Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) has been directly linked to the weight gain in some women. If you are following all of the right practices to lose weight and haven’t made progress, or are gaining weight even though you are exercising and have reduced your caloric intake, you may want to ask your doctor about being tested for polycystic ovarian syndrome. Understanding whether or not PCOS is affecting your body can help you to formulate a better plan to gain and manage a healthy weight.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is an endocrine disorder that leads to the growth of small cysts on the ovaries. It can have other effects in your life beyond just making managing a healthy weight difficult. PCOS has also been linked to menstrual and reproductive difficulties as well. It is estimated that 5 to 10 percent of all women will develop PCOS in their lifetime. Treatment can vary from prescription medication to control the endocrine and hormonal levels in the body to prevent cyst growth to surgery to remove the cysts.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
Unfortunately there aren’t very many striking symptoms to let you know that you have developed polycystic ovarian syndrome. Many women are unaware they have it until they begin to experience unexplained weight gain or have difficulty in losing weight. Some women may begin to experience painful menstruation or have erratic menstrual patterns. Only a doctor can diagnose PCOS.
Why does it interfere with weight management?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is an endocrine disorder. This means that the body is producing an imbalance in hormones. Hormones can have a huge effect on your ability to gain or lose weight. The fat around the belly and hips is much different than the fat stored elsewhere around the body. These are estrogen receptor fat cells, fed by estrogen and their presence has recently been linked to an increase in risk for certain types of cancer, including breast cancer. It you have PCOS, your body does not have the right hormone balance to support the processes to convert these fat cells to ketones that can then be consumed by the body. PCOS exists because of a very complicated reaction of the endocrine system to signals that the medical community is just barely beginning to understand. The specifics of how it works in each person varies, which is why treating it can be difficult.
What should I do?
If you have been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, or you suspect that you have it, talk to your doctor. With proper testing, you can receive a diagnosis. From there you and your doctor can discuss a variety of options. While surgery to remove a cyst may be indicated, the concern is that the endocrine system will just keep recreating the problem. Getting the endocrine system under control and balancing the hormones in the body may be your best way to prevent a recurrence and to get back on track to maintaining a healthy weight.
There are a variety of prescription drugs, including Metformin, that your doctor may try to help you get your PCOS under control. They can include everything from hormone therapy to endocrine support medications. There is much you can do to help yourself as well. Making sure that you are eating a balanced diet with the right vitamins and nutrients to support a woman’s endocrine system is essential. It is important to also make adjustments to your diet and supplements as you age to meet your body’s needs.
Certain types of “health foods” may not be the best idea for you to eat if you are trying to manage an endocrine reaction. Certain types of soy help the body to produce estrogen which may not help you with PCOS. A 2005 NIH study showed that a low carb diet could be helpful since insulin resistance is a common condition associated with PCOS.
“Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine disorder affecting women of reproductive age and is associated with obesity, hyperinsulinemia, and insulin resistance. Because low carbohydrate diets have been shown to reduce insulin resistance, this pilot study investigated the six-month metabolic and endocrine effects of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet (LCKD) on overweight and obese women with PCOS…
In this pilot study, a LCKD led to significant improvement in weight, percent free testosterone, LH/FSH ratio, and fasting insulin in women with obesity and PCOS over a 24 week period.” [source]
It is also a good idea to look for more information on any herbal supplements that you take as many are known to have specific hormonal effects that may not be clearly marked on the label as they are sold for a different purpose. The best thing you can do is to talk with your doctor. Bring a list of all the vitamins and supplements you take, along with a copy of your regular diet so you can work together to lessen the chance of PCOS occurring.