What Is PCOS?

PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, is a common health problem that affects one in 10 women. It’s marked by three main symptoms: cysts in the ovaries, higher levels of male hormones (or androgens), and irregular periods. The hormone imbalance that is a part of PCOS can lead to some undesirable symptoms, including facial and body hair growth, acne, weight gain, and infertility. 

Symptoms of PCOS

With PCOS, a woman does not ovulate regularly, which can mean periods come every few months or not at all. When periods do come, the bleeding is likely to be heavy since the uterine lining has more time to build up. Weight gain is another common symptom, affecting up to 80 percent of women with PCOS.

In more than 70 percent of women with PCOS, the higher levels of androgens cause hair to grow on the face or other body parts. The androgens also can make the skin oilier, leading to acne breakouts on the face, chest, and back.

PCOS and Your Health

The hormone imbalance and lack of ovulation that come with PCOS affect your health in several ways. For one, without regular ovulation, it’s difficult to get pregnant. PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility. Fortunately, there are ways to improve your symptoms and increase your chances of ovulation.

pcosWomen with PCOS are likely to have increased levels of inflammation. In fact, a lot of research in recent years has shown PCOS may have an autoimmune component in some women. The inflammation may be because the higher levels of androgens increase insulin production. Too much insulin leads to weight gain, and excess weight can also contribute to inflammation. Inflammation can bring other symptoms, like headaches and fatigue.

Other health problems are linked to PCOS, like high blood sugar, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol, and sleep apnea. These problems, especially when combined with obesity, increase your risk for diabetes and heart disease. PCOS also raises your risk of developing endometrial cancer. And many women with PCOS experience depression and anxiety. 

Treating PCOS

Lifestyle changes that help you lose weight and improve your overall health are key to managing PCOS symptoms. Diet, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction can improve your symptoms and decrease your risk for other diseases.

Your diet should include lots of high-fiber carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and fewer refined carbohydrates like white bread, cereals, and sweets. This can help you lose weight and regulate your menstrual cycle. Pairing a healthy diet with exercise can help you lose more weight, improve your ovulation and insulin levels, and lower your risk for heart disease and diabetes.

An anti-inflammatory diet, for example the Keto diet, can be particularly helpful for managing PCOS. A high carb diet can exacerbatepcos inflammation, but there are foods you can eat to help lower inflammation and improve your symptoms. Some ways to eat an anti-inflammatory diet include making half of your plate vegetables, eating fish twice a week, including beans and legumes in your diet, and getting your fat from sources that are unsaturated (like nuts and olive oil). 

PCOS brings a host of unwanted symptoms, including infertility, hair growth, acne, weight gain, inflammation, and increased risk of diseases. But you don’t have to just live with them. Through lifestyle changes, you can improve your symptoms and your health.

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To your health,

Dr. Laura


The content on heartroothealth.com is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.