What Exactly Is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?

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Not sure what PCOS is? You’re not alone. It’s PCOS Awareness Month, and what better time to dive into a disease that affects so many people and their everyday lives. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common hormonal disorders that can cause painful and distressing monthly symptoms and signal long term health risks. Based on the name “polycystic ovary syndrome”, you’d be justified in thinking that the hormonal imbalance stems from cysts on your ovaries - but, in fact you don’t need to have ovarian cysts to have PCOS nor does having cysts on your ovaries automatically signify PCOS. It’s for this reason among others that health care practitioners may actually transition the name from PCOS to HA PODS (Hyperandrogenic Persistent Ovulatory Dysfunction Syndrome.) 

According to the Mayo Clinic, PCOS is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age and affects up to 10% of women and 25% of transgender men. To dig a little deeper, people with PCOS have excess male hormone (androgen) levels. (Yes, women have naturally occurring male hormones!) Higher than normal androgen levels can increase body hair growth, and can cause infrequent or prolonged and painful periods, stubborn acne, excessive weight gain, depression and anxiety. PCOS may also lead to difficulty conceiving, infertility, diabetes and heart disease. What causes PCOS? It’s been documented that there is a link between PCOS and insulin resistance. For people who are insulin resistant, their bodies have a hard time using glucose efficiently. The buildup of glucose in their bloodstream creates high blood sugar levels which in turn increase the number of androgens their body produces (which, as we’ve learned, already creates a hormonal imbalance -- a primary sign of PCOS). Studies show that insulin resistance occurs in 70-95% of overweight people and 30-75% of people with a leaner frame

PCOS Symptoms may include:

 - Irregular or lack of periods
- Increased hair growth typically on the face, chest, back, or buttocks
- Thinning scalp hair
- Oily skin or acne
- Weight gain, especially around the waist
- Depression, anxiety, and mood swings
- Darkening of skin around the neck, groin, underarms, or skin folds (acanthosis nigricans)
- Increased blood sugar
- Difficulty conceiving/infertility
The good news, PCOS is treatable!! It is possible to help alleviate and manage symptoms via both medical and naturopathic approaches. Ultimately, there are effective ways to resolve the root cause of PCOS, insulin resistance, and set the body back into balance. Most, if not all, symptoms can be alleviated with treatment, and long-term health effects can be avoided.
If you suspect you have PCOS, it’s important to get help from your health care provider or a licensed endocrinologist.

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