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PCOS: Facts

People believe that if women get their menstrual period on a monthly basis, it means that they are healthily ovulating each month as well. This is not exactly true. Having regular menstrual cycle does not transcend to regular ovulation.

Depending on how much blood a woman lose during one cycle; it affects the amount of estrogen level in the body. A woman has to have the right amount of hormone level in order to ovulate properly.

Women who have menstrual irregularity are most often diagnosed with PCOS or Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome because there is a link, but it need not be absolute: you might have PCOS and still have regular periods, and you might have irregular periods and are not a PCOS sufferer… complicated as that …

Facts & Causes:

Unhealthy lifestyles and at times even genetic conditions cause the pancreas to overproduce insulin. This excess insulin and an excess of insulin “rejected” by the cells free-floats in the blood stream, creating unbalanced hormone levels leading to PCOS in one of the following ways;

  • Excess insulin stimulates the ovaries to produce large amounts of the male hormone testosterone, which may prevent the ovaries from releasing egg each month, thus causing infertility. Such improperly developed eggs can remain on the ovary as a cyst.
  • High levels of insulin also increase the conversion of androgens (male hormones) to estrogens (female hormones), upsetting a delicate balance between the two and having a direct effect on weight gain and the formation of cystic follicles or cysts in the ovary.

Note: The overproduction of insulin has a directly adverse effect on the leutenizing hormone (LH) which surges midway through the monthly menstrual cycle and is essential for ovulation. Insulin increases LH and the raised level stimulates the ovaries to form androgens (male hormones).”

Since ovulation is either delayed or doesn’t occur at all, the hormone progesterone is either reduced or absent in that cycle, leading to symptoms of PCOS. One of the main symptoms of PCOS is irregular periods. Women who have PCOS can go two to three months without having a regular menstrual cycles. This is not an uncommon complaint for women. However, there are several factors that can affect the regularity of a woman’s menstrual cycle, including general health, nutrition, weight, stress, and environmental factors

Myth
Another myth is the belief that if a woman does not find any cyst inside the uterus, then she automatically does not have the PCOS syndrome. Believe it or not, this is not true. PCOS or the polycystic ovarian syndrome can be present in the body no matter if there is presence of cyst or not. The body can break down the cyst but the symptoms remain. For women who have all the signs of PCOS syndrome such as infertility, excess body hair, irregular menstrual cycle and insulin resistance, then most probably she has PCOS; cyst or no cyst.

Hormones Involved:

The primary hormones affected in PCOS are the steroid hormones which utilize cholesterol as a building block. These include the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and androgens (testosterone, DHEA, and androstenedione: the “male” hormones).

If you have PCOS, elevated LH stimulates the ovary to produce too many androgens. Also lack of progesterone leads to a relative imbalance between estrogen and progesterone so that estrogen’s activity isn’t balanced out properly by progesterone; this is referred to as estrogen dominance. The two hormones tend to have equal and opposite functions: estrogen causes proliferation of the lining of the uterus, while progesterone helps maintain it, estrogen causes proliferation of breast tissue while progesterone keeps it healthy, estrogen tends to provoke emotions like sadness and progesterone had anti-depressant qualities. Progesterone reduces spasm of smooth muscle, normalizes clotting and vascular strength, helps thyroid function and bone building and helps prevent endometrial cancer.

Note: PCOS causes decrease production of progesterone in the body. When this happens, the body weakens. As the progesterone level decrease, the ratio for the estrogen hormone level increases making women more prone to fibroids formation as well as breast cancer. The body needs its balance in order to function properly so anything abnormal that happens to it will affect the system one way or another. Progesterone is low in those women with PCOS who have irregular menstrual cycles where the egg is not released and ovulation does not occur.

Diet & Exercise:

Until farmers began cultivating grains such as wheat and corn 5,000 years ago, our nutrition consisted mainly of fruits, green leafy vegetables and meat. Carbohydrates in the form of grains were rare. Regulation of dietary Carbohydrates like starch and sugar intake mostly hidden in processed foods can greatly improve symptoms of PCOS.

Exercise helps to increase the insulin sensitivity of your cells, which allow you to use glucose more efficiently. As a result, it can help reverse the symptoms of Insulin Resistance and PCOS

Symptoms:

Because of the hormone imbalances associated with PCOS (high insulin, high androgens, low progesterone, and imbalanced ratio of estrogen to progesterone), women can suffer from the following symptoms:

  • High levels of male hormones, androgens
  • An irregular or no menstrual cycle
  • There may or may not be many small cysts in ovaries
  • Infertility or inability to get pregnant or maintain a pregnancy
  • Acne, oily skin or dandruff
  • Pelvic pain
  • Weight gain
  • Lack of ovulation
  • Heavy painful periods
   Most Doctors prescribe birth control pills to regulate menstrual cycles as a cure for PCOS.  I believe this is not the best option – though it sounds right its technically wrong.!!

Taking the pill will provide your body with artificial hormones to simulate what a normal cycle is supposed to be. It gives you a period regularly which can prevent the lining of the uterus from building up which is beneficial, and it is also a good contraceptive, and can reduce symptoms such as acne and excess hair. BUT, most pills actually make insulin resistance WORSE!

So, the pill is not really regulating your cycle because it is not allowing your body to do the work, it is doing the work for your body. A regulated cycle is one that is occurring regularly of it’s own accord. These pill may also increase the development of atherosclerosis, a process that leads to heart disease in which PCOS women are more at risk of.

Therefore assumptions and myths do not deserve a place in your medical history: if you have menstrual irregularity, make sure to find out the exact reasons for that. It is essential that the hormonal balance of a woman with irregular periods is evaluated although the diagnosis such as PCOS might seem obvious. This is essential because proper evaluation and diagnosis as said above also affects proper treatment. PCOS can be treated naturally through balanced diet, exercise and nutritional supplements.

Let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!

BeWell,
Vivek

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