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Understanding PCOS

Wondering how to manage PCOS? PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS affects 5 to 18% of all women and is the most common hormonal disorder in women. It is also one of the most common causes of female infertility. PCOS is often missed by practitioners, especially if women have always had irregular periods. Many women are offered hormonal birth control to manage the condition and that can often make the situation worse.

What is PCOS (and how can it affect my menopause?)

PCOS is a condition linked to the way the body processes insulin after it has been produced by the pancreas to regulate blood sugar (glucose). Insulin is the key that opens the door on the cell wall to allow glucose inside to be used for energy. With many modern diets that are high in simple carbohydrates combined with not as much exercise, blood sugar is often high and so insulin is often elevated to try to manage blood sugar levels. Too much insulin over time damages the ability of the body’s cells to properly utilize insulin to convert glucose to energy. This process creates Insulin Resistance. Some people may have a genetic predisposition to insulin resistance, while others develop the condition through high stress and unhealthy lifestyle choices, particularly through eating lots of simple carbs which are broken down quickly into glucose.

ELI5 (Explain Like I’m Five - Insulin Resistance!)

Insulin resistance significantly reduces the insulin sensitivity of cells, which makes it hard for glucose to get through the cell door and be converted to energy. Insulin will no longer act as the key to the door to allow glucose into the cell. As a result, glucose remains in the bloodstream, causing elevated levels of blood sugar. Because this is dangerous for the body, the excess glucose is sent to the liver to be converted into fat molecules. Fat molecules are then shunted out and stored in all the places we know! This process can lead to weight gain. Some types of fat cells themselves can raise insulin levels still further!

How Insulin Affects Your Hormones

Too much insulin circulating also stimulates the ovaries and the adrenal gland to produce larger amounts of testosterone, which may prevent the ovaries from releasing a follicle each month. The follicles may still begin to develop one per month, but higher testosterone levels than normal signals “don’t ovulate.” This means that there are a growing number of half-grown follicles in the ovary which become cysts – hence the name Poly (many) Cystic (cysts). Higher amounts of testosterone can also increase estradiol levels creating a situation where the body has too much estradiol that is not balanced out by progesterone. Most progesterone comes from the sack around the egg after it ovulates. So, we have the situation with high estrogen, not balanced by progesterone. The balance between all the hormones is gradually upset which has a further effect on weight gain, the formation of further cystic follicles or ovarian cysts, and mood imbalance.

What Does PCOS Look Like?

There are several symptoms of PCOS including:

· irregular or completely absent periods

· obesity

· acne

· depression

· exhaustion

· lack of mental alertness

· excessive facial or body hair

· male pattern hair loss

· skin tags

· decreased sex drive

Because the symptoms vary so widely and not all women display all the symptoms, conventional practitioners can misdiagnose PCOS. This is a problem because studies show that women suffering from PCOS have a higher risk of coronary heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes.

Dealing With PCOS

A practitioner skilled in understanding the intricacies of metabolism and its impact on hormone balance can recognize symptoms of PCOS and confirm its diagnosis in a couple of different ways. Testing hormones in saliva is a quick and effective way to identify if PCOS may exist. High testosterone levels will show in salivary hormone test years before a serum test for testosterone will register an increase in testosterone. This is because saliva testing measures the bioavailable levels of hormones circulating in the body, whereas serum testing measures the total levels of hormone circulating. Saliva hormone testing will also measure levels of Progesterone, and Estradiol. Progesterone is often low in women with PCOS because cycles with no ovulation result in no surge of progesterone.

PCOS can be reversed with a combination of the following: nutritional supplementation, lifestyle changes to regulate blood sugar, a realistic exercise program, bioidentical progesterone hormone supplementation, diet that is rich in lean protein and low on carbohydrates, and perhaps medication that can help lower insulin levels if needed.

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PCOS CAN be Reversed!

The most important thing to know about PCOS is that it can be reversed. The steady rise in PCOS is strongly matched by the decrease in food quality, regular exercise, and average amount of sleep. Stress can make the whole hormone picture even worse. Learning to manage stress with exercise, therapy, stress reduction techniques like yoga, stretching, meditation are all part of the plan to restore balance and regular cycles.