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PCOS and Weight
Polycystic ovary syndrome (or more commonly and coolly known as PCOS) is very common among women - it is a condition where the ovaries typically have various small cysts. These cysts can cause pain, they can moderately to severely disrupt a woman's hormones (typically women with PCOS have low levels of follicle stimulating hormones and high levels of male hormones), and they can adversely affect a woman's fertility. If you haven't had an experience with a painful cyst or haven't thrown your hat into the fertility ring yet - that doesn't necessarily mean that you don't have PCOS. Women can have cysts but not have PCOS, and likewise they can be without cysts but very much have the condition.
If a woman has PCOS, she could just have a few of, or for that matter all of, the tell-tale signs or symptoms. Irregular periods. Excess facial hair. Difficulty becoming pregnant. Cycles that are long and/or without ovulation. Since every woman with the condition expresses it differently, even having one of those symptoms (or relatives with a history of PCOS as there seems to be a genetic component) makes it worth talking about with your Doctor.
One of the more common symptoms of PCOS, however, is being overweight or obese. More often if a thicker woman has trouble conceiving, when she sees a specialist they will investigate whether or not she has polycystic ovarian syndrome.
"Polycystic ovary syndrome is one of the most common hormonal disorders in women, seen in approximately 10% of reproductive aged women, and up to 90% of young women with irregular menses," Dr. Chang says. "It is a disorder associated with irregular ovulation and menses, excess testosterone production, and/or ovaries containing many eggs or oocytes. What is not often known is the link between PCOS and metabolic and weight disorders. Studies indicate that between 20-60% of PCOS women are overweight to obese, owing in large part to the insulin resistance that is strongly associated with the syndrome."
Insulin resistance can definitely be responsible for unwanted pounds - particularly if you seem to gain more weight than you should be based on your diet.
"Insulin is pancreatic hormone that stimulates the uptake and storage of glucose (sugar) into the liver and muscle cells. It is also an anabolic hormone that favors weight gain and fat deposition. Most women with PCOS have a higher risk of insulin resistance, in which tissues are less sensitive to insulin; and therefore higher levels of insulin are needed to maintain normal blood sugar levels," Dr. Chang explains."This higher insulin (hyperinsulinemia) favors fat deposition and weight gain. Many patients often observe that, even after eating the exact same amount as their friends, they gain weight while their friends don’t. This “unfair” weight gain is primarily driven by the hyperinsulinemia demonstrated by PCOS women, compared with their peers."
While there is no curing PCOS, when it is linked with being overweight or obese, diet can be a very effective way of treating symptoms.
"The underlying tendency toward PCOS is in most cases controlled by both genetics and environment. While it is not possible to “cure” or completely eliminate the tendency for PCOS, the great news is that PCOS symptoms and weight gain can be controlled and reduced. Studies show that in overweight women with PCOS, just losing 5-10% of initial body weight significantly reduced symptoms and improved ovulation and fertility."
Getting a little stricter with your diet can greatly improve symptoms. Specifically, cutting out foods with higher glycemic index.
"Any diet that reduces caloric intake and results in weight loss can improve PCOS symptoms. However, a recent analysis of multiple studies shows that lower carbohydrate and lower glycemic index diets may be more effective at reducing insulin resistance, and improving menstrual regularity, lipid and cholesterol levels and quality of life," Dr. Chang explains. "Because glucose and insulin levels are so closely tied to this disorder, PCOS women should certainly avoid foods that rapidly release high levels of sugar into the blood stream. This includes white rice, cakes and cookies, and sugary beverages or sodas."
That may sound daunting - particularly if you're overweight with PCOS. As Dr. Chang earlier explained, most of the time when that's true you aren't experiencing 'fair' weight gain - the pounds go on super easy, but take especially long to get off. Don't feel overwhelmed - even losing a little bit of weight is a fantastic improvement.
"Even losing 5% of initial body weight has been shown to be beneficial. So don’t despair about losing a tremendous amount of weight all at once; even small amounts of weight loss will give you cumulative benefit."