Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: Understanding and Management Through Education and EmpowermentJun 30, 2022 07:00AM ● By Karen Jimenez
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal disorder in women of reproductive age. Approximately 1 in 10 women of all ages may have this condition. Unfortunately, 50 to 70 percent may go undiagnosed.
Based on the most recent literature, PCOS is characterized by two of the following symptoms: ovarian cysts (may or may not be present), elevated levels of male hormones or irregular or absent menstrual cycles. Other characteristics may include acne, male-pattern baldness, male-pattern hair growth, depression, mood swings, sleep disorders, difficulty losing weight or intestinal permeability (leaky gut). Though it is difficult to determine the exact cause, PCOS is commonly associated with insulin resistance and inflammation.
Insulin is a hormone. When we eat carbohydrates, they are broken down into simple sugars. The pancreas secretes insulin (the key) to unlock the cell, moving sugar from the bloodstream into our cells to be used as energy. Insulin resistance occurs when the cells no longer respond to the message from insulin after eating, and elevated levels of sugar remain in the bloodstream. The pancreas senses this and releases even more insulin to unlock the cell, attempting to keep the sugar levels balanced. Unfortunately, the cells become numb to the insulin and the level of sugar and insulin in the bloodstream remain high.
In PCOS, elevated levels of insulin prevent testosterone (male hormone) from converting to estrogen (female hormone). Therefore, elevated levels of testosterone remain in the blood, preventing ovulation as well as the production of progesterone (female hormone), resulting in weight gain around the abdomen, but more importantly, difficulty trying to conceive. It is imperative to ask your healthcare provider to check your fasting insulin level or better yet, perform a glucose tolerance test, as these lab values may be elevated years before the fasting glucose and hemoglobin A1c lab tests that are more commonly ordered by healthcare providers.
Inflammation is another key factor in PCOS. It is normal for our bodies to respond to an infection or a virus by secreting special chemicals by our immune system. However, a chronic state of inflammation not only disrupts hormone regulation, but it can also damage egg quality, and acts directly on the ovaries, causing an increased production of testosterone. Again, resulting in insulin resistance.
It is important to understand that PCOS does not only affect women of childbearing years, but must be managed throughout life due to its downstream effects including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Although there is no “quick cure” for PCOS, evidence-based research shows by identifying the root causes and focusing on education, nutrition, stress reduction, supplements and lifestyle changes, PCOS can be managed successfully.
Karen Jimenez, BSN, RNC is an online health consultant educating and empowering women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) to advocate for their health through non-restrictive nutrition and energy-increasing lifestyle management. Connect at [email protected].