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Living Your Best Life With PCOS

By Dr. Reecha Patel, ND

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age, affecting around 10 million people in the world. It has significant and diverse clinical implications including reproductive, metabolic, and psychological features. Although the implications of PCOS are not completely reversible, proper treatment methods, including that of naturopathic medicine and acupuncture, could help a woman lead a healthy life.

Although PCOS is disease of the endocrine system, the exact pathophysiology of PCOS is complex and remains to be unclear. In the reproductive system, abnormal levels of the pituitary hormone, luteinizing hormone (LH) and high levels of androgens interfere with normal functions of the ovaries. There is no single cause of why PCOS develops. There a wide variety of genetic and environmental factors and mechanisms at play. Further, PCOS presents in different ways, showing up through anarray of symptoms.

What causes PCOS?

Genetic and environmental contributors to hormonal disturbances combined with other factors such as:

  • Obesity

  • Ovarian dysfunction

  • Hypothalamic pituitary abnormalities all contribute to the etiology of PCOS.

Individuals suffering from PCOS present with higher than normal levels of androgens and lower than normal levels of estrogen. Higher levels of androgens, or hyperandrogenism, may produce symptoms such as excess hair growth and acne, which does not resolve even when the female is past her teenage years. Elevated androgen levels also cause irregular ovulation, which in turn causes the patient to have irregular menstrual periods, one of the first symptoms associated with PCOS. In addition, some women have amenorrhea or experience heavy cycles because the endometrium continues to thicken even in the absence of menstrual period. Absence of ovulation also leads to infertility as the hormonal imbalance interferes with normal ovulation causing the egg to not release.

Do I have PCOS?

In the recent years, it has been believed by many practitioners that a patient who has PCOS has to present with a set list of symptoms. However, that is not true. As long as three of any of the following symptoms are present, a patient may be diagnosed with PCOS.

Common signs and symptoms are:

  • Missed or irregular periods

  • Excess body hair (hirsutism)

  • Weight gain, especially around the abdomen

  • Ovaries that are large or have cysts on them

  • Acne or oily skin

  • Dark or thick skin patches on the back of the neck, in the armpits, and under the breasts

  • Thinning hair

  • Sugar and carb cravings