Polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS is a common hormonal disorder (excess insulin and androgens or ‘male’ hormones) among women of reproductive age. The name of the condition comes from the appearance of the ovaries in most, but not all, women with the disorder — enlarged, with small cysts along the outer edge of each ovary.
To be diagnosed with the condition you need to have 2 of the following: menstrual abnormality, excess androgen (‘male’ hormones – testosterone, dihydrotestosterone or DHT, DHEA), polycystic ovaries. Insulin resistance is a hallmark of the condition.
SIGNS, SYMPTOMS AND COMPLICATIONS
Infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods, excess hair growth, male pattern baldness, acne, obesity, difficulty falling pregnant, often occur in women with PCOS. Long term complications include type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Other complications include high blood pressure, cholesterol and lipid (fat) abnormalities, metabolic syndrome, sleep apnoea, abnormal uterine bleeding, cancer of the uterine lining (endometrial cancer) and gestational diabetes.
We don’t know exactly what causes PCOS, but factors that are likely to play a role include:
- Excess insulin, which boosts ovaries’ androgen production and promotes weight gain and insulin resistance.
- Low grade inflammation is present in women with PCOS. Scientists theorise that predisposed people may display low grade inflammation in response to inflammatory foods (sugar, refined carbs, trans and excessive omega-6 fats, grains, un/under-cooked legumes, contamination with hormone/pesticides). High blood sugar levels, which are common in women with PCOS, also contribute to inflammation. And inflammation, can in turn contribute to insulin resistance and high blood sugar, as well as cholesterol accumulation in blood vessels (atherosclerosis), which leads to heart disease.
- Heredity. It’s in your genes. You’re more likely to develop PCOS if a family member has it.
- Abnormal foetal development. Excessive exposure to male hormones (androgens) in foetal life may permanently prevent normal genes from working in the way they're supposed to — a process known as gene expression. This may promote a male pattern of fat distribution - in the belly region - which
increases the risk of insulin resistance and low-grade inflammation.
For women with PCOS, daily physical activity and a regular exercise programme are essential for treating or preventing insulin resistance, lowering blood sugar levels and for helping weight control. A diet that is high in fiber, low in saturated fat, and high in vitamins, minerals and disease fighting nutrients may reduce some risk factors and improve overall wellbeing.
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