PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and it’s relation to obesity
By: Jessica Basso, RN
PCOS also called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is one of the most common hormonal disorders in women of reproductive age. Women affected with this syndrome can suffer from irregular menstrual bleeding/cycles, excess androgen which is elevated levels of male hormones, and/or enlarged ovaries that contain numerous small fluid filled sacs (cysts) that surround the eggs (polycystic ovaries). Due to the elevated levels of male hormones (androgens) physical signs such as excess facial and/or body hair (hirsutism), adult acne, or male pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia) can develop. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown but doctors believe it’s related to the excessive amount of androgens. Although all women produce some androgens, too much of this type of hormone prevents ovulation as well as disrupts the normal menstrual cycle which can lead to infertility in females as well as insulin resistance.
There are some factors that play a role in the production of androgens and thus the development of PCOS. With PCOS excessive insulin may be a factor because it leads to insulin resistance, which in turn decreases your ability to use insulin effectively. When the body cannot secrete insulin properly it secretes more insulin to make glucose available for the cells. The resulting excess insulin is thought to boost androgen production in the ovaries. They also believe that conditions before birth may be a factor that causes PCOS because of the excessive exposure to androgens during fetal life can prevent normal genes from working or developing properly.
There is no simple cure for PCOS. Fortunately, it can be controlled, decreasing the risk of long-term complications. Engaging in regular exercise, keeping a healthy diet, losing excess weight, quitting smoking and using medications to control hormones are all important parts of treatment for PCOS. Quitting smoking is generally the most positive action you can take to improve your health, and related to PCOS, it may lower the higher levels of androgens. Birth control pills and androgen reducing therapies can address the symptoms of PCOS, such as menstrual cycle problems, male-type hair loss, hair growth, and acne. A doctor might also prescribe the anti-diabetic drug metformin, or the fertility drug gonadotropins, to address insulin resistance. For women who wish to get pregnant, fertility drug treatment may be needed to help start ovulation.
Our bodies process fats, calories and sugar differently. This is true of women with PCOS. Many women with PCOS eat a healthy diet and exercise religiously, but still have a problem with weight. Obviously, this is not a simple issue of caloric intake and lack of adequate activity. There is something about the way that their bodies process the food and calories that they consume which makes it difficult for them to maintain a healthy weight. In females with PCOS they produce too much insulin or the insulin they produce doesn’t work as it should. This inability of insulin to function normally is one reason why women with PCOS tend to gain weight and/or have hard time losing weight. PCOS usually begins in females soon after they start having periods. For others it may develop later on following substantial weight gain. Women affected by obesity have a greater risk for PCOS and women with PCOS have a greater risk for obesity.