Updated: Mar 22
What do celebrities Daisy Ridley, Victoria Beckham and Frankie Bridge have in common?
Married to footballers? Nope.
Plenty of dosh? Yes, but that’s not it either?
They have all publicly shared their struggle with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
PCOS is a common hormone disorder that affects 10% of women in Ireland. It can be devastating to a woman’s self-esteem and quality of life. As if this weren’t bad enough, many cases are missed because the pill is often prescribed to young women for painful and/or irregular periods and this can mask symptoms. It is often only when you are unable to get pregnant or experience miscarriages that explorations uncover the condition.
Common signs and symptoms include:
Difficulty getting pregnant
Excessive hair growth where it shouldn’t be, e.g. face, chest and back
Resistance to weight loss (although many sufferers are not overweight)
Thinning hair on head
What can cause PCOS?
Although the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, the general consensus is that it is linked to hormonal imbalance and the body’s resistance to insulin.
Too much testosterone
What’s happening inside is that too much of a hormone called 'luteinising hormone' (LH) stimulates your ovaries to make too much of the male hormone testosterone. Testosterone stops the follicles developing properly, which can stop ovulation (this affects your ability to get pregnant). Too much testosterone may mean you grow facial or body hair, start to loose hair or get thinner hair around the scalp (aka ‘male pattern baldness’).
Sensitivities to insulin
Your body might also have a problem with insulin, the hormone that controls your blood sugar and fat storage.
Over time, receptors on the surface of cells become less sensitive to insulin, so your body has to produce more and more to take the sugar out of your blood and into the cells, where it can be used as energy.
Too much insulin also causes your ovaries to produce testosterone and prevents the liver from producing another hormone called 'sex hormone binding globulin' (SHBG), which mops up any excess testosterone.
Another downside to excess insulin in the body is that it leads to high levels of sugar in the blood and this can, in time, cause type 2 diabetes.
Who gets PCOS?
While the exact cause is not known, PCOS is thought to run in families. Researchers suspect PCOS is influenced by genes and possibly exposure to androgens (male hormones) and environmental toxins in the womb. But a genetic tendency to PCOS does not mean you will develop it or that you have to suffer the symptoms if you do have it – you can modify them through diet and lifestyle.
If you think you might have PCOS, make an appointment to see your GP and they can run some tests. Your GP will be looking for evidence of irregular periods, enlarged ovaries containing many fluid filled sacs that surround the eggs (despite the name these are not actually cysts) and high levels of androgens.
The ideal way to get a diagnosis is to have an ultrasound scan and a blood test. Although insulin resistance and elevated luteinizing hormone are common, they are not required for diagnosis.
Because insulin has such an important role to play, a diet with a low glycaemic load (known as a low GL diet) is the best place to start. The GL of foods explains how quickly your blood glucose (blood sugar) rises after eating carbohydrates. Low GL foods can improve and help balance insulin levels.
There are also specific nutrients that can help to manage this condition such as magnesium, N-acetyl-cysteine and myo-inositol.
If PCOS is something that you are struggling with then reach out. We can chat on the phone, you can tell me your experience and we can work out the next best steps for you.
Join the conversation
I’d love to hear from you, if you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS let me know how you manage it? Have you tried dietary changes and if so how have they helped? The more we talk about female health problems the more people we can help.
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