Ever wonder what put you on the road to PCOS? Whilst the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, there are factors known to play a role. These factors vary from person to person. This is why not every woman with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) has the same set of symptoms. Here's a list of what could be contributing to your PCOS.
High levels of male-type hormones (androgens)
Higher-than-normal levels of androgens such as testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEAS) can disrupt ovulation, and lead to symptoms such as male-pattern hair growth, acne and scalp hair loss. The disruption in ovulation can also lead to irregular menstrual cycles.
Not all women with PCOS show high levels of androgens on their blood test but androgens may still play a role for them. It is thought that these women might have an increased sensitivity to androgens, leading to the symptoms of PCOS.
Insulin is the hormone that is released by our pancreas in response to glucose (sugar) in our blood from foods that we eat. Insulin's job is to help the glucose get inside our cells to be used for energy. Insulin resistance is when our cells don't respond well to insulin - they become resistant to its effects. In response, our pancreas will send out more insulin to try to get cells to respond and take in the glucose. This excess insulin then stimulates our ovaries to produce androgen hormones.
Like androgens, not all women show high levels of insulin on blood tests. Yet, for these women insulin may still play a role. It is thought that the ovaries of some women with PCOS might be hypersensitive to the effects of insulin. That is why all women with PCOS can benefit from limiting their insulin through maintaining a healthy weight (see below), eating a low glycaemic diet and exercising moderately.
Overweight and obese women are at higher risk for PCOS because fat cells are highly insulin resistant and produce estrogen, which interferes with our monthly cycle, disrupting ovulation and leading to androgen production. But weight is hard to shift fof many women with PCOS. See this post for how to deal with excess weight and PCOS.
Stress stimulates the adrenals and can lead to high levels of the adrenal androgen DHEAS, which causes PCOS symptoms. High prolactin (another hormone) can also stimulate DHEAS so make sure this is investigated if your DHEAS is high. Stress is generally bad for ovulation, so even if your DHEAS is not high, you can benefit from reducing stress in your life.
Our genetics might make us more susceptible to androgen and insulin production/sensitivity, thus making us more prone to PCOS. If you have a family history of PCOS, type 2 diabetes, obesity or infertility it may indicate genetics are partially behind your PCOS.
Even if our genetics are playing a role, we can still make a huge difference to PCOS symptoms by adopting a healthy diet, the right sort of exercise regime, maintaining a healthy weight and reducing stress in our lives. These things form the core of a healthy life for any person so you've got nothing to lose by giving it a go right? But maybe you don't know where to start or you've already tried these things but aren't getting results. Naturopaths specialise in helping people with dietary planning, nutrition, and lifestyle changes such as exercise and stress management so if you need help see a naturopath for guidance.
All the best on your health journey,
Do you need a PCOS naturopath? If you need a hand getting to the bottom of your PCOS symptoms see Josephine at Brunswick Health, Melbourne.