0800 040 7526
PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) affects millions of women in the UK, and is a condition that effects how womens’ ovaries work.
There are three common features/symptoms that lead to the diagnosis of PCOS and it’s important to note that even two of the features can mean that you have the condition. These are:
A number of cysts that develop around the edge of the ovaries (polycystic ovaries)
A failure to ovulate properly (there can be problems in the release of eggs from the ovaries)
A higher level of male hormones than usual, testosterone hormones that are more active than normal
These can lead to the following symptoms: excessive body hair (hirsutism), irregular or light periods, problems becoming pregnant, weight gain,skin problems like acne and sometimes hair loss from the head
What are polycystic ovaries?
Polycystic ovaries contain a large number of benign or harmless cysts that are usually no bigger than 8mm each. Normal ovaries have only about half this number of cysts.
The cysts are under-developed follicles which contain eggs that have not reached full development. Often in PCOS, these follicles are unable to release an egg, meaning ovulation does not actually take place.
Many women have polycystic ovaries without having the syndrome (so without the symptoms). Some women have the syndrome, but have normal-looking ovaries on ultrasound. Over 60% of women with PCOS are overweight.
Causes of polycystic ovary syndrome
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it can often be hereditary.
Women who are overweight are more at risk of developing PCOS. Many women with PCOS have a family history diabetes and high cholesterol.
It’s also believed that insulin may play a role. Insulin is a hormone (a chemical messenger) that controls sugar levels in the body. As food is consumed blood sugar levels rise. Insulin is then released as a messenger, telling the cells to take in blood glucose and store it in the liver, muscles and also as fat. Only in the presence of insulin can we store fat properly. Many women with PCOS have too much insulin in their body, and/or insulin resistance which contributes both to the increased production and activity of male hormones and increased storage of fat, especially during spikes in blood sugars. These are most commonly brought on via consumption of starchy, processed carbohydrates and sugars.
Treating polycystic ovary syndrome
There’s no cure for PCOS, but the symptoms can be treated. Specific types of contraceptive pill may be prescribed to help regulate the menstrual cycle and improve hair growth. Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight,couples with a reduction of high GI carbohydrates and sugars may help to control some of the symptoms.
Polycystic ovary syndrome is associated with an increased risk of problems in later life, such as adult onset (type 2) diabetes and high cholesterol levels.
There are treatment options for infertility caused by PCOS. There’s also medication to increase ovulation and, in some cases, surgery.
Many women with fertility problems due to PCOS can still have a baby.
Losing weight with PCOS
When you have PCPS, reducing weight by just 10% can bring a return to healthy and regular periods. It will also help with insulin resistance and having too much insulin in the blood stream.
Step 1 – healthy eating
Insulin resistance mans that your body finds it difficult to deal with excess blood sugar levels. As your blood sugar levels become elevated by eating foods with high starch content and a high glycaemic index it makes sense to avoid these foods. These include all processed sugary snacks, starchy root vegetables (potatoes, sewed etc, but NOT sweet potato..That’s OK). All breads and of course pastries are to be avoided and surprisingly many fruits touted as healthy have too much fructose (fruit sugars) in them for your insulin resistance to handle. So avoid bananas, tomatoes, apples, pears, cherries and mangoes. Instead of these foods go for fruit with a lower GI and more fibre like berries (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries). Pulses are great (lentils are the best), beans, nuts and seeds all have lots of fibre, protein and a low GI. Vegetables are great, especially green ones and so are peppers, chillies and onions.
Lean meats are great, all salad leaves, and seeds too.
Step 2 – medication.
Several medications can help with PCOS.
Metformin (Glucophage). Metformin is a diabetes drug that helps the body use insulin more efficiently. It also reduces testosterone production. Some research has found that it can help obese women with PCOS lose weight.
Thiazolidinediones. The drugs pioglitazone (Actos) and rosiglitazone (Avandia) also help the body use insulin. In studies, these drugs improved insulin resistance. But their effect on body weight is unclear. Also, the FDA has restricted Avandia for use in new patients only if they can’t control their blood sugar on other medications and are unable to take Actos. Current users can continue Avandia if they choose to do so. All patients using Avandia must review and fully understand the cardiovascular risks. Research has found that Flutamide (Eulexin), an anti-androgen drug, helps obese women with PCOS lose weight. It also improves their blood sugar levels. The drug can be given alone or with metformin.
Rimonabant (Acomplia). This obesity drug has been shown to promote weight loss in women with PCOS. Once women stop taking rimonabant, they tend to gain the weight back. But starting metformin after rimonabant can help women maintain their weight loss.
Step 3 – exercise
Blood sugar can be removed from the blood in only 2 ways. The first is through the release of insulin..but as POCS promotes insulin resistance then this is limited for sufferers. The second is exercise. Exercise immediately places demand for energy, using blood sugars and lowering high levels. Intense interval training can keep this effect going for several hours after exercise.
As the muscles are where blood sugar energy is stored, it makes sense to ensure that you have plenty of lean muscle to promote proper storage of energy (so not in the fat cells!). Thus strength training is important. The after burn effect of intense strength training will also help keep blood sugars low for extended periods after exercise.