Experts estimate that 5-10% of women who are of reproductive age in the United States have polycystic ovary syndrome, usually called PCOS. It is one of the most common endocrine disorders among women in that age range.
PCOS can have many symptoms, and at Apple Hill Gynecology it’s common for our PCOS patients to struggle with their weight. In this post, Dr. Marsha Bornt and our staff provide information about why you may be struggling to lose weight, as well as offer some tips on lifestyle changes that may help.
PCOS is a complex condition that involves both your reproductive and your endocrine systems. The precise cause isn’t known, and researchers are continuing to learn more about the exact mechanisms at play in the condition.
Common symptoms of PCOS include:
- an irregular menstrual cycle
- thinning hair
- weight gain
- fertility problems
- excess hair growth on the extremities, face, chest, abdomen, and back
When you have PCOS, you have too much testosterone, sometimes referred to as “male hormone” and not enough estrogen. In many cases, another hormone is involved — insulin.
Insulin resistance and PCOS
Insulin is a hormone that aids in how your cells use glucose, or sugar, for energy. When you’re insulin-resistant, it means your cells don’t recognize the insulin, so they don’t allow the glucose to enter, and it builds up in your bloodstream. When that happens, you have “high blood sugar.”
If insulin resistance sounds a lot like diabetes, that’s because the two conditions are the same problem, just at different scales. If you have insulin resistance, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes is greater. Insulin resistance is one of the main reasons you may find it difficult to lose weight if you have PCOS.
What you can do
One of the best ways to lower your insulin levels is to adjust your diet. A couple of different approaches seem to work well for women with PCOS. The first is to eat fewer carbohydrates, particularly refined carbs, like those in processed foods such as cookies, bread, pasta, and even breakfast cereal. Even if you’re consuming an appropriate number of calories, a too-high percentage of carbs can make it difficult to lose weight.
A second approach to nutrition that is often successful for women with PCOS is to follow a low-glycemic index diet, which is also a way of managing carbohydrate intake. The low glycemic index diet takes into account how certain carbs behave within your body. For example, 25 grams of carbs from a piece of whole wheat bread aren’t the same as 25 grams of carbs in a piece of candy.
In addition to paying close attention to nutrition, you can also improve your insulin levels by establishing a regular exercise routine. Exercise decreases how much insulin your cells need, and moderate exercise is also a great way to manage stress — another contributor to insulin resistance.
Ask for help
Understanding PCOS may feel overwhelming, and figuring out what you need to do to manage your condition is often complicated. We can help. Schedule an appointment to discuss your situation with Dr. Bornt. We’re always happy to answer questions and make suggestions.