Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and What You Can Do to Deal with It

As a woman, it is absolutely essential to keep the sex hormones balanced if you want to enjoy a healthy future.

This is particularly important as a woman ages. Having the hormones balanced is important, as it contributes towards general immunity and it improves metabolism. The person who has their hormones under control will feel youthful and joyful.

In the hectic 21st century, high levels of stress, poor nutrition, liver toxicity because of all the pollutants we breathe in and a sedentary lifestyle all contribute to the quick development of hormone-related conditions such as weight gain, fertility problems, acne and irregular periods with younger women.

Small Cysts lead to Hormonal Imbalances

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is when a woman's hormones are out of balance. Left untreated, it can over time, increase the risks of developing health problems later on. Most women develop small cysts on their ovaries. These are not harmful as such but they can lead to hormonal imbalances. It can be distressing because PCOS can result in a woman developing certain male characteristics such as -

thinning hair
hair on the face or chest
a decrease in breast size
a deeper voice

While not dealing with symptoms of PCOS, some women battle with other concurrent health problems such as high cholesterol and diabetes.

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but doctors believe that genetics can play a role and that women are more likely to develop the ailment if their mothers had the condition.

Certain factors are taken into account with diagnosing PCOS -

irregular menstrual periods -  the average menstrual cycle is 28 days long, so if your periods last 35 days or longer, or even if you skip a period, PCOS could be the cause.
hyperandrogenism - too much male hormones - all women produce small amounts of male hormones like testosterone, but with PCOS, women produce unusually large amounts. This is what leads to the condition known as hirsutism (excessive body hair). Overproduction of the hormone androgen is also believed to be a contributing factor to PCOS. Androgen is a male sex hormone that women also produce, but with PCOS, the levels are too high. Androgens play a key role in estrogen synthesis, but low androgen levels can be a problem as well, producing effects such as fatigue, bone loss and low libido. For many women, this decline in androgen causes hot flushes and bone loss. In fact, this decline in hormonal levels as we age leads to those typical age related issues such as loss of lean muscle mass, decreased bone density, thinning of the skin as well as other degenerative ailments such as cardiovascular disease.
follicles in the ovaries - this is usually determined with pelvic ultrasound. These ovarian follicles are fluid-filled sacs containing cells. Normally one of these follicles develops into an egg, but because of fluctuating hormones with PCOS, eggs are not released and follicles collect within the ovaries.

Dealing with PCOS

To deal with PCOS, a trip to the doctor will require providing some medical history. The doctor may examine you and request blood tests to measure hormone levels. Treatment for PCOS is about managing the condition to prevent complications.

  • A healthy diet as well as exercise are recommended as the most important way forward, particularly those who are overweight. This can help to regulate your menstrual cycle and lower your blood glucose levels. A nutritious diet will certainly help to reduce the risk of developing symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome. It will help with weight management and help to regulate insulin levels. A qualified dietitian can help you understand your dietary and lifestyle changes.  Low GI foods for instance can improve and help balance insulin levels. Fruits are rich in fiber so aim for two to three portions of fruit per day and increase your vegetable intake. Unsaturated fats are also essential in managing the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome.
  • Women who are not looking to become pregnant may be prescribed birth control pills with estrogen and progestin. The birth control pills will protect you against endometrial cancer. Birth control pills provide estrogen and progestin which prevents this overgrowth.
  • Some women cannot use dual-hormone birth control pills, and then other treatments might include a progestin-releasing intrauterine device that prevents endometrial overgrowth.
  • There are also other non-prescription treatments for hirsutism and acne.

If you have symptoms of PCOS, see a doctor. PCOS is a common hormonal disturbance affecting women, and blood sugar imbalances is a typical symptom of the condition, along with menstrual problems, weight gain and infertility problems.

If you are overweight or trying to lose weight, the better choice of nutrition, exercise and stress reduction are just some of the tools you need to combat PCOS and strengthen your immune system. Once a diagnosis is made, look at the different treatment options available to you to control future problems. 

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1. NEJM Journal Watch. Diane E. Judge, APN/CNP. October 8, 2014. A Guide to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Available at http://www.jwatch.org/na35848/2014/10/08/guide-polycystic-ovary-syndrome.
2. Nutritionist Resource. Home>Nutrition Topics>Women's nutrition>Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Available at http://www.nutritionist-resource.org.uk/articles/polycystic-ovary-syndrome.html

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