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PCOS 101: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

2 years ago4 min read
Fact checked
Last updated: Jan 23 2023

If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS, the first important thing to know is that you’re not alone.

PCOS 101: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

After being diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) at 18, I felt scared and confused, and was simply told that birth control pills would help manage my symptoms.

So I did my own research, studied nutritional science, and became a dietitian.

And I’ve never looked back.

(This article has been medically reviewed by embryologist and fertility expert, Navya Muralidhar.)

In this article: 📝

  • What is PCOS?
  • What causes PCOS?
  • How is PCOS treated?
  • 6 tips for losing weight with PCOS:

What is PCOS?

PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that affects up to one in ten women.

Although it can often be managed through long term diet and lifestyle changes, a lot of the recommended restrictive ‘quick fix’ diets don’t actually heal the underlying metabolic problems that are happening with PCOS.

PCOS has a myriad of symptoms including weight gain, hair loss, facial hair, moodiness, irregular periods, and difficulty getting pregnant.

What is PCOS?

What causes PCOS?

The truth is that PCOS can be caused by an array of possible triggers such as chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, adrenal fatigue, or a thyroid condition.

These possible root causes trigger higher-than-normal amounts of male hormones, called androgens.

How is PCOS treated?

The most common form of treatment for PCOS after diagnosis is suppressing our hormonal rhythms with birth control until you start trying to conceive.

At that point, it can be time-consuming and even more frustrating to reverse symptoms naturally.

Women with PCOS are often given the option for fertility treatments instead.

Often, we are told by our doctor to lose weight in order to increase the chances of fertility and treating PCOS.

Although weight loss may be helpful, it’s often extremely difficult when the root causes of PCOS are not addressed.

Weight gain with PCOS is not simply an issue of eating too many calories, it’s often an issue of metabolic dysfunction caused by root problems such as insulin resistance.

As a Registered Dietitian, I encourage women with PCOS to consider making long-lasting lifestyle changes, rather than resorting to short-term restrictive dieting and overexercising.

Here are my top tips when it comes to treating your PCOS, and reversing the metabolic dysfunction. ⬇️

6 tips for losing weight with PCOS:

1. Stay off the restriction rollercoaster

If your main focus is to heal your metabolic dysfunction, eating salad all day isn’t the answer.

Restricting calories and waving goodbye to carbs is going to further fling your metabolism off the deep end.

Although cutting out carbs can help some women, it’s often not the answer for everyone with PCOS.

If what you’re doing is making you feel restricted, hungry and miserable, then it’s not right for you.

2. Don’t compare yourself to others

Everyone’s PCOS journey and symptoms are so different, remember that.

Just because someone was able to lose 20lbs in 2 months doesn’t mean that your smaller weight loss should be dismissed.

Celebrate every positive step, no matter what.

That way, you keep up what works and continue heading in the right direction.

3. Treat your insulin resistance

If you have insulin resistance, which 80% of women with PCOS do, it’s important to treat it.

This might require a lower-carb diet, and an increase in exercise.

For example: consistently doing slow, weighted workouts can help build muscle and improve insulin sensitivity, and going gluten- and dairy-free can prevent large insulin spikes.

4. Try meditation

I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep your stress hormones nice and low.

Around 50% of women with PCOS struggle with stress hormone dysregulation, which can trigger symptoms including weight gain.

A meditation practice, acupuncture, supplements, and therapy can reduce stress levels significantly.

On the other hand, cutting calories, restrictive dieting, and overexercising can trigger stress hormones.

5. Get 8 hours of sleep

Did you know that getting enough sleep is seriously important when you have PCOS?

Lack of sleep can lead to a 30% increase in insulin resistance, which leads to more cravings and poor food choices.

Getting enough hours of shut-eye each night will also help with managing stress hormones, and as a result, PCOS symptoms.

6. Learn your triggers

Removing gluten and dairy has made a remarkable improvement for many women with PCOS.

It’s a good idea to test cutting these foods out for a month or so to help you understand if they’re triggering your symptoms.

Because PCOS is linked to insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, and metabolic syndrome, eliminating gluten and dairy gives you an edge in fighting all of those because they can be inflammatory and hormone-disrupting.

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