PCOS and Functional Nutrition
September is PCOS Awareness Month
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of infertility in women. The condition is determined by genetics, reproductive hormonal imbalances and environmental factors. 1 in 10 women have PCOS, making it one of the more common women’s health conditions.
Common Symptoms used in diagnosing PCOS:
· Irregular periods - a big contributor to infertility (missed periods, not ovulating, very heavy bleeding, excessive pain)
· Polycystic ovaries (enlarged ovaries or many follicles)
· Excessive androgen hormone levels (excessive facial/body hair, acne, baldness)
Other symptoms often seen in people with PCOS are:
· Difficulty managing weight (disordered eating may be involved) *
· Fatigue (low energy, poor sleep)
· Mood Changes (anxiety, depression)
· Pain (pelvic, ovarian, menstruation, headaches)
· Skin changes (darkening patches, acne)
· Unwanted or excessive hair growth (facial/body)
· Hair (baldness, thinning)
There are four types of PCOS. People can have one or multiple factors that contribute to their main type of PCOS.
· Insulin Resistance (IR) PCOS* (majority of cases)
· Adrenal PCOS (stress triggered)
· Inflammatory PCOS (chronic inflammation)
· Post-Birth Control pill PCOS
*The vicious cycle of IR is a cause for PCOS and the weight gain around the middle section of the body, inability to lose weight, and carbohydrate cravings. Higher body weight is a symptom- not a cause for PCOS. IR contributes to abnormal levels of hunger hormones, which lead to inability to listen to the body innate hunger cues and satiety cues. Weight loss is often given as a “treatment” for PCOS- however, research shows that maintaining your body’s natural set point weight, (which differs for each person) is healthier than weight cycling.
The first line of defense against all forms are PCOS are through dietary and lifestyle adjustments. Working with a Functional Nutritionist is a great way to assess and address the contributors to your PCOS. Everyone with PCOS will have individual aspects that can be addressed to improve symptoms. Functional medicine looks to support the individual needs and underlying causes of dysfunction.
A Functional Nutritionist can guide you in adjusting diet and lifestyle based on the type(s) of PCOS one has and support the biological systems like the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis for optimal health and wellness for that individual.
Ways to improve life with PCOS:
· Dietary changes based on your food intake influences hormonal balance, insulin resistance, gut, thyroid, and immune health. Work to increase healthful food choices, understand how specific foods affect your body and improve your relationship with food in general.
· Supplemental / Herbal therapies as a natural approach to support optimal functions and balance in the H-P-A axis, to improve your symptoms and your health based on your health history and present symptoms.
· Lifestyle adjustments to reduce and cope with stress, such as work to heal from past traumas, which are stored in the body.
· Find joyful movement that makes you feel good. Anything (walking, swimming, kickboxing, yoga, resistance training, gardening, dancing, etc.) that you want to do, as often as you can, based on what feels good for your body.
· Improve sleep, so your body can operate at is best during the day.
Conventional medications are available for people whose symptoms resist diet and lifestyle changes. There are also many advanced reproductive technologies that make it very possible for people with PCOS get pregnant.
PCOS is a chronic condition with multiple contributing factors, including genetics and environment. It can be helpful to find PCOS social supports, through social media, podcasts, and books to work through the many emotions surrounding PCOS diagnosis, symptoms, and treatments. Ultimately, making an individualized plan to adjust and support your body to manage PCOS symptoms and underlying causes can allow you to live your best life. Research suggests that there might be an evolutionary advantage to PCOS, that we as a species are still perfecting.
Azziz, R., Dumesic, D. A., & Goodarzi, M. O. (2011). Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: An Ancient Disorder? Fertility and Sterility, 95(5), 1544–1548. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2010.09.032
Bernadett, M., & Szemán-N, A. (2016). Prevalence of eating disorders among women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Psychiatria Hungarica: A Magyar Pszichiatriai Tarsasag Tudomanyos Folyoirata, 31(2), 136–145.
Dapas, M., Sisk, R., Legro, R. S., Urbanek, M., Dunaif, A., & Hayes, M. G. (2018). Family-based quantitative trait meta-analysis implicates rare noncoding variants in DENND1A in pathogenesis of polycystic ovary syndrome (p. 460972). https://doi.org/10.1101/460972
Wang, Fan, Zheng-Hong Zhang, Kai-Zhuan Xiao, and Zheng-Chao Wang. “Roles of Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis and Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovary Axis in the Abnormal Endocrine Functions in Patients with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.” Zhongguo Yi Xue Ke Xue Yuan Xue Bao. Acta Academiae Medicinae Sinicae 39, no. 5 (October 30, 2017): 699–704. https://doi.org/10.3881/j.issn.1000-503X.2017.05.017.