I promised at the start of this blog that I would be discussing PCOS as well as an LC diet. If this doesn’t interest you, then that’s fine, just skip this entry. 🙂 This is just the introductory entry, we’ll look at the diet in a PCOS light a little later on.
PCOS affects 1 in 8 women all over the world. In Australia, that’s 12% of all child-bearing women, and around 12 million women in the United States. More or less. That means that if you’re on a bus with twelve women, likelihood is that at least 2 women have it. Some of them won’t even know that that’s what’s causing some of their issues. Maybe they’re trying to get pregnant and have had no luck so far; maybe the lady sitting next to you is wearing those long sleeves because she’s embarrassed by the excessive arm hair she’s got – man hair, her friends might have teased in high school. And the girl sitting down the aisle to the left? Maybe she’s that fat not because she overeats but because she’s got high insulin resistance because her body’s hormonal balances are shot the hell.
For a very long time, PCOS was not considered a single illness: instead it had a host of other names, practically each symptom being addressed as an individual diagnosis. In 1935 a Drs. Irving Stein and Michael Leventhal first described the condition we now call PCOS – Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It went through a few phases, carrying a variety of different names.
So let’s take a look at what it actually is…
PCOS is complicated, and for such a common disease it’s actually relatively unheard of. Until I was diagnosed with it I’d certainly never heard of it; hell, for a long time even after the diagnosis I couldn’t figure out what it was. The GP who had diagnosed me wasn’t the best of the best, and she simply gave me the verdict and then left me to my own devices. I hope that isn’t the case with the rest of you, but I figure it depends on who you get – some GPs aren’t 100% familiar with PCOS, and as a result aren’t comfortable to get into the nitty gritty details. That said, I have a great respect for the medical profession, but if you’re not getting the information you need – even after asking several times – it’s time to move on, find a specialist or try a different GP. Gynaecologists are a safe bet for specialist information, or of course, you could hop onto the Internet and try your luck.
In a nutshell, the PCOS is all about insulin resistance – which we’ve covered here –, hormonal imbalances, infertility issues, and irregular periods. We’re not sure how or why PCOS takes hold; there’s plenty of theories with some heavy evidence weighing towards genetic factors. I suppose one of the big problems is that the diagnoses of the syndrome is still so young; it’s really a modern thing, and because of that a lot of women from before the 1990s didn’t know that’s what they had. For example, a woman in the 80s or 70s struggling to get pregnant or perhaps enduring several miscarriages with no apparent reason, might have had PCOS. In fact, it’s likely. But she’d never have been diagnosed with it because the terminology wasn’t widely used. Any daughters she might have run the risk of inheriting the genes prone to high insulin resistance but because she doesn’t know she has it she has no way of monitoring or forewarning her children. Sucky. Luckily we now can diagnose it, so those daughters at least know what they’ve got if they start having the same issues, and with any luck they can help their own kids prevent, avoid or deal with the syndrome themselves. We’ve come a long way since 1721 when the first suspected case was recorded.
This progress is largely due to the sharp development in medical technology and, of course, a deeper insight into female reproduction and women’s health – you’ve got to remember that for the longest time, women couldn’t become doctors, which must have had an impact on the study and diagnoses of women’s health issues.
The symptoms of PCOS, for those unfamiliar with the syndrome, are anovulation – when the ovaries don’t release the egg so ovulation doesn’t occur -, excessive androgens – male hormones -, and, of course, insulin resistance. These can lead to irregular periods, flawed ovulation, acne, hirutism, infertility, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes – especially type II -, and certain types of cancer. Mind you, apparently not all women develop polycystic ovaries and these symptoms vary from woman to woman, I don’t suffer from acne, for example, and only have minor trouble with hirutism compared to other women with PCOS.
Diagnosis tends to be made clinically, meaning that if a woman shows certain symptoms the GP assumes it’s PCOS and may or may not run a few blood test. To know for sure, ask your GP to run more thorough tests, such as a pelvic ultrasound that might show up any cysts growing on ovaries. Other tests they might run is a glucose test, which involves fasting, having blood drawn, drinking a sugary solution, and then having blood drawn at regular intervals. This helps them narrow down how high – if any – insulin resistance you have and how at risk you are for diabetes.
When I was first diagnosed, I was simply told to ‘lose weight’, without being given any advice on why or how. No one told me it would be difficult to lose weight, because no one told me what was causing the weight gain to start with. I’d been put onto a contraceptive pill to control my irregular periods, but further information about why any of this was happening to me didn’t occur until my regular GP happened to be away and I landed a different one. My new GP drew me some pictures and explained it to me in a way that I could understand, writing out some key terms for me to go home and research in my own time. She’s the one who explained about the weight loss – the fact that you’ve got too many male hormones in your system means your body is producing female ones to counter them, and that’s part of what’s causing the trouble. Your body’s storing those hormones rather than flushing them from your system. Remember that Breakthrough Bleeding post? Yeah, that’s where this comes in again, all that estrogen that you’ve been storing in your fat cells because you’ve got too much testosterone floating around in your system is causing a spike in your androgen levels. And round and round and round it goes until suddenly you’re suffering from crippling menstrual cramps, migraines, and worse.
Getting this under control is no easy feat, but the important thing to keep in mind is that it can be done. There’s no cure yet for PCOS, but there are ways of dealing with it, of coping and working around the symptoms in such a way that you can live a happy and full life, and yes, with a little bit of patience, effort and careful diet managing, you can conceive and carry a child to term quite easily. I don’t have any children, so I’m not speaking from experience in that regard, but studies have shown that even a small loss of weight can help remedy the hormonal imbalances that are blocking your way to motherhood. I’ll do some more research in that regard and write about it later since I don’t have any real world experience to back it up with.
I’ll leave it there for now, if you have any questions or whatnot, you know how to reach me.
A few Sites and Articles to look at for more information:
http://www.webmd.com/women/tc/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos-exams-and-tests (this one is a little…um, mundane. I don’t usually site or use WebMD as a source, but it gives you a good place to start)
http://www.pcosdietsupport.com/ (This one’s particularly good)