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  • Dr. Susan

Unraveling the Mystery of PCOS: Understanding Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, affects up to 1 in 10 women of reproductive age, making it one of the most common endocrine disorders in women. Despite its prevalence, PCOS is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, leading to unnecessary suffering and a significant impact on women's quality of life.

Today's show aims to raise awareness about PCOS, providing accurate information about its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options. We will also share practical tips for managing the condition and improving your health and well-being.

Whether you are living with PCOS or simply want to learn more about this condition, we invite you to join the conversation and share your experiences and questions. Together, let's break the silence around PCOS and promote greater understanding, support, and care for all women affected by this condition. Thank you for tuning in.

What Causes PCOS?

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but research suggests that genetics and hormonal imbalances play a significant role in its development. Women with PCOS often have higher levels of androgens, or male hormones, which can interfere with the normal functioning of the ovaries and lead to the formation of cysts.

Insulin resistance is another factor that may contribute to PCOS. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels in the body, but when the body becomes resistant to insulin, the pancreas produces more insulin to compensate, leading to a hormonal imbalance. This can cause the ovaries to produce more androgens and increase the risk of developing PCOS.

Other factors that may increase the risk of developing PCOS include obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. Excess body weight can disrupt hormone levels and increase insulin resistance, while a lack of physical activity can worsen insulin resistance and other metabolic problems associated with PCOS.

There are comorbidities associated with PCOS. Meaning that women with PCOS are at increased risk of developing other health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. It's important to be aware of these risks and take steps to prevent or manage these conditions.

While the exact cause of PCOS remains unclear, it's clear that genetics, hormonal imbalances, and lifestyle factors can all play a role in its development. In the next segment, we will discuss the symptoms of PCOS and how it can impact women's health and well-being.

Symptoms of PCOS

PCOS can cause a wide range of symptoms that can vary in severity and presentation from woman to woman. The most common symptoms of PCOS include irregular periods, acne, excess hair growth, and weight gain, particularly in the abdominal area. Other symptoms may include thinning hair, darkening of the skin, and difficulty getting pregnant.

These symptoms can have a significant impact on a woman's quality of life, affecting her physical health, mental well-being, and social life. Irregular periods, for example, can make it difficult to plan for pregnancy, while excess hair growth and acne can cause embarrassment and lower self-esteem. Weight gain and insulin resistance can also increase the risk of developing other health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

It's essential to recognize that not all women with PCOS will experience the same symptoms, and some may have mild or no symptoms at all. However, for those who do experience symptoms, they can be challenging to manage and may require ongoing medical care and support.

Mental Health and PCOS

PCOS can be associated with anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. It's important to address the emotional and psychological impact of PCOS in addition to the physical symptoms.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing PCOS typically involves a physical exam, blood tests, and imaging tests. Your healthcare provider may order blood tests to check hormone levels, including androgens, insulin, and glucose. They may also recommend an ultrasound to examine your ovaries for cysts or other abnormalities.

Once diagnosed, treatment for PCOS may involve a combination of lifestyle changes, medication, and fertility treatments. Lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet and regular exercise, can help manage weight, reduce insulin resistance, and improve overall health. Medications, such as birth control pills and metformin, can help regulate menstrual cycles, reduce androgen levels, and improve insulin sensitivity. Fertility treatments, such as ovulation induction or in vitro fertilization (IVF), may be necessary for women trying to conceive.

It's essential to emphasize the importance of early diagnosis and treatment in managing PCOS and reducing the risk of complications such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and infertility. Untreated PCOS can lead to long-term health problems, so it's crucial to work with your functional nutritionist or other healthcare provider to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses your unique needs and lifestyle goals.

Fertility

PCOS can also affect fertility, as irregular periods and hormonal imbalances can make it harder to conceive. However, there are fertility treatments available, such as ovulation induction and in vitro fertilization (IVF), that can help women with PCOS become pregnant.

Medication for PCOS

Birth control pills can be an effective treatment for PCOS, as they can regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce excess hair growth and acne. However, they do not treat the underlying hormonal imbalances that cause PCOS, and they may not be suitable for all women, especially those who have a history of blood clots or high blood pressure.

Other medications that may be used to treat PCOS include metformin, which can help improve insulin resistance, and spironolactone, which can reduce excess hair growth and acne.

As with most medications, there is the potential for side effects. Birth control pills cause weight gain. And as I just stated do not fix hormone imbalance.

Metformin can cause absorption issues affecting the digestive system. Symptoms such as nausea, constipation, malabsorption of B12, and other symptoms are common. These symptoms are expected since metformin works by blocking glucose uptake in the gut and also reduces glucose production in the liver.

Spironolactone is used for excessive hair growth in women, known as hirsutism, and works by blocking the relationship between insulin and aldosterone, which is produced in the adrenals. Side effects may include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, cramps, and dry mouth.

Lifestyle and Dietary Recommendations for PCOS

While there is no cure for PCOS, lifestyle and dietary changes can help manage symptoms and improve overall health.

Exercise

Regular exercise, such as walking, jogging, or strength training, can improve insulin sensitivity, promote weight loss, and reduce inflammation.

Diet

A healthy diet that is rich in whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, and low in processed and sugary foods, can also help manage PCOS symptoms.

