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:
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
Sugar and carb cravings
Patients who present with excess androgen also may have insulin resistance, which is a pathophysiological contributor in around 50-80% of women with PCOS, especially in those who are overweight. Obesity increases hyperandrogenism, hirsutism, infertility, and pregnancy complications both independently and exacerbated by PCOS. Women who are lean in stature and have been diagnosed with milder cases of PCOS still present with hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance contributes to metabolic features and to reproductive features by amplifying androgen production and increasing free androgens by reducing sex hormone binding globulin. In PCOS, obesity not only increases the chances of the patient developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but it aggravates reproductive and metabolic features as well.
Women displaying possibilities of having PCOS also present with:
How do I treat PCOS?
PCOS is something which could not be cured, but luckily the symptoms can be managed. This is where the help of your health practitioner comes into play. Commonly it is seen that hormonal contraceptives are prescribed to help women manage their PCOS symptoms. If you are looking for a more natural approach, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are commonly used in conjunction to treat PCOS and have shown great success in managing most symptoms. Although, that is just a start for many - long term management of symptoms is what is truly needed in these women and that starts with lifestyle changes. Together with your practitioner's guidance and support you can live a life with PCOS and not struggle with its associated symptoms on the daily.
If you are looking for more personalized guidance, book a consultation with Dr. Reecha Patel, available in-person and online: sourcehealing.com.
Dr. Reecha Patel, ND
Naturopathic Doctor and Nutritionist