Polycystic ovarian syndrome ( PCOS) is a common condition, affecting approximately 5-10% of women, which is thought to have a genetic origin. This condition arises when ovulation does not occur regularly, resulting in multiple “cysts” in the ovary. These cysts are actually follicles which have not undergone regular maturation and ovulation in previous cycles. Not every woman with PCOS will have multiple cysts, but they all will exhibit certain hormonal characteristics and will have difficulty with regular ovulation. Fortunately, effective PCOS treatment is now available, and most women with this disorder are able to achieve a more regular cycle, improved hormonal symptoms and increased fertility with the right care.
PCOS often correlates with a condition known as insulin resistance, when the tissues and cells in the body do not respond normally to the presence of insulin. This happens from either genetic or lifestyle and dietary factors. Insulin normally converts glucose which is in the blood into energy. In insulin resistance, the excess glucose is then taken up by the liver and converted into fat, increasing overall fatty tissue. Patients with PCOS are more prone to being overweight, however even lean patients with PCOS have a propensity to insulin resistance.
In addition to effects on fat production, there are also direct effects on the ovaries. When the body is resistant to insulin, the blood sugar will rise, and the pancreas will produce even more insulin in an attempt to reduce the blood sugar. In many cases the higher amount of insulin is enough to keep the blood sugar within a normal range, however it does cause other problems. This elevated blood insulin causes the ovaries to increase production of testosterone by a large amount. High levels of testosterone slow or stop ovulation, and this is where the anovulatory cycles begin.
The elevated insulin levels also have effects on the conversion of male hormones into estrogen in the fatty tissue which causes even more trouble. High insulin levels cause testosterone to be excessively converted into estrogens which cause sensitivity of the pituitary and increases in LH. Elevated LH levels in some patients also cause increased production of testosterone. High estrogens cause negative feedback on FSH production from the pituitary, resulting in poor follicle development. And so as you can see, a very vicious cycle develops.
In most patients, the insulin resistance also must be targeted directly in order to see great improvements with ovulation and fertility. This kind of PCOS treatment addresses the underlying cause of the condition – focusing on breaking the cycle of hormonal imbalance, and restoring metabolic health. In patients who are in the overweight PCOS category, it is very helpful to embark on a healthy weight loss protocol, often involving low glycemic index, paleo, or low carbohydrate nutritional programs.
Effective PCOS treatment involves acupuncture and electroacupuncture on the ovaries, and supplements to target insulin resistance at the cellular level.
Nutrition and diet is of the utmost importance, and a PCOS diet is required to ensure healthy insulin balance along with a regular exercise program.
Symptoms of PCOS:
Symptoms tend to be mild at first. You may have only a few symptoms or a lot of them. The most common symptoms are:
Weight gain and trouble losing weight.
Extra hair on the face and body. Often women get thicker and darker facial hair and more hair on the chest, belly, and back.
Thinning hair on the scalp.
Irregular periods. Often women with PCOS have fewer than nine periods a year. Some women have no periods. Others have very heavy bleeding.
Fertility problems. Many women who have PCOS have trouble getting pregnant (infertility).