More than 5 million women in the US have been diagnosed with PCOS to date – with many more suffering in silence without medical intervention and support. This once obscure condition has become much more prevalent in recent years – so much so that it has become a hot topic of conversation in women’s health circles, especially on social media channels. Despite this, a lot of women still don’t understand PCOS or know what can be done to help symptoms beyond medical intervention.
According to Western medicine PCOS has no cure, but can be managed. Here we take a look at this increasingly common condition and cover the ways in which the impact of PCOS can be significantly reduced and well-managed, to enhance quality of life and help you to live free of the difficulties PCOS can bring.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is an increasingly common condition which affects the ovaries and their function, in turn impacting upon hormone balance in the body. Excessive amounts of androgens cause a wide variety of symptoms, including hair growth on the face and body, weight gain, acne and painful, irregular periods.
According to Western (allopathic) medicine there is no exact cause (more on this below) – but in other functional and naturopathic medical systems such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and integrative medicine, which combines holistic techniques with western science, there are a number of theories. These include liver function, blood flow and quality, modern diet, stress and energy imbalance within the body. Without further studies these remain theoretical – but there’s strong anecdotal evidence to support some of these theories (as well as positive results from holistic treatment pathways).
What causes PCOS?
Medically the cause of PCOS is still unknown – but it is thought to be genetic in many cases. Scientists have determined that PCOS is closely linked to abnormal hormone levels within the body – in particular, it is related to levels of insulin, the hormone which controls sugar levels in the body and contributes to the balance of hormones such as testosterone.
Those with PCOS often struggle with weight gain, as this increases the amount of insulin the body produces. Insulin resistance, which is rapidly on the rise in the US, is also a contributing factor.
Symptoms of PCOS
PCOS can be very difficult to diagnose because many of its symptoms mimic those associated with other conditions. Women are also more susceptible to medical gaslighting, especially when seeking help for gynecological and reproductive disorders. This means that many women endure the symptoms of PCOS for a number of years after they first developed, in which time they often get worse.
Symptoms of PCOS include:
*Irregular periods (caused by disruption to the function of the ovaries)
*Excessive hair growth on the face and body (caused by excess androgen)
*Acne and oily skin
*Weight gain and trouble losing weight, especially around the middle
*Hair loss or thinning on the head (especially at the crown)
*Harmless fluid-filled sacs found on the ovaries (this symptom isn’t present in all women with PCOS)
PCOS usually becomes apparent during your early twenties, but some women develop clear symptoms earlier or much later.
Is PCOS curable?
When people ask whether PCOS is curable, usually what they are saying is ‘will I feel this way forever?’ Symptoms of PCOS can be so severe and debilitating that the prospect of living with them indefinitely can understandably be upsetting. Younger women are often also concerned about their ability to conceive, as well as the pain, discomfort and disruption that can affect study, work and relationships. Mental and emotional health can also be severely impacted over time, especially without a diagnosis or proper treatment.
The good news is that despite the somewhat frustrating and vague prognosis often given by physicians, symptoms of PCOS can be effectively managed (and in some cases eliminated almost entirely) with an integrative approach. Integrative medicine combines holistic techniques and lifestyle changes with medical intelligence, to harness the best of all forms of healthcare. In doing so, it’s possible for many women with PCOS to live normal, healthy lives and even start a family, if they wish.
Aggravating factors for women with PCOS include:
*Being overweight or obese (losing weight with PCOS can be difficult – so this can become somewhat of a vicious cycle without professional support and intervention)
*Diet – certain foods can exacerbate hormone imbalances, such as processed meats, refined sugar and baked goods, trans fats ad excessive amounts of dairy
*Endocrine disruptor exposure – pesticides, cosmetics, household cleaning products and food containers – just a handful of the products containing harmful substances we are exposed to each and every day. As women, we tend to be exposed to a higher proportion of these chemicals due to us using a greater number of personal care products on a daily basis
*Stress – chronic or prolonged stress aggravates symptoms of PCOS because it interferes with hormone balance, in particular cortisol levels, which then interact with reproductive hormones. PCOS in itself can be stressful – so getting out of this loop is important.
Through addressing these, we can lessen the severity of symptoms and actively reverse some of the negative effects of PCOS such as skin and hair issues and weight gain. Whilst this may not constitute a cure, you can certainly feel as though PCOS is not an issue for you as daily symptoms are much less noticeable and disruptive.
Tips to help manage symptoms of PCOS
There are many things you can do to minimize the impact of PCOS. A personalized approach is best under the guidance of an experienced physician using an integrative healthcare plan – but you can make a start on many of these things yourself at home. Key takeaways include:
*Eat a healthy, balanced, wholefoods diet *Ditch cosmetics, cleaning products and makeup containing EDCs *Swap plastic bottles and food containers for BPA free or glass alternatives *Drink plenty of water *Practice stress management techniques *Engage in regular exercise (2-3 times a week)
Women with PCOS are more prone to developing associated conditions such as type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol – so treating PCOS effectively and as early as possible holds the key to managing an increased risk of complications later in life.
For more on PCOS and PCOS management, take a look at our blogs here.