PCOS – What is It? Why is It? Now What?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of those misnamed conditions.
You would think from the name of the condition that someone with PCOS would have multiple cysts on their ovaries, but that’s not necessarily so. PCOS is a syndrome, a group of signs and symptoms associated with a particular disease or disorder.
Cysts are not necessarily formed in PCOS. And, according to USC Fertility, a group of doctors who research fertility treatments, the “cysts” that do form aren’t really cysts.
Confused yet? Here’s what the experts say:
PCOS is a chronic hormonal imbalance that causes the production of high levels of androgens, the “male” hormones including testosterone and androstenedione. (Although, as an aside, there’s really no such thing as “male hormones” and “female hormones”. Men and women have all the same hormones. The only difference is in the proportion of those hormones, and their functions.)
But What Causes the Hormonal Imbalance?
What causes this hormonal imbalance? Good question. According to the Mayo Clinic, the exact cause of this imbalance is unknown, although it is generally believed to originate in the pituitary gland and the ovaries. According to others, high insulin resistance is a major physiological driver of PCOS and is what causes the ovaries to generate an overabundance of androgens. Still others claim that it is a metabolic disorder.
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The Trouble with PCOS
One thing that the experts do agree on is that PCOS is very troublesome. It creates a wide range of symptoms that can include:
- irregularities in the menstrual cycle
- oily skin or acne on the face, chest, and upper back
- weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- skin tags
- darkening of the skin along the neck creases, groin, and underneath the breasts
- thinning hair or loss of hair on the scale (male-pattern baldness)
- too much hair in traditionally male areas such as the chin and face
And if that’s not troublesome enough, women with PCOS are at greater risk of developing other health problems later in life not the least of which are endometrial cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
If you do have PCOS, you’re not alone. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, PCOS affects one in ten women of child-bearing age.
Treatments for PCOS
But all is not lost. There are treatments for PCOS. There are no cures, but there are ways in which the symptoms can be reduced or eliminated. Some of these remedies are pharmaceutical and there are also some natural remedies that are reportedly effective. The Mayo Clinic suggests maintaining a healthy weight, limiting carbohydrates, and being active daily.
The diet recommendations for controlling PCOS are what you would expect. An article in Medical News Today outlines the do’s and don’ts of healthy eating for those with PCOS:
- natural, unprocessed foods
- high-fiber foods
- fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel
- kale, spinach, and other dark, leafy greens
- dark red fruits, such as red grapes, blueberries, blackberries, and cherries
- broccoli and cauliflower
- dried beans, lentils, and other legumes
- healthful fats, such as olive oil, as well as avocados and coconuts
- nuts, including pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, and pistachios
- dark chocolate in moderation
- spices, such as turmeric and cinnamon
Foods to Avoid:
- refined carbohydrates, such as mass-produced pastries and white bread
- fried foods, such as fast food
- sugary beverages, such as sodas and energy drinks
- processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausages, and luncheon meats
- solid fats, including margarine, shortening, and lard
- excess red meat, such as steaks, hamburgers, and pork
Those diet recommendations are probably good advice for anyone, but ladies with PCOS might find following them makes their lives easier. And that’s a good thing.
Don’t Try This at Home
Diagnosis of and treatment for PCOS is definitely not a DIY project. If you have PCOS, or even suspect that you do, you’d be very wise to consult your healthcare professional without delay.