Foods that are high in fiber, such as beans, nuts, and whole grains, can help regulate blood sugar levels and promote weight loss.

Some women with PCOS may benefit from a low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet, which can help improve insulin resistance and promote weight loss.

Nutritional Supplements for PCOS

Also, certain supplements, such as inositol and omega-3 fatty acids, may also help improve PCOS symptoms.

Here are two of my favorite supplements to use with PCOS and Insulin Resistance:

  1. N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a popular supplement that is often used for PCOS and insulin resistance. Some studies suggest that NAC may help improve insulin sensitivity, lower androgen levels, and improve menstrual regularity in women with PCOS.

  2. Berberine is a natural compound that has been shown to have potential benefits for blood sugar stabilization, PCOS, and insulin resistance. Several studies suggest that berberine may help improve insulin sensitivity, reduce insulin resistance, lower blood glucose levels, and improve lipid profiles in women with PCOS. Berberine may interact with several medications, including antibiotics, anticoagulants, antihypertensive medications, and drugs that are metabolized by the liver.

Berberine Side Effects

o Some specific examples of medications that may interact with berberine include:

  • Antibiotics: Berberine may reduce the effectiveness of certain antibiotics, such as tetracyclines and quinolones.

  • Anticoagulants: Berberine may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with anticoagulant medications such as warfarin.

  • Antihypertensive medications: Berberine may lower blood pressure, which can increase the effects of antihypertensive medications and lead to low blood pressure.

  • Berberine may interfere with the metabolism of certain medications, such as statins and antidepressants, leading to higher levels of these drugs in the body.

Inflammation in PCOS

In addition to hormonal imbalances and genetics, recent research has also identified inflammation as a possible contributor to PCOS. Inflammation is a natural response of the body's immune system to injury or infection, but chronic inflammation can lead to a range of health problems, including PCOS.

One way that inflammation can be identified in the body is through the measurement of inflammatory markers in the blood. Examples of inflammatory markers include C-reactive protein (CRP), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), and interleukin-6 (IL-6). Elevated levels of these markers have been associated with PCOS and other inflammatory conditions.

Researchers are currently investigating a range of treatments that may help to reduce inflammation and improve PCOS symptoms. One promising area of research is the use of anti-inflammatory medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and omega-3 fatty acids. Some studies have also suggested that lifestyle changes, such as following an anti-inflammatory diet and exercising regularly, may help to reduce inflammation and improve PCOS symptoms.

Gut Microbiome

Another emerging treatment for PCOS is the use of gut microbiome-targeted therapies. The gut microbiome refers to the trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in the digestive tract, and research has shown that these microorganisms may play a role in the development of PCOS. Some studies have suggested that certain probiotics and prebiotics may help to rebalance the gut microbiome and improve PCOS symptoms.

It's important to note that research on these emerging treatments is still in the early stages, and more studies are needed to confirm their effectiveness and safety. However, these new developments offer hope for women with PCOS and may lead to more targeted and effective treatments in the future. I have had success working with PCOS when we test these inflammatory markers to know the woman's level of inflammation and dig deeper to find the food, infection, environmental and stress-related causes of their inflammation.

As with other conditions chronic stress and inflammation in PCOS can become a vicious circle, feeding off of each other and making symptoms worse. Chronic stress can exacerbate the symptoms of PCOS and contribute to inflammation and other health problems. It's important to discuss strategies for managing stress, such as mindfulness meditation and relaxation techniques.

Living with PCOS

Living with PCOS can be challenging, but there are practical steps you can take to manage your symptoms and improve your health and well-being. One of the most important things you can do is to follow a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and managing stress. A healthy diet can help manage weight and improve insulin resistance, while regular exercise can help reduce stress and improve overall health.

Lifestyle changes should also include losing weight through a healthy diet and regular exercise, which can be an effective way to manage PCOS symptoms and improve overall health. In fact, losing just 5-10% of body weight can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of complications such as type 2 diabetes.

In addition to lifestyle changes, it's essential to seek support and community as you navigate PCOS. Many women with PCOS find it helpful to connect with others who are going through similar experiences. Support groups and online forums can provide a safe and supportive space to share your thoughts and feelings and learn from others.

Women with PCOS have a higher risk of developing other health problems, such as sleep apnea, depression, and anxiety. It's important for women with PCOS to prioritize their mental and emotional health and to seek support and treatment that works with their goals and their body.

Finally, it's crucial to seek help if you suspect you may have PCOS or if you are experiencing any of the symptoms we discussed earlier. Talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms and concerns, and work together to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses your unique needs and goals.

Remember, PCOS is a manageable condition, and with the right preventive and lifestyle care and support, you can lead a healthy and fulfilling life.

Conclusion

There's a lot of information about PCOS, from its causes and symptoms to its diagnosis and treatment. I hope that this information has been helpful to you and has raised awareness about this common condition that affects so many women.

To recap, PCOS is a hormonal disorder that can cause a wide range of symptoms, including irregular periods, excess hair growth, and weight gain. Although there is no cure for PCOS, there are effective treatments available that can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

It's important to raise awareness about PCOS and to encourage more research into its causes and treatments. By sharing the information you've learned today, you can help others who may be struggling with this condition and promote greater understanding and support.


Do you have PCOS or other hormone concerns? Talk to Dr. Plank, you can do so here!


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