I have it… and 1 in 5 of you will have it too

23 Jun

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal disorder affecting Australian women.  1 in 5 women have it but a shocking 70% of women have no idea.

PCOS can cause acne, weight gain and excessive body hair.  Most women are too embarassed about seeing a doctor about any of these conditions so they are left untreated.  PCOS also carries an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and endometrial cancer and it also a leading cause of infertility.

Unfortunately, when women do end up going to the doctor, their symptoms are treated individually rather than investigating the underlying problem.  Personally, I went to the doctor several times spanning over a few years trying to get to the bottom of my weight problem.  Instead of looking into any possible hormonal issues I was advised to try Xenical (a horrible weight loss drug), exercise more and eat less.  Eventually a doctor advised I see a nutritionist and it was only then that the nutritionist suggested I get tested for PCOS.

PCOS is a confusing syndrome.  Not all sufferers have cysts on their ovaries and some women who do have cysts do not have PCOS.  In Australia you must have at least 2 of the following to be diagnosed with PCOS:

1. Infrequent or absent periods

2. High blood levels of male hormones or visible signs of facial hair, acne and male pattern balding

3. Ovarian cysts which show up on an ultrasound

If you have any of the above it is important that you see a doctor as they can offer you treatment which will in turn lead to a better quality of life and prevention of future diseases.

A few common theories around what causes PCOS are insulin resistance (which I have a mild case of) and high levels of male hormones.  Importantly, not all women who have PCOS have insulin resistance nor do they all have high levels of male hormones.  Another cause could possibly be genetics.

Sadly, 50% of PCOS sufferers are overweight or obese.  Overweight PCOS women rather than thinner PCOS women are at a greater risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndromes.  Therefore it is especially important to reduce body weight (hence my my own weight loss journey!).

Evidence has been reported in the American Journal of Sports Medicine that if a women sheds fat (in particular around her middle) she significantly lowers her insulin resistance and therefore may start ovulating as well.  Losing just 5% of total body weight decreases insulin and testosterone levels and can improve excess hair and acne.  Also it will give fertility a mighty boost.

It’s not easy though.  Many PCOS women report that after dieting solidly and working out regularly they lost minimal weight in comparison to what their non-PCOS counterparts would lose.   This rings true with me as well as according to the diet and exercise regime I follow I should be losing a lot more weight at a much quicker pace.   This is because insulin promotes fat storage in the body.  Unfortunately, experts say that there isn’t enough evidence that PCOS makes losing weight harder but I would like to invite them to live a day in my shoes and see what they think after that! There has been recent evidence though that fat tissue (which secretes hormones that influence metabolism and appetite) acts differently in PCOS women regardless of their weight.  Hopefully this will lead to further discoveries in this area.

After many failed weight loss attempts I finally signed up with a good trainer who is knowledgeable in the field of womens health.  She suggested I stop taking the pill.  This seemed to be a good first step as slowly the weight started to shift.  It’s not at a fast pace but I believe the key to keeping weight off for good is to do it slowly.

PCOS is extremely frustrating no matter what your symptoms are – infertility, weight, acne or excess hair – however with the right diet (low GI, fresh and whole foods), medical support and adequate exercise you could reveal the key to happier and more fulfilling life.


14 Responses to “I have it… and 1 in 5 of you will have it too”

  1. Jenny June 23, 2010 at 9:25 pm #

    Very informative. I’m going to have to look into this. I once had a doctor suggest this as a possibility when I was 18, but we never went further with determining if I had PCOS.

    I am thinking that I should make an appointment with my doctor to see if this could be a problem for me, because I have definitely had trouble losing weight.

    • Amanda June 23, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

      I’m glad it got you thinking Jenny! Definitely see a dr who specialises in womens health for the best diagnosis. Good luck! I will be interested in seeing how you go! 🙂

  2. Brittany Balandis June 24, 2010 at 2:52 am #

    The same things are happening (have happened) to me. I can completely relate. I’m bookmarking your blog – I’ll definitely be checking up on it!

    • Amanda June 24, 2010 at 8:59 am #

      Thanks for the comment Brittany! 🙂

  3. Leah June 24, 2010 at 8:45 am #

    I am also a PCOS sufferer but with only 2 of those symptoms (although the extra covering of bum fluff could be another). I had trouble