What to Know About Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most commonly experienced endocrine issues among reproductive-aged women, affecting anywhere from eight to 13 percent of the female population. It’s one of the most common causes of ovulatory dysfunction — specifically anovulation, amenorrhea, and other menstrual irregularities such as abnormally long or short menstrual cycles. 

You might remember from my endocrine disorders and fertility blog post that anovulation — the absence of ovulation — is a leading cause of infertility. In fact, anywhere from 70 to 80 percent of women with anovulatory infertility meet the diagnostic criteria for PCOS. Along with infertility; however, other possible symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome include oily skin, thinning hair, weight gain, and unwanted facial hair (more on these symptoms below). 

Now, with this being said, those of us in the world of naturopathic functional medicine know that “common” doesn’t always equate to “normal”. We also believe that nearly any condition can be improved with the right therapies and lifestyle changes. Polycystic ovary syndrome is no exception!

In this blog post, we’ll look at polycystic ovarian syndrome as a whole: the hormones associated with it; how it’s diagnosed; and how naturopathic functional medicine can help to reduce the physical, mental, and emotional symptoms of PCOS. 

What Are the Symptoms of PCOS?

As I mentioned above, polycystic ovary syndrome is an endocrine disorder that affects our menstrual cycles, ability to conceive, and other aspects of our physical and mental health. Symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome can range from infertility and menstrual abnormalities to other symptoms like:

  • Acne occurring around the lower part of the face. 
  • Darkened patches of skin in the underarms and around the neck. 
  • Male-pattern baldness (hair thinning that occurs near the top or front of the head).
  • Weight gain around the stomach.
  • Obesity.
  • Unwanted hair growth on the face or body (for example, hair growth on the chest, back, or around the mouth).
  • Depression, anxiety, and poor body image.

Polycystic ovaries — or follicles on one or both ovaries — are also common among those with PCOS. However, despite the name of the condition, not everyone with polycystic ovarian syndrome has cysts on the ovaries. Some women will meet the diagnostic criteria for PCOS based on their hormone levels and other symptoms alone.

Hormones & PCOS

Along with the abovementioned symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome, certain hormone imbalances can also point to PCOS. One of these imbalances includes higher-than-normal levels of the sex hormones known as androgens, which are produced by the ovaries in people assigned female at birth (AFAB) and the testes in those assigned male at birth (AMAB).

Elevated Androgens

The androgens associated with PCOS include total testosterone (TT), free testosterone (fT), dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), androstenedione (A), and 17-hydroxyprogesterone (17-OHP). Elevated androgens (hyperandrogenism) are responsible for causing symptoms like unwanted body hair, acne, infertility, hair loss, and abnormal menstrual cycles.

Other Hormone Changes

Some women with PCOS will also experience abnormalities in their progesterone, estrogen, luteinizing hormone (LH), and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels. Additionally, between 67 and 85 percent of women with poly ovarian syndrome are deficient in vitamin D, a hormone produced by the kidneys.

Metabolic Syndrome

Higher-than-normal levels of insulin — a hormone produced by the pancreas — are common among PCOS patients as well. Between 50 and 70 percent of PCOS patients experience insulin resistance (hyperinsulinemia), which increases their risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and glucose intolerance. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is also associated with an increased risk of developing other chronic conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, and high cholesterol.

Could You Have PCOS?

Now that we’ve discussed the more common signs and symptoms of PCOS, let’s talk about how polycystic ovarian syndrome is diagnosed. Typically, at least two of the following three criteria must be met to meet the diagnostic criteria for polycystic ovary syndrome:

  1. Androgen levels are above the normal range (hyperandrogenism) and/or there are visible signs of hyperandrogenism despite androgen levels being within the normal range.
  2. Menstrual cycles are irregular and/or ovulation is absent.
  3. Polycystic ovaries are seen on an ultrasound.

Unfortunately, about 70 percent of PCOS cases are underdiagnosed, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This means that despite how common the condition is around the world, most PCOS cases are undiagnosed altogether or misdiagnosed as other endocrine conditions (such as thyroid disorders). 

Since polycystic ovary syndrome can very well co-occur with other conditions, it’s incredibly important to look at each patient’s symptoms, medical history, and a number of conventional and specialized tests when making a diagnosis. This is where naturopathic functional medicine comes in! 

Naturopathic Functional Medicine Eases PCOS Symptoms

If you’re experiencing signs or symptoms of PCOS, specialized testing can help to identify the hormone imbalances; nutrient deficiencies (like iron, vitamin D, and magnesium deficiency); and other factors that may be contributing to your symptoms. We’ll then use a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental approaches to ease your PCOS symptoms, while also improving your overall health and well-being.  

Are you ready to ease your PCOS symptoms while improving your overall health and well-being?

Learn how naturopathic functional medicine can help to reduce symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome and restore balance within your body.

Connect with me today and let’s get to the root of your health — naturally!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *