms include:

  • About half of women will have problems with their weight if they have PCOS. This weight gain and obesity will be difficult to manage. 
  • Poor sleep, fatigue and low energy levels have been reported in women with PCOS.
  • Women with PCOS are also affected by unwanted hair growth and hair loss (which increases in middle aged women). Areas affected may include the face, arms, back, chest, thumbs, toes, and abdomen.
  • PCOS is one of the leading causes of female infertility. However, not every case of PCOS is the same, some women may need assistance with falling pregnant and others are able to conceive naturally.
  • With PCOS affecting the hormones, changes related to Androgens can lead to Acne Problems. Other changes that can happen to the skin include the development of skin tags and darkened patches of skin. Hormonal unbalance can also cause headaches, mood swings, depression and anxiety in women.
  • Intense or increased pelvic pain can occur during periods, along with heavy bleeding. These paid an also occur outside of a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Is there a Cure or Treatment?

Although there is no cure for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, there are some treatments that could help with the condition and that will help prevent future complications.  Remember PCOS affects women differently so treatments will vary from woman to woman.

Here are some tips that could help with PCOS:

  • Keep your diet healthy: Healthy diets paired with regular exercise is highly recommended for all women, whether PCOS has been diagnosed or not.  This will assist with the weight gain and will assist in regulating not only the menstrual cycle and lower blood sugar levels.
  • Herbs and Supplements: There are many different herbs and supplements that you can take to support ovulation and to keep your hormones in balance:
    • Cod Liver Oil is rich in Omega-3 EFA’s. By consuming the omega-3 essential fatty acids you can lose weight, put some balance into your hormones as well as create a healthy environment for conception.  Omega-3 EFA’s have also shown to aid hormonal regulation while reducing inflammation.
    • Maca assists in balancing estrogen and progesterone in the body which encourages a healthy menstrual cycle, it is able to do this by nourishing the endocrine system. Even though it assists in balancing the hormones, it does not contain any hormones itself.
    • A study published by Fertility and Sterility showed that Cinnamon greatly reducing insulin resistance in women with PCOS. Another study proved that cinnamon reduces insulin by slowing the movement of food from the stomach to the intestine – when this happens the breakdown of carbohydrates slows down which helps women with diabetes and PCOS.
    • Calcium and Vitamin D play significant roles in many part of the body. When PCOS is involved, calcium will protect cardiovascular health while Vitamin D assists with glucose metabolism.  A small study showed that after being given regular doses of Vitamin D and Calcium started to return to regular healthy menstrual cycles.  Great food sources of Vitamin D include cod liver oil, eggs, salmon, mackerel, tuna and whole fat yogurt or other dairy products, and don’t forget you get Vitamin D for free from the beautiful sun.  Calcium can be found in kale, turnips, collards, mustard greens, kelp and wakame seaweed. Hiziki, a type of seaweed has 10 times more calcium than a glass of milk.
  • Visit your local doctor: Ask your doctor about medication that may help you.  Anti-androgens are prescription drugs that assist in lowering the male hormone levels.  Not only will this help with the excess hair growth but it will reduce acne.  Diabetes medicine can also be prescribed by your doctor to keep your blood sugar and testosterone levels under control.
  • Surgery is recommended for some cases: Ovarian drilling is a procedure where the doctor carries a small electric current to part of the ovary.  This will destroy the part of the ovary which has the problem.  It is a short-term solution that promotes ovulation and lowers male hormone levels.

The sooner you diagnose PCOS the better.  Avoid smoking and schedule regular exercise into your schedule and this will lower the risk of these complications.  All the symptoms of PCOS, such as the hormonal imbalance and weight gain can be managed if you take the proper precautions and look after your body.  The best step forward is to talk to your doctor about PCOS and what it means for you, your overall health and what steps you can take to prevent serious complications.

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