PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, is the most common female hormonal imbalance today. PCOS has far reaching consequences, including an increased risk of autism in offspring. The good news it may be reversible through diet and lifestyle changes.
PCOS is a condition in which an imbalance in estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone causes cysts to grow on the ovaries. While this can be painful, the consequences of PCOS can be severe, including a 60 percent increased risk in giving birth to a baby who will develop an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
The symptoms of PCOS
Consider the symptoms of PCOS, below, which reflect how pervasive this disorder is on the body as a whole.
Here are some symptoms:
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Ovarian cysts
- Acne, oily skin, or dandruff
- Obesity and excess weight, usually concentrated around the abdomen
- Male pattern baldness
- Dark, thick patches of skin on the neck, arms, breasts, or thighs
- Skin tags
- Anxiety or depression
- Sleep apnea
PCOS causes male attributes
The hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS cause higher levels of the male hormone testosterone. This in turn leads to the development of such male attributes as male pattern balding, facial hair growth, deepening voice, and perhaps a more aggressive or indifferent personality.
What causes PCOS?
It’s no accident that symptoms of PCOS are similar to those of high blood sugar and diabetes. Although genetic predisposition plays a role in PCOS, the diet and lifestyle factors that cause insulin resistance (high blood sugar) and type 2 diabetes also cause PCOS: a diet high in sugars and processed carbohydrates, lack of plant fiber, overeating, and lack of exercise.
The upside to this is that switching to a whole foods diet that is free of sugar, lower in processed carbs, and high in vegetables and adding in daily physical activity can help reverse not only high blood sugar but also PCOS. For younger women this paves the path to a smoother transition through perimenopause and menopause, a period in life that can be made miserable by blood sugar imbalances.
The vicious cycle between PCOS and blood sugar
Standard lab markers that can identify PCOS include a fasting blood sugar of over 100 and elevated triglycerides and cholesterol, especially if triglycerides are higher than cholesterol. Not surprisingly, these are also markers found with insulin resistance, or pre-diabetes.
Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body’s cells become less sensitive to insulin due to a high-sugar, high-carbohydrate diet, over eating, and sedentary lifestyle.
This leads to high testosterone and PCOS in women (and elevated estrogen in men).
Unfortunately, elevated testosterone causes cells to become more resistant to insulin, thus creating more testosterone in a vicious cycle.
If you would like advice on managing PCOS naturally, ask my office for advice on functional medicine strategies to balance your blood sugar and hormones.