Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
The doctors Stein and Leventhatal in 1935 discovered why some women had big cysts on their ovaries, extra hair growth and troubles getting pregnant. And though we recognize their work as the beginning, their name long left the condition of Polycystic Ovaries. After it was called Stein and Leventhal's disease this has been called a disease, a condition and now a syndrome, PCOS or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. The definition has been changed so that almost 1/10 women can meet the definition and in fact many women with perfectly regular menstrual periods are surprised to learn upon visiting their gynos that they are now diagnosed with an important condition that can have fertility and life long health consequences. If you’ve got to shave your chin regularly, you may just have that sort of genetics, and on the other hand your ovaries may be producing too much testosterone, or one of the other boy hormones that emanate from the ovary or the adrenal gland. The most common symptom of PCOS is hyperandrogenism (too much boy hormone), chronic anovulation (skipped periods due to not popping an ovarian egg), many are overweight (7 out of 10) and finally either diabetic or pre-diabetic (again 7 out of 10), insulin resistance (you have it but it won’t work like it’s supposed to with your metabolism) and compensatory hperinsulinemia (the pancreas cranks out extra) are also features. And many have ovaries seen on ultrasound with a “string of pearls” look…little cysts all lined up around the edge as seen when looking with the ultrasound.
The insulin excess in a woman's body is probably in large part responsible of the extra hair. The insulin stimulates the cells of the ovary to produce more male hormones. These extra male hormones right in the ovary mess up ovulation. Insulin can also suppress the liver substance SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin) which is supposed to bind male hormones and keep them inactive and there for in check. So the more deranged your metabolism is, the heavier you get, the worse your PCOS gets.
So how to fix: well to some extent there is no fix, it’s in your genes, but it can be controlled. Control anything and everything diet: lower bad LDL cholesterol, lower the blood fat triglyceride, exercise and increase good HDL cholesterol, and changing the biology of your blood fats so you change your cholesterol particle sizes and numbers of particles. Overall weight is related to how serious your PCOS is, slim by even 5%, control the sugar and use diabetic drugs like metformin if you need to. But watch for side effects of the medications used to control insulin and blood sugar. metformin can have its negative side, it can lower vitamin B12 levels (side effects of low B12 levels might include numbness, other odd neurologic symptoms such as memory loss and behavior changes). Oral contraceptives can suppress the boy hormones of the ovary, so that’s a good bet that it will be recommended as a possible solution by your gyno.
The fix for PCOS is not simple, and the more we learn, the more we know that we have to follow our PCOS patients closely, check their sugars, scan their gall bladders, check their hormone levels, discuss contraception carefully, help them control their weight, and help them when they want to get pregnant, there's a lot to gab about here!