Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is a disorder of the endocrine system. That is a network of glands throughout the body that produce potent chemical messengers called hormones. These hormones control many aspects of normal body functioning. Besides, imbalances in their activity can result in mild to severe health consequences. In PCOS, the hormone imbalances primarily affect female reproductive function and represent the major cause of female-related infertility.
This is quite a common problem, affecting 5-10% of women regardless of ethnic origin. In the past, treatment of PCOS was mainly confined to women that sought assistance in becoming pregnant. To those that wanted relief from cosmetic conditions that often accompany the disorder.
These include significantly higher risks of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. For this reason, PCOS is receiving more attention as the medical community is being called upon to become more aware of the disorder. So whether infertility is a problem or not, women with PCOS are encouraged to seek medical advice.
In most cases of PCOS, the ovaries produce an excess of “male” hormones called androgens. It is the activity of these hormones that largely gives men their unique characteristics. However, women also produce androgens in much smaller quantities. And these androgens are essential to female health. Women with Polycystic ovary syndrome produce larger quantities of androgens than other women. But these levels are not nearly as high as those found in men. Also, it is possible to acquire PCOS by having an increased sensitivity to normal levels of androgen. In the ovary, an egg develops inside of a structure called a follicle. During a menstrual cycle, many follicles begin to grow, but only one releases its egg (ovulation) at mid-cycle. Those that do not ovulate normally die.
Androgens are necessary for follicle growth, but too much androgen causes too many follicles to grow per cycle. In PCOS, these follicles often do not ovulate (anovulation) and resist the normal death process. That leads to the accumulation of numerous ovarian “cysts”. While androgen activity appears to be the primary dysfunction in PCOS it is now known that women with this disorder can also have irregular insulin and/or LH (luteinizing hormone) activity. Insulin comes from the pancreas. LH comes from the pituitary gland. Excess production or sensitivity of either of these hormones can result in increased androgen production by the ovaries. Being overweight can cause insulin levels to rise and may intensify the symptoms of PCOS. However, not all women who are overweight develop the disorder.
With the most extreme form of PCOS, you would tend to be overweight. Also, you’d have no or very few periods. Besides, you’d be prone to acne, grow unusually heavy body hair and inside of the legs. Moreover, you’d be susceptible to mood swings. And with this can come problems with fertility and often recurrent miscarriages. Women with PCOS may be seven times more likely to develop diabetes because of problems with blood sugar balance. When do symptoms of PCOS appear? Most often, symptoms first appear around puberty. Although some women do not develop symptoms until their early to mid-’20s or occasionally after having a baby. Some research indicates that women with PCOS start menstruating at an early age.
Polycystic ovary syndrome and variations of its symptoms frequently run in families. That may indicate, that genes are somehow involved in the process. As with most complex ailments. One inherits a genetic predisposition to the condition. Androgen excess, insulin dysfunction, and obesity are all heritable features. In PCOS, lifestyle factors (especially diet and exercise) appear to have a large influence on the appearance and severity of symptoms. If consulting a physician, be aware that many general practitioners are still not aware of PCOS and its wider implications. It is important to contact a doctor with some knowledge and experience of the disorder. The websites mentioned above offer advice on finding and consulting
As women with Polycystic ovary syndrome lose weight, hormone levels start to return to normal. Testosterone levels fall, serum insulin levels go down, SHBG levels go up and the symptoms of PCOS diminish, with significant improvements in the growth of excess hair as the women lose weight. Along with the weight loss comes a remarkable change in ovarian function. In one study, 82 per cent of the women who were not previously ovulating showed improvements, with a number of successful pregnancies during the study, even though many of these women had a long-standing history of infertility. So dramatic have been some of the results.
One study found that 11 out of 12 women who had been overweight and not ovulating conceived naturally after reducing their weight. In general, women with high levels of luteinising hormone (LH) in the first half of their menstrual cycle seem to have a greater risk of miscarriage. So miscarriages are more likely to occur in women with PCOS because of the high levels of LH. But, in a study of women with PCOS. Supplements. For best results, you should take them over a period of three months. If you been using the Pill to regulate your periods, you may have an even greater imbalance between a number of key vitamins and minerals. Correcting this imbalance will go a long way towards treating the root cause of the problem.
A good quality multivitamin and mineral would form the foundation of your supplement programme to make sure that you are getting a ‘little bit of everything’. You then add in those nutrients in slightly higher amounts which are known to be helpful for PCOS.
Chromium is an extremely important mineral if you have PCOS. It helps to encourage the formation of glucose tolerance factor (GTF) which is a substance released by the liver and required to make insulin more efficient. A deficiency of chromium can lead to insulin resistance, which is a key problem in the case of PCOS; too much insulin can be circulating but it is unable to control your blood sugar (glucose) levels.
Chromium is the most widely researched mineral used in the treatment of overweight. It helps to control cravings and reduces hunger. Chromium also helps to control fat and cholesterol in the blood. One study showed that people who took chromium over a ten-week period lost an average of 1.9kg (4.2lb) of fat while those on a placebo (sugar tablet) lost only 0.2kg (0.4lb) Warning If you are diabetic and on medication, you should speak to your doctor before taking chromium
The B vitamins are very important in helping to correct the symptoms of PCOS. Vitamins B2, B3, B5 and B6 are particularly useful for controlling weight, and here’s why: Vitamin B2 helps to turn fat, sugar and protein into energy. B3 is a component of the glucose tolerance factor (GTF). Vitamin B5 has been shown to help with weight loss because it helps to control fat metabolism. B6 is also important for maintaining hormone balance and, together with B2 and B3, is necessary for normal thyroid hormone production. Any deficiencies in these vitamins can affect thyroid function and consequently affect the metabolism. The B vitamins are also essential for the liver to convert your ‘old’ hormones into harmless substances.
Zinc is one of the key minerals that we need in our daily diets and it has a wide range of functions. Furthermore, processing and refining strip out what little might be remaining. So no matter how good your diet, you may not be getting anywhere near the levels of zinc that you need. There are two approaches to this: you can eat whole organic food, which has much more rigorous controls on farming methods, or you can add a zinc supplement to your diet.
But why is it so important? Zinc is an important mineral for appetite control and a deficiency can cause a loss of taste and smell, creating a need for stronger-tasting foods, including those that are saltier, sugarier and/or spicier (in other words, often more fattening!). Zinc is also necessary for the correct action of many hormones, including insulin, so it is extremely important in balancing blood sugar. It also functions together with vitamins A and E in the manufacture of thyroid hormone.
Magnesium levels have been found to be low in people with diabetes and there is a strong link between magnesium deficiency and insulin resistance. It is, therefore, an important mineral to include if you are suffering from Polycystic ovary syndrome. Co-Enzyme Q10. It is important for energy production and normal carbohydrate metabolism (the way our bodies break down the carbohydrates we eat in order to turn them into energy). One study showed that people on a low-fat diet doubled their weight loss when they supplemented with Co-Q10 as compared to those who did not take it.
If you are really struggling with sugar cravings, or you find it difficult to resist bingeing on just about anything, this is the supplement for you. Garcinia cambogia is a small tropical fruit called the ‘Malabar tamarind’. It comes from central Asia. The garcinia contains HCA (hydroxy citric acid). The HCA in this fruit seems to curb appetite, reduce food intake and inhibit the formation of fat and cholesterol. It seems to be particularly helpful when teamed with chromium. I use one which combines the HCA and chromium in the same capsules which save you taking two different supplements.
(see caution below) Herbs are extremely useful in the treatment of PCOS. Making changes and adding supplements to your diet will help to control weight and balance blood sugar, while herbs go a step further, targeting any problems involving hormone balance. Herbs can also be very beneficial in encouraging the function of your liver, in order to make sure that it is metabolising the hormones efficiently and then eliminating them.
(Vitex/chaste tree berry) This is one of the most important herbs for Polycystic ovary syndrome because it helps to stimulate and normalise the function of the pituitary gland, which controls the release of LH (luteinising hormone).
(Serenoa repens) Hormonal imbalance (including excess testosterone) can cause prostate problems. In such cases, herbalists traditionally considered Saw palmetto as a herb suitable for successful treatments. I would suggest that you add saw palmetto to your treatment plan if you have excess hair growth. Add it also if you have been told you have high levels of androgens. Otherwise, take agnus castus on its own.
(Silybum marianum) This is one of the key herbs for the liver, which acts as your waste disposal unit, and it is, therefore, essential for the treatment of PCOS. It helps to protect your liver cells against damage and to promote the healing of damaged cells, so improving the general functioning of the liver and all its detoxifying properties.
You should not take any of the above herbs if you are taking The Pill, Fertility drugs, HRT or any other hormonal treatment or other medication. Don’t take them unless a registered, experienced practitioner recommended those.