Female health conditions associated with hormone imbalance – No 2 – Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

hormone balance and polycystic ovary syndromePolycystic ovary syndrome is a very common hormonal disorder for women. As with all syndromes the symptoms can vary from person to person but commonly include one or more of the following:

  • Absent or irregular periods
  • Excessive hair growth on the  face and body
  • Skin blemishes and acne
  • Fertility issues
  • Insulin resistance and blood sugar problems
  • Obesity
  • Skin tags

To have an ‘official’ diagnosis you will satisfy two or more of the following:

  • Cysts on the surface of the  ovaries
  • High levels of the ‘male’  hormone ‘testosterone’
  • Irregular or infrequent periods

Women with PCOS are frequently not able to ovulate. Each month, in a normal female cycle, several follicles will start to develop on the surface of the ovaries due to stimulation by ‘follicle stimulating hormone’ (FSH). In one of those follicles a single egg will develop more quickly than in the others. It is the production of another hormone, luteinising hormone (LH), which causes the egg to be released into the fallopian tube.  This is the process of ovulation. The remaining follicles will then degenerate. Oestrogen levels then increase and the lining of the uterus thickens. Further hormones, oestrogen and progesterone then prepare the womb for possible conception. If a fertilised egg is not produced and attached to the wall of the uterus then the thickened lining is shed as the menstrual bleed.

However when you have PCOS, although multiple follicles are produced, none is large enough to trigger ovulation. The high levels of insulin, testosterone and luteinising hormone prevent the eggs from fully maturing, so there is no egg release. Instead you are left with a collection of partly matured egg follicles (cysts) on the surface of the ovaries.

By themselves polycystic ovaries may not cause too many problems.  However when the cysts start to cause an hormonal imbalance other symptoms will arise and this leads to Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS. The causes of PCOS are a complex cycle of hormone imbalance. The syndrome is associated with high levels of androgens (male sex hormones) and low levels of oestrogen and progesterone.

Your ovaries are not able to produce the correct balance of hormones. In turn the pituitary gland tries to stimulate the ovaries by producing high levels of luteinising hormone. There are often blood sugar swings which encourage the pancreas to over produce insulin to manage the imbalance. High insulin levels encourage the ovaries to produce more testosterone and the cycle continues.

Self Help

Lose weight

If you are overweight you are likely to have lower levels of sex-hormone binding globulin in your blood which in turn means there will be higher levels of testosterone circulating. Higher levels of testosterone are responsible for causing symptoms such as excess hair and acne.  Being overweight also increases insulin levels dramatically. Weight loss can help to balance hormones, normalise menstrual cycles and improve ovulation and fertility.

Follow a low GI diet

Low GI / GL foods help to improve blood sugar levels and insulin resistance as well as helping with weight loss. Eat small, frequent meals to help maintain an even blood sugar level.

Eat plenty of phytoestrogens

Eating foods that contain natural oestrogens, such as pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas etc.) and soya can be beneficial. They help to control the levels of circulating testosterone.

Get moving

Exercise also helps in balancing blood sugar and improving insulin resistance as well as assisting in a weight loss regime

Supplements can help. The following supplements have been demonstrated to show benefits in managing PCOS

B Vitamins, taken as a complex. B vitamins play a role in the release of energy from foods and in the correct functioning of your liver. (The liver is responsible for processing ‘old’ hormones and therefore needs to be functioning well or old hormones will simply get re-circulated instead of being removed from the body). So B vitamins will assist in weight loss and hormone balance.

Inositol:  Inositol is an unofficial B vitamin. It may help with ovulation and weight loss. A form of inositol known as myo-inositol can reduce insulin and testosterone levels, leading to improvements with acne and excessive hair.

Chromium: This mineral is useful when trying to balance blood sugar levels and improve insulin resistance.

Alpha-lipoic acid: This can improve insulin sensitivity. Alpha-lipoic acid is a powerful anti-oxidant which releases energy by burning glucose, leaving less for your body to have to deal with and therefore reducing insulin levels and fat storage.

Omega-3 fatty acids – have been found to help balance hormone levels in women with PCOS

Agnus Castus (also known as Vitex or chasteberry) is a herb which is particularly effective for regulating menstrual cycles. It works to normalise the pituitary gland which is the master endocrine gland and so has a balancing effect on hormone levels.

Black Cohosh – can help suppress levels of luteinising hormone, (LH). Women with PCOS often have high levels of LH.

Saw Palmetto – can reduce levels of androgens (male hormones) such as Testosterone

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