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By Alex Allan on 11/08/23 | Top tips

What is PCOS?

What connects celebrities Daisy Ridley, Victoria Beckham, Jools Oliver, and Emma Thompson? They have all publicly shared their battles with the hormonal disorder Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

PCOS affects one in five women in the UK and the number is rising. Its impact on a woman's self-esteem and quality of life can be utterly profound. On top of this, many cases go undiagnosed, potentially because young women with painful or irregular periods are often put on the pill which can mask the symptoms. And sometimes, it's only if challenges with fertility or recurrent miscarriages occur that the underlying condition is finally discovered.

Recognizable symptoms include:

  • Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
  • Unwanted hair growth in atypical areas (like face, chest, and back)
  • Resistance to weight loss (even among non-overweight individuals)
  • Thinning hair on the scalp
  • Oily skin and acne
  • Difficulty conceiving
  • Miscarriages

And other symptoms include fatigue, low mood, anxiety, appetite and sleep issues.

Does this sound familiar to you? What's transpiring internally?

Within your body, an excess of luteinizing hormone (LH) causes your ovaries to overproduce testosterone, a male hormone. High levels of testosterone can hinder proper follicle development, potentially leading to disrupted ovulation (which affects fertility). The surplus of testosterone might cause facial or body hair growth, hair thinning or loss on the scalp (akin to 'male pattern baldness'). 

Additionally, your body may struggle with insulin, the hormone regulating blood sugar and fat storage. Over time, cellular insulin receptors lose sensitivity, leading to higher insulin production to shuttle sugar from your bloodstream into cells for energy. Unfortunately, high insulin levels can also lead to increased testosterone production by the ovaries and hinder the liver's secretion of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), a molecule that helps control excess testosterone. Not to mention that excessive insulin leads to elevated blood sugar levels, ultimately contributing to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Who is susceptible to PCOS?

While we still don’t know the main cause, there may be a genetic component to the condition. Research indicates that PCOS may be influenced by genes, exposure to androgens (male hormones), and environmental toxins in the womb. However, a genetic predisposition to PCOS doesn't mean you're resigned to enduring its symptoms – diet and lifestyle changes can help alleviate them.

Getting a diagnosis

If you think you might have PCOS, it's best to get in touch with your GP for testing. Indicators your GP might look for include irregular or absent periods, enlarged ovaries containing fluid-filled sacs (which, despite the name, are not actual cysts), and above range androgen levels. An ultrasound scan and a blood test are typically the ideal methods for diagnosis. While insulin resistance and high luteinizing hormone levels are common, they are not mandatory for a diagnosis.

Initiating change

Given insulin's pivotal role, embarking on a low glycaemic load (GL) diet is a great starting point. The GL of foods gauges how swiftly blood glucose levels rise after consuming carbohydrates. Opting for low GL foods can enhance and balance insulin levels.

If you've been diagnosed with PCOS, we would love to invite you to schedule a free hormone health discussion with us. During our conversation, you can share your experiences and diagnosis, and together, we can chart the most suitable path forward for you. Click here to book a call.

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