Have you heard of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS?
Maybe you’re even thinking, “Yes, I have PCOS.”
After all, it’s believed that 10%-20% of all women have some form of PCOS — it’s one of the most common hormone disorders in women.
I was (possibly) one of them. To this day I still don’t know for sure if I had PCOS — no doctor ever had a conversation with me about it, but I did see it listed on an ultrasound report once and had quite a few of the telltale signs.
The good news is that PCOS typically stems from a few common root causes and that in addressing these root causes, you can start setting your hormones back on track to find relief.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS is a complex hormonal condition that’s usually marked by cysts on the ovaries, insulin resistance, higher levels of androgen hormones, and an irregular menstrual cycle.
The extra androgen hormones disrupt the menstrual cycle, which is why women with PCOS typically menstruate less frequently.
It’s estimated that 10% of all women have some type of PCOS.
Common PCOS Symptoms
Women with PCOS experience a range of symptoms, including:
- Irregular periods
- Weight gain and difficulty losing weight
- Hair loss
Though there’s no single test to diagnose PCOS, your doctor will ask about these symptoms. She may also test your fasting blood sugar levels and request an ultrasound of your ovaries
to look for cysts.
Is PCOS Treatable?
Unfortunately, polycystic ovary syndrome goes widely undetected and treated in up to 70 percent of those who suffer.
But for those who are diagnosed, there are a number of different treatments, both conventional and with a functional medicine approach (my preferred approach, as you can likely guess!).
Conventional medicine will have you believe that medication is the only way to “treat” PCOS. However, please know that you do have control and can address your PCOS and symptoms using targeted nutrition, supplementation, and lifestyle as tools.
The best and most effective PCOS treatment will depend on the type of PCOS you’re experiencing and the root causes.
4 Most Common PCOS Causes + 1 BONUS Consideration
High insulin can interfere with ovulation plus drive androgen hormones up.
This is why so many women with PCOS are then often prescribed diabetic medications. But it’s not the only way to treat insulin resistance and improve PCOS symptoms — diet and lifestyle are both key here.
Work to stabilize your blood sugar levels by balancing your meals with quality protein, healthy fats, and nutrient dense carbohydrates.
Managing stress is also extremely important since elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol raise blood sugar levels and insulin levels in turn.
HORMONAL BIRTH CONTROL
Stopped birth control and your period has gone missing? Could be post-pill PCOS.
It is actually quite common as we can experience a surge in androgen hormones when coming off the pill, or the “androgen rebound.”
The synthetic hormones in birth control shut down communication between the brain and the ovaries, so it can take work to make sure they’re talking again.
Inflammation is another big factor in PCOS since chronic inflammation can prevent ovulation, disrupt hormone receptors leading to imbalances, and can increase cortisol which can result in high androgens like DHEA and testosterone.
An unhealthy diet is one of the most significant sources of chronic inflammation. In addition to a focus on balanced blood sugar levels as noted above, fill your plate with nutrient-dense real foods spanning the rainbow and so rich in a variety of different nutrients. Limit processed foods and refined sugars as much as possible.
Gut imbalances and infections are another huge source of inflammation. This is just one of the many reasons I believe you can’t have healthy hormones with a digestive system that isn’t working efficiently! And it’s important to note that gut health goes way beyond taking probiotics, and you may need a stool test to look for imbalances.
Stress has an incredible impact on our hormonal health and balance, so it’s no wonder that it can be a driving force behind PCOS in some women.
When we have extra stress and elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, DHEA levels go up to help compensate. The thing is: high DHEA can then trigger elevated estrogen and testosterone.
NOTE ABOUT HYPOTHYROIDISM
PCOS and hypothyroidism are two very different conditions but share many similar features. It is estimated that around 25% of women with PCOS have hypothyroidism. While there isn’t currently any evidence that hypothyroidism directly causes PCOS, hypothyroidism can lead to polycystic like ovaries.
Primary hypothyroidism raises thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) which leads to an increase in prolactin and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). The rise in prolactin can contribute to inhibiting ovulation due to the changes it makes to follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). This process can also increase your adrenal DHEA, which can also contribute to elevated estrogen and testosterone which can be seen with PCOS. (source)
Increased TSH can also have a spill-over effect on FSH receptors which can lead to low FSH production.
Your thyroid hormones also increase sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). Women with PCOS can have lower levels because it works to bind up free testosterone in the body and make them inactive. A sluggish thyroid can lead to low SHBG which can increase testosterone levels as seen in some PCOS.
Hypothyroidism should be ruled out when you think or are told you have PCOS. First step is to properly test your thyroid. You need a TSH, free T3, free T4, reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies.
Navigating and addressing PCOS can be complex, confusing, and frustrating when you try to go it alone.
But success rates go up significantly when you get the right support!
Ready to dive deep into your health? To get a clear picture of your hormones with functional diagnostic testing so we can create a tailored plan to restore balance?
Now let’s keep the conversation going in the comments!
Do you have or do you suspect you may have PCOS?
Which PCOS type seems most relevant to you?
What small step will you start taking today?
Please let us know so we can continue guiding you in your health journey!