Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (or PCOS) is a metabolic disorder that affects around 8-12% of women at reproductive age, and is one of the biggest causes of infertility amongst women. Today we’re going to be covering a very brief overview of the condition, but also ways in which symptoms can be reversed and fertility prospects to be improved.
What Is PCOS & Its Associated Complications?
If you’re reading this, chances are you have PCOS, or you know someone who does. If you do, you may be aware of the type of symptoms the condition causes, including delayed periods, difficulty ovulating and resulting fertility problems, increased hair growth, acne and difficulty losing weight. It’s important to understand from your doctor, what type of PCOS you have – as you can be oestrogen dominant, or have high levels of testosterone. If you have high testosterone levels, you will likely experience the excessive hair growth and acne, this is due to increasing insulin levels which cause the ovaries to overproduce androgens, male hormones like testosterone.
PCOS can cause insulin resistance in 50-70% of women with the condition, which means that the body stops recognising the signals insulin hormones are sending, and the body starts producing more to compensate for this. In simple terms, the body essentially turns away the insulin, which means sugar is not used for energy and is stored as fat instead. Not only does this lead to increased weight gain, it also makes it difficult for women with PCOS to lose weight, it leads to increased cravings of sugary foods that spike insulin, and increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Other associated conditions of PCOS include hypertension (increased blood pressure), which exists in 22% of women with the condition, compared to 2% without. Depression is also generally experienced in 35% of women with PCOS, bipolar disorder affecting 11.1%, anxiety (recorded to range in prevalence anywhere between 13-63%) and eating disorders – with 12.6% of those affected compared to 2% of women without the condition.
How Is Polycystic Ovaries Treated Currently?
As an immediate management of the condition, the oral contraceptive pill is often recommended, since there is a version that specifically targets excess testosterone secretion. However, the pill has a masking effect of the problem, which means when you cease taking it the problems will most likely return because they haven’t been dealt with. Contrary to popular belief, PCOS symptoms can be reversed by making lifestyle changes like diet management, supplementation, taking care of your sleep and having an exercise program. We’re going to discuss ways in which you can reverse the symptoms and take back control of your fertility, the main focus of which will be through reducing cortisol levels and lowering inflammation.
How Can You Adjust Your Diet To Help PCOS?
With most women with PCOS experiencing insulin resistance, one of the first things to do would be to monitor your intake of sugar and complex carbohydrates. Consuming a diet high in protein and fat, with less than 50-80g of carbohydrates a day has been shown to be effective at helping women with PCOS to lose weight, and reduce the need for insulin to store sugar. With women with PCOS also experiencing high levels of inflammation in the body, this can be seen through your levels of C Reactive Protein in the body, you may find following a gluten and dairy free lifestyle to be effective, in combination to reducing intake of carbohydrates to below 80g. Gluten and dairy products are often linked to excess inflammation in the body, so cutting them out for at least 1 month should give you an idea as to whether that will work for you. You may find this to be helpful in reducing uncomfortable side-effects of PCOS such as bloating, and increased feeling of wellbeing. Other foods that may be helpful to incorporate are flax seeds and adaptogen herbs. Flax seeds have been shown to naturally reduce androgen levels, while adaptogen herbs are thorough to help the body function optimally by reducing cortisol levels and balancing hormones. Introducing ‘probiotics’ into your diet has also been shown to be helpful. Improving gut function and flora can help with inflammation levels, and boost serotonin levels which is vital for your mental health.
What Supplements Can Be Used To Help Polycystic Ovaries?
Getting the right supplements can be a real game-changer for managing PCOS symptoms. Incorporating vitamin D and calcium can be helpful, as these are found to be deficient in most women with the condition. Above all, the debate between taking metformin versus a supplement like inositol is one of the most talked about changes. Metformin is often recommended for women with PCOS as it is an insulin sensitising medication, however it does have many side effects that are particularly unpleasant. An alternative that can be purchased from a health food store is inositol. Inositol is a B-vitamin that is made naturally by your body, but has been shown to be very beneficial as a supplement taken by women with PCOS.
The two forms of inositol can be found in certain supplements, or just the one form of either D-chiro inositol and myo-inositol. D-chiro inositol restores normal insulin sensitivity around the body to reduce insulin and androgens, meaning ovulation can occur more frequently. Whereas myo-inositol operates mainly within the ovaries to regulate the production of hormones such as testosterone, and maintain their regular function. An imbalance has been found in women with PCOS, who overproduce D-chiro inositol and underproduce myo-inositol, therefore androgen production in the ovaries increases. This is why most supplements you may find contain just myo-inositol. However, finding a good supplement that contains both, in a ratio of 40:1 myo-inositol to D-chiro inositol, can greatly benefit women with PCOS. This supplement has also been found to have no side-effects, so is a potentially more suitable treatment to metformin. Do make sure to consult your doctor if you’re considering taking supplements for your PCOS.
What Kind Of Exercise Can Help Polycystic Ovaries?
Carrying out moderate level exercise between 3 and 5 times a week can be a good way to reduce risk of Type 2 Diabetes by improving insulin resistance, weight loss and reducing blood pressure. It can also help improve mental health. Exercising at aerobic intensity (i.e. not high intensity) has been shown to improve ovulation and menstrual cycle regulation, but this must be combined with alteration of diet in order to see results. Both exercising too much and eating too little can increase cortisol levels in the body, which can create further insulin resistance and inflammation. Not taking into account your carbohydrate and sugar consumption with PCOS can also cause inflammation that exercise cannot fix, so it’s important to see it as a package deal if you want to improve your wellbeing and reproductive health.
Overall, PCOS that is managed incorrectly can cause increased cortisol and inflammation in the body, as you are more susceptible to suffering as a result of a stressful lifestyle. Improving your diet by keeping an eye on your carbohydrate consumption, and increasing activities that help to naturally reduce stress will be very helpful for you. This means making sure you’re getting plenty of sleep, cutting out caffeine completely, meditation, eating good quality foods and the right kind of intensity level of exercise – these can all help to reverse symptoms associated with PCOS, while these in combination with the right supplements can help get your fertility back on track. It’s important to note that these activities will need to be sustained for the long-haul, you may see an improvement in your health in a short space of time, but slipping back into old habits will see those symptoms likely return.
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