If you haven’t heard of PCOS, it’s not because it’s a rare condition. In fact, approximately 7 million women and teenage girls are affected by this common hormonal endocrine condition. With more awareness that number will rise as more women get the support they deserve for these sometimes confusing and frustrating symptoms. Let’s dive into life with PCOS: what it is and how to lead a healthy life.
Polycystic Ovary Condition (PCOS) happens when the reproductive hormones, including androgens, insulin, and progesterone, are out of balance. These hormones work to make different things happen within a woman’s body. When they are not functioning correctly, women can notice irregular periods, non-existent periods, infertility, and insulin resistance.
Unfortunately, although this is a common condition, many women have gone undiagnosed due to a lack of support, funding, correct diagnosis, and overall education on the topic. Ashley Levinson of Totm.com has been a PCOS Awareness Advocate for over 16 years and says it took over 10 years for any doctors to take her seriously. She was put on birth control while her doctors chalked her symptoms up to ‘coming of age’ and ‘overeating due to anxiety.’ Eventually, Ashley gained the correct diagnosis and was able to take more control over her health and well-being.
Now is the time to bring awareness to this common condition and rid the stigma attached to these symptoms. Here at the West Wing Clinic we believe ‘it’s not just infertility’ or ‘it’s not just weight gain.’ It very well could be PCOS, and we want to help!
The Symptoms of PCOS
The symptoms of PCOS can be different for each woman, making it difficult to identify. Typically, experiencing at least two of the following symptoms is a good indicator to get screened for PCOS:
- Irregular periods
- Excess androgen
- Polycystic ovaries
- Excess hair growth
- Difficulty getting pregnant
- Trouble maintaining weight
For some women, these symptoms can be very clear. For other women, the symptoms are more vague. Additionally, women might see various doctors for their separate symptoms, like a dermatologist for acne and a family doctor for weight gain, all without realizing the two are connected.
While there is no definitive test for PCOS, there are various methods for determining the condition, including a physical exam, an ultrasound to check for cysts, and blood tests to evaluate hormone levels. Most importantly, your doctor must first be aware to look for PCOS in the first place. This doesn’t always happen.
If you experience any of these symptoms, make an appointment with our team so we can do a thorough exam and identify if you might have PCOS. Early diagnosis and management is important in order to lower your chance of diabetes, heart disease, endometrial cancer, and high blood pressure down the line.
Lifestyle & Diet with PCOS
Since PCOS is tied to insulin resistance, it is important to consider the role of weight and a healthy diet when living with PCOS. Insulin is a hormone that allows our cells to utilize glucose properly. When insulin resistance occurs, cells no longer respond to insulin normally, and more and more insulin is produced. Left unmanaged, this can eventually also lead to type 2 diabetes.
With this in mind, following a low-glycemic diet and keeping physically active are important lifestyle considerations when living with PCOS. Studies show improved insulin sensitivity and more regular menstrual cycles for women with PCOS who exercise compared to those who do not.
The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how much a food increases blood sugar and insulin levels. Following a low-glycemic diet means choosing foods that will cause a slower spike in blood sugar and result in lower levels of insulin secretion. Some low-GI foods are obvious; others are not so. Some examples of low-GI foods are dried beans, berries, oatmeal, quinoa, and non-starchy vegetables.
Obesity and a lack of regular exercise can help manage your insulin resistance. It has also been shown that moderate weight loss can improve insulin resistance and testosterone levels, which in turn can normalize menstrual cycles for those with PCOS.
If you feel like you need help finding the right diet or sticking to an exercise regimen, make an appointment with our team so we can help you make the needed changes to keep you healthy.
Supplements for PCOS
Along with a healthy diet and regular exercise, some nutritional supplements may also help. For example, inositol is a naturally occurring nutrient in the body found in fruits, beans, and grains. Research has shown that taking an inositol supplement can decrease insulin resistance, reduce testosterone levels, regulate menstrual cycles, and promote ovulation. There are two forms of inositol and studies have shown that taking a combination of these two forms is most helpful. Inositol is safe and generally well-tolerated. Stop by our clinic to pick up a free sample (while available) and find out more.
Other supplements such as Omega-3 fish oil, vitamin B12, vitamin D, N-Acetyl Cysteine, and melatonin can all help address different symptoms and side effects caused by PCOS. Schedule an appointment with us so we can make sure you’re taking all the appropriate supplements to help manage your condition.
Do you think you might have PCOS? While most women find out they have this condition while they are trying to conceive, early diagnosis and management is an invaluable tool for healthy living with PCOS. The West Wing Clinic is here to guide and support you through your health journey. Contact us to make an appointment today.
If you’re pregnant, check out what vitamins to take during pregnancy here.