Chances are, you’ve heard of PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). After all, it affects between 1 and 10 women and 1 in 20 in women of childbearing age. But even though it’s the most common hormone disorder among women, not all that much is known about what causes PCOS. Because of this, the most conventional way to treat the condition is prescribing birth control, which I’ve found in practice that this does not fully address the underlying issues.
Many women come to see me because they’re struggling with infertility and can’t figure out why—oftentimes it’s the result of undiagnosed PCOS. And, when 1 in 8 couples today are struggling to build a family, along with a 65 percent increase in IVF since the year 2003, it’s clear that much attention needs to be directed at the root of the fertility problem in our country.
Here’s a complete guide help you understand a bit more about PCOS and how it can impact pregnancy.
What is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a condition that results from an imbalance of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone (the key components of a healthy menstrual cycle) and higher-than-normal levels of the male hormone, androgen. Too much androgen in the ovaries can halt the ovulation cycle. In a normal ovulation cycle, a woman’s eggs grow tiny fluid-filled sacs in the ovaries known as follicles or cysts. When ovulation occurs, and the egg is mature enough, these follicles break open and release. But for those with PCOS, due to the high amounts of androgen in the ovary region, these follicles cannot break open and release the egg. This is why those with PCOS experience irregular or absent periods. Because the egg is not released, it can be near-impossible to conceive.
What causes PCOS?
While scientists haven’t nailed down a definite cause of PCOS, there are many factors that have been linked to the condition:
- Genetics: Research has found that women are more likely to have PCOS if their mother or sister also has the condition.
- High insulin levels: Women with PCOS tend to have elevated levels of insulin (the hormone that regulates the breakdown of sugar in your body).
How do I know if I have PCOS?
Just because you have irregular periods, doesn’t mean you have PCOS. There are many causes of an irregular menstrual cycle. Here are some other symptoms to look out for:
- Weight Gain
- Hair Loss
While many of these symptoms, on their own, are not abnormal, I would recommend seeking out a visit with your healthcare provider if you experience fewer than eight periods a year or suddenly develop all of the symptoms mentioned above.
Can I get pregnant with PCOS?
The short answer is yes. While the majority of women with PCOS experience infertility, the good news is there are many fertility treatments available that can increase your chances. Once you do conceive, however, you are more likely to experience complications throughout pregnancy. Statistics show that women with PCOS are three times more likely, on average, to miscarry and also have an increased risk of gestational diabetes, inflammation, prenatal depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and the list goes on.
If you do have PCOS, it’s vital that you work closely with your doctor to monitor your pregnancy and adopt all of the necessary lifestyle changes to ensure a healthy pregnancy.
Steps to manage PCOS:
In the meantime, healthy lifestyle can help manage symptoms and provide you with the best chances for getting pregnant:
- Determine your level of hormone imbalance by getting tested.
- Get bloodwork done to see if you have nutritional deficiencies as they are often connected to hormone imbalances.
- Get tested for food allergies and intolerances. If you find that you have food allergies or intolerances, it is important to remove these invaders from your diet because both can throw off your hormones. It’s also important to eat for insulin regulation! And if you’re trying to conceive, eat a healthy and holistic diet, loading up on lots of fertility superfoods! [read more here]
- Make sure you get tested for candida. Candida is a fungus, a form of yeast, that lives in our mouths and guts. Some people have an overproduction of candida, which is not good because it can lead to leaky gut syndrome. A leaky gut allows (leaks) particles of undesirables into the bloodstream. This causes the immune system to go haywire, which is directly related to how our hormones function.
- Know your Methylation Markers. Methylation is a process that happens in our cells and keeps our bodies operating, from repairing DNA to cell detoxification. Knowing your methylation markers help you understand your genetic risk for PCOS and your threshold for tolerating stress, environmental toxins and hormones. This is a complicated one, so talk with your doctor to understand more!
- Lastly, take a look at your toxic load. This is not something that people think about when trying to balance their hormones, but we are surrounded by environmental toxins that can disrupt our hormones. Make sure that your water bottles and cans are free of BPA. Also, make sure your cosmetics are free of phthalates and parabens.