Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome:
Know The Symptoms By Stephanie Walsh, MNT, CEPC, CPT A
pproximately 1 in 10 women of childbearing age in the United States have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS. Understanding what is going on in the body, why it’s hap-
pening and how to make positive changes are key to reducing PCOS symptoms.
The Female Menstrual Cycle
As the name implies, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, is a condition in which one or both ovaries have many cysts. To understand why a cyst forms, you fi rst need to under- stand the female menstrual cycle.
At the start of each menstrual cycle your pituitary gland pro- duces follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This hormone is meant to stimulate fl uid fi lled sacs called follicles within your ovaries. These follicles are the houses for your eggs. Each follicle holds one immature egg and each egg is patiently waiting its turn to be released in order to make the journey to your uterus. The release of FSH stimulates roughly 10-20 of your follicles to begin grow- ing and maturing. These growing follicles start to release estrogen, encouraging your uterine lining to thicken and stimulating the pituitary gland to now start producing luteinizing hormone (LH). A spike in LH causes one or two of your maturing follicles, the domi- nant follicle, to release its egg; this is ovulation.
Once the egg or eggs are released, the follicles stop produc- ing estrogen, estrogen levels drop, and progesterone is allowed to rise. This hormonal change encourages your uterine lining to be more nourished in anticipation of fertilization. If after all that work the egg is not fertilized, progesterone and estrogen levels drop, telling your uterus it’s time to shed that protective lining; this is menstruation.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome In a healthy woman, the dominant follicle releases its egg
each month. However, in a woman with PCOS, the mature fol- licle never gets the signal to release its egg. These unreleased eggs are considered cysts. As more and more mature eggs remain in the ovary, that ovary becomes more cystic; increasing your risk of PCOS. The important thing to understand is that a polycystic ovary is not the cause of PCOS. It is only one of several symp- toms that may occur as a result of some underlying cause.
In addition to your body holding on to several unreleased eggs, other common symptoms of PCOS include:
• Irregular periods • Excessive hair growth on your face and body • Thinning hair on your scalp • Acne • Skin tags • Darkening of your skin, especially at the nape of the neck • Gray-white discharge from your breasts • Excess weight and inability to lose weight • Sleep apnea • Pelvic pain • Depression and anxiety Causes of PCOS
Although the medical community is still searching for the underlying reason for PCOS, we do know that there are fi ve hormones involved in the development of PCOS symptoms: estrogen, luteinizing hormone, insulin, cortisol and testoster- one. Additionally, four probable causes: genetics, environmental factors, increased testosterone, and hypothalamus dysfunction can greatly infl uence those hormones. Let’s take a look at each hormone and how things can get out of balance.
1. Estrogen: If your body is estrogen dominant due to environmen- tal factors such as xenoestrogens in your food and environment, progesterone cannot balance the effects of estrogen. This leads to irregular periods, acne, excess weight and mood problems.
2. Luteinizing Hormone: If your hypothalamus is not working properly, it can send high levels of LH to the ovaries, stimulat- ing them to secrete more male hormones. This leads to irregular periods, excessive hair growth, thinning hair, acne and anxiety.
3. Insulin: High insulin levels cause your ovaries to produce more male hormones. This leads to the same symptoms as elevated LH levels.
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