“The struggle with my weight began when I was 12. By the time I was 18, I weighed 82kg. It was when I weighed in at 120kg on my 21st birthday that I decided to look harder for an answer. PCOS has been a hard thing in my life, but knowing there is actually a reason for all the symptoms makes feeling ‘different’ a bit easier. I am now taking control of my life & know that I am the one who can turn my life around! ” - Kim
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS is a serious hormonal imbalance that affects one in eight women of child bearing age. It has been recognized as one of the leading causes of infertility and with its influences on cardiovascular health, it also contributes to one of the largest causes of deaths within Australia.
Symptoms can be embarrassing
infrequent or absent ovulation
excess hair on the face and body
male pattern balding
high blood pressure
insulin resistance/ type 2 diabetes
darkened skin patches
PCOS is often hereditary – although many women in the past may not have been diagnosed making it difficult to ascertain a hereditary link.
Usually women with the condition will begin to experience menstrual irregularities within one to three years after her first period. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown. In the past, it was thought that PCOS was caused entirely by excess production of the hormone androgen. More recent research has shown that Metabolic Syndrome associated with insulin resistance and high levels of insulin play key roles in PCOS.
Metabolic Syndrome may be the condition which best illustrates the long-term effects of our Western lifestyle habits. The usual suspects are responsible: high calorie, high carbohydrate diets, lack of exercise, hormonal imbalances and chronic stress are a few of the major causes of metabolic dysfunction.
Although genetic and environmental factors contribute to metabolic syndrome, obesity and physical in-activity are the most important. Often women with PCOS try hard to lose the weight only to find they can’t lose it – or it rebounds.
So how does Insulin affect PCOS?
Both insulin resistance and high male hormone levels lead to disturbances in the production of the female hormones that control a woman's menstrual cycle. Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia appear to cause the overproduction of androgens associated with PCOS.
So how do you lose weight when you have PCOS?
Whether obesity is a cause of PCOS or obesity is a result of PCOS is unclear. A greater distribution of fat in the center of the body (sometimes called an "apple" type of fat distribution), is associated with PCOS.
The symptoms of PCOS may be lessened by weight loss, or increased by weight gain, but the syndrome is not caused solely by weight or body mass. One of the most important things to remember is that we are all different – what foods to eat vary according to what your individual hormonal influences are. The best approach is to adopt a lifestyle that improves hormonal balance resulting in metabolic health, allowing you to lose fat, keep it off & improve overall metabolic health.
It is important for you to:
Identify hormonal imbalances
Implement a diet that reflects your hormonal needs
Implement nutritional & herbal support
Supportive nutrition is important to assist in the treatment of metabolic syndrome. Magnesium has been shown to improve glucose & insulin balance. Chromium, taurine & zinc deficiency can also lead to metabolism imbalances.
Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can switch on the enzymes specifically involved in oxidising or burning of fat.
It’s not fair – my body responds to exercise differently
Exercising with PCOS is different. Since your body is over secreting excess male hormones, the use of heavy weights will promote excessive muscle bulk and so should be avoided. Exercise that maintains muscle mass (for example resistance exercise with light weights) & cardio activities such as cycling & running are better choices for burning weight.
Knowing is healing. So don't give up when you can’t find answers. Listen to your symptoms – they are your body’s way of telling you something is not quite right. The choices you make from this day forward will have a direct effect on your future well-being.
Narelle Stegehuis, CEO of MassAttack, is a practising naturopath specialising in the research and development of natural treatment programs for women with hormonal imbalances, which have contributed to such symptoms as weight gain, cravings, anxiety & mood swings. She is both an accomplished writer and the recent recipient of the Australian Naturopathic Excellence Award 2006.