PCOS is one of the most common hormone disorders, affecting up to 10-15% of women of child bearing age. We have seen in clinic just how devastating it can be to a woman’s self-esteem and quality of life. Many cases are missed because the pill is often prescribed to young women for painful and/or irregular periods which can mask symptoms. It is often only when you are unable to get pregnant or experience miscarriages that medical explorations uncover the condition.
What are the signs and symptoms of PCOS?
Difficulty getting pregnant
Excessive hair growth where it shouldn’t be,e.g. face, chest and back
Resistance to weight loss (although many sufferers are not overweight)
Thinning hair on head
Who gets PCOS?
The exact cause is not known, but PCOS is thought to have a genetic link combined with possible exposure to androgens (male hormones) and environmental toxins in the womb. As we are now aware our genes do not define us. We can modify these through dietary and lifestyle interventions.
What’s going on inside?
What’s happening inside is that too much of a hormone called luteinising hormone (LH) stimulates your ovaries to make too much of the male hormone testosterone. Testosterone stops the follicles developing properly, which can stop ovulation (this affects your ability to get pregnant). Too much testosterone may mean you grow facial or body hair, start to lose hair or get thinner hair around the scalp (aka ‘male pattern baldness’). Your body might also have a problem with insulin, the hormone that controls your blood sugar and fat storage. Over time, receptors on the surface of cells become less sensitive to insulin, so your body has to produce more and more to take the sugar out of your blood and into the cells,where it can be used as energy. Too much insulin also causes your ovaries to produce testosterone and prevents the liver from producing another hormone called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which mops up any excess testosterone. There’s another downside to excess insulin in the body. It leads to high levels of sugar in the blood and this can, in time, may lead to type 2 diabetes.
If you think you might have PCOS, your GP will be looking for evidence of irregular periods, enlarged ovaries containing many fluid filled sacs that surround the eggs (despite the name these are not actually cysts) and high levels of androgens. The ideal way to get a diagnosis is to have an ultrasound scan and a blood test. Although insulin resistance and elevated luteinizing hormone are common, they are not required for diagnosis. At The Nourished Tribe we can use non invasive functional tests such as the DUTCH test which give you an accurate picture of your hormone levels via a simple saliva swab.
Because insulin has such an important role to play, a diet with a low glycemic load (GL) is a good starting place. The GL of foods explains how quickly your blood glucose sugar rises after eating carbohydrates. Low GL foods can improve and help balance insulin levels. As we know there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to diet, so it is very important to take into account each person’s individual physiology and presenting symptoms. For example, stress can exacerbate PCOS. Over 50% of women with PCOS tend to have high DHEA-S levels which means that their stress hormones are overactive. For these women, a low carb diet may put more stress on their adrenal glands and potentially result in worsening symptoms. This is why it is important to take advice from a qualified nutrition professional who can work out which dietary approach is best for you. This is where we can help.
If you would like advice on functional testing or in taking the first steps in making diet and lifestyle changes towards managing PCOS or any other hormonal issues, please contact us at The Nourished Tribe on 3138 8600 where we can help you work out what approach is best for you.