Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome — PCOS
Women are often diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, PCOS, after trying to conceive or seeking help for an irregular cycle. The condition sounds intimidating and strange and many patients don’t completely understand what PCOS means for their fertility or what steps to take next. The good news is that PCOS doesn't mean you're infertile — it just means that getting pregnant will take a little bit more work. The other good news is that you have the power to make a big difference in your own health and your fertility. We're here to help you learn how.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, affects five to ten percent of women in North America and is the leading cause of ovulatory based infertility.
There is no known exact cause of PCOS. Women with PCOS frequently have a mother or sister with the condition but there is still not enough evidence to confirm a genetic link to the disorder. Because many women with PCOS have problems maintaining a healthy weight, most research is concerned withthe relationship between PCOS and the body’s ability to use insulin.
PCOS manifests in increased insulin resistance, limiting the body’s capacity to metabolize insulin and glucose. The results can include: glucose intolerance, impaired glucose metabolism, elevated lipid profile, high blood pressure, mood swings and irritability.
The pancreas is exerted to produce insulin, but the insulin is not able to transport glucose (sugar) into the cells because of a hormonal imbalance or because of too many fat cells. The excess insulin in the blood leads to excess glucose in the blood, creating conditions for prediabetes and weight gain. If untreated, PCOS can lead to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
Symptoms of PCOS
Though some women with PCOS have no symptoms, most will have one or more of the following:
- Weight gain or obesity
- Excessive and/or abnormal hair growth
- Irregular periods or complete absence of menstruation (amenorrhea)
- Enlarged ovaries covered with cysts
- Insulin resistance/hyperinsulinemia
What does PCOS have to do with getting pregnant?
The primary role of insulin is to regulate the changing of food into energy. When insulin can’t do this, it builds in excess, blocking the liver from producing globulin, a protein that binds sex hormones. This restricts some cells from being affected by testosterone.
High insulin and an excess of male hormones in the blood influence the ovaries to produce more androgens than they normally would. The androgens tell follicles to grow extremely fast and thus, shut down before an egg is even produced.
Weight gain associated with high insulin of PCOS, especially in the abdomen, creates the hormone called leptin. This hormone negatively affects the effects of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH). In any form of medicine, it’s agreed upon that this chain of reactions negatively impacts your ability to ovulate normally.
Ultimately, PCOS creates menstrual cycles that are very irregular (or even non-existant) which makes is difficult to conceive. Women with PCOS have fewer chances per year to achieve pregnancy, and because cycles are irregular, timing intercourse to occur within their fertile window is much more difficult.
What are my treatment options?
For both Western and Chinese medicine the first line of treatment is diet and weight control. The goal is to regulate the blood sugar, decrease insulin resistance and improve glucose metabolism to stabilize mood and weight. With some women, reducing insulin levels and improving insulin sensitivity through weight loss, a low glycemic diet and exercise may restore normal ovulation.
Our approach treats underlying imbalances causing hormonal irregularities to correct the problem and the symptoms together. Thorough evaluations, specialized acupuncture treatments, and nutritional guidelines are used to regulate the menstrual cycle. Chinese herbs are also extremely effective in stimulating ovulation and can be discussed with your acupuncturist.
For any treatment option, make sure to stick with your game plan since results can take a few months to appear. You’ll notice that cycles become more regular, indicated by mid-month vaginal discharge and elevated temperatures. Eventually, you’ll also see weight reduction, clearer skin, and less abnormal hair growth.
Here are some things you can actually get started on to tackle PCOS issues right away:
Try at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Note: this does NOT mean becoming a triathlete or training for a marathon! Balance is key and the goal is to get your heart rate up and gradually minimize excess weight.
Eat your leafy greens. If you already do, up the amount to 5 servings a day. Need help with recipes? We’ve got you covered.
Eat low-glycemic carbs, like whole grains and vegetables. Avoid the white ones, like rice, bread, and starchy foods low in nutritional value.
Eat small meals and snacks at least every 3-5 hours to keep your blood sugar stable. Proteins like hummus, nuts, and hard-boiled eggs are great for you because they keep you full longer.
Limit or avoid your dairy intake. If you do drink milk, enjoy full-fat, organic milk.
Add some cinnamon to your breakfast in the morning to help decrease insulin resistance.
- Try also adding probiotics and prebiotics into your daily routine. They’ll keep your intestinal tract clean and healthy to promote better digestion.