Signs that you may have PCOS can include:
- Irregular menstrual periods, which means that your ovaries do not regularly release eggs (ovulation)
- Trouble getting pregnant due to lack of ovulation
- Excess facial or body hair and acne caused by excess androgen or high levels of “male” hormones in your body.
- Obesity caused by elevated insulin levels
Other problems associated with PCOS can include: increased miscarriage rates and long-term health problems: diabetes; uterine cancer caused by anovulation and an overgrowth of the uterine lining (endometrial hyperplasia); high blood pressure; and, heart disease. The good news is, if diagnosed properly, several treatment options are available that not only lead to positive reproductive outcomes but will also mitigate many of the other long-term health effects of PCOS.
What is PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine disorder that prevents eggs in the ovaries from growing and ovulating in a normal monthly pattern, resulting in polycystic ovaries (ovaries with many small follicles). PCOS can commonly lead to difficulty conceiving and hormonal imbalances. PCOS causes infertility in three to 10 percent of reproductive-aged women.
Common PCOS Treatment Options
Women with PCOS are either oligoovulatory or anovulatory, which in lay terms means, that they ovulate less often than normal or not at all. If ovulation doesn’t take place, there is no opportunity for egg-sperm interaction and pregnancy to occur. The good news is that women with PCOS typically have many eggs, so the goal of treatment for PCOS-related infertility is simply to get ovulation to occur more predictably.
Women with PCOS usually have fewer than eight menstrual cycles per year, and it’s not uncommon to skip multiple periods at a time. Anovulation can be caused by chronic hormone abnormalities, including pituitary hormones such as follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Women with PCOS often have high levels of LH that contributes to the high levels of androgens (male hormones), along with low levels of FSH that contributes to poor egg development and an inability to ovulate. Clomiphene, also known by the brand name Clomid, is a common and cost-effective oral treatment for those who with PCOS and irregular menstrual cycles.
Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia (elevated blood insulin levels) are also typical in women with PCOS, and can lead to impaired glucose tolerance and Type 2 diabetes. Metformin, an insulin-sensitizing medication, is most often used to treat patients with PCOS as a way to improve insulin resistance, lower insulin levels, and often improve ovulatory function.
Treating PCOS with Diet and More Natural Treatment Options
Insulin resistance may also be caused by having a BMI (body mass index) above the normal range, which is 18.5 to 24.9, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The higher the BMI, the harder it is to lose weight, which is why women with PCOS often experience this issue. A diet high in refined carbohydrates, such as starchy and sugary foods, can make insulin resistance and weigh loss more difficult to control.
Some women achieve positive results, both for help with losing weight and increasing fertility, by turning to a healthier, less-processed (and much more colorful!) diet including:
- High-fiber vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts can help combat insulin resistance by slowing down digestion and reducing the impact of sugar on the blood
- Lean protein and fatty fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and sardines
- Anti-inflammatory foods such as tomatoes, kale, spinach, almonds, walnuts and olive oil
- Fruits high in antioxidants like blueberries and strawberries
- Leafy greens, including red leaf lettuce and arugula
- Green and red peppers
- Beans and lentils
- Sweet potatoes, winter squash and pumpkin
Some women with PCOS experience heavy bleeding during their period, which can result in iron deficiency or anemia. Spinach, eggs and broccoli are all iron-rich foods that can help with anemia. And while we hate to keep nagging on coffee, caffeine has been linked to changes in estrogen levels and hormone behavior. Drinking tea, especially green tea, is a great way to both lower caffeine intake and increase antioxidant consumption.
YOUR Best PCOS Treatment Option
If the combination of medication and lifestyle changes still doesn’t result in ovulation or pregnancy, FSH or human menopausal gonadotropin (HMG) injections may be used as an advanced treatment option. These injections directly stimulate the ovaries to produce eggs, and are given each day until the follicle is mature. The most important thing to note is that treatment for PCOS is not a one size fits all, and we can’t emphasize enough the importance of consulting with one of our doctors to determine the best course of treatment for you.
For more information about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, please visit the PCOS Awareness Association