What is PCOS?

This is the first in a series of blogs about PCOS. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a complex syndrome with varied presentations, so there is much to discuss. It is one of the most common endocrine disorders affecting women. In PCOS, dysregulated blood sugar causes an excess production of testosterone, leading to a disruption of normal ovulation.  The hallmark symptoms are lack of ovulation with irregular or long menstrual cycles, infertility, acne and abnormal hair growth patterns. Although not seen in all patients, there is a link between PCOS and obesity.

A leading cause of infertility in the United States, 5-10% of women are affected by PCOS with less than 50% diagnosed. That means PCOS is responsible for 70% of infertility in women who have difficulty ovulating.  PCOS also increases the risk of metabolic syndrome in women.  The good news is that with nutritional and lifestyle changes, supplementation and acupuncture support, women can greatly reduce the risks associated with PCOS.

Generally, a diagnosis is made when two of the following symptoms are found: excess androgens, menstrual irregularity and polycystic ovaries- where multiple follicles are seen, often looking like a “string of pearls”.  Clinically patients with PCOS can present with at least two types from a western perspective: lean patients with a tendency toward hypoglycemia, and overweight patients that tend toward insulin resistance. The treatment strategy would be different depending on the type. In order to determine if you have PCOS and what type, work with a trained DHH practitioner or your OBGYN to get a serum lab work up and a vaginal ultrasound to help identify and categorize, or rule out PCOS.

Wondering what you can do if you have PCOS? In general, focusing your nutrition on blood sugar stabilization is a perfect place to start. A fantastic resource for nutritional guidance is “The Blood Sugar Solution”, by Mark Hyman, MD. Always begin the day with a protein-based breakfast. Eat something every 3 hours. Dominating your meals with a rainbow of vegetables, healthy fats and proteins, while avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugars is the first step. Increasing your exercise to at least 30 minutes per day of cardio is also very helpful in optimizing blood sugar and hormonal balance. Finally, at DHH we will customize a treatment plan to address your unique health picture. Well-researched supplements are prescribed as needed and evidence-based acupuncture is performed to help get you ovulating regularly again.  Stay tuned for more on the topic of PCOS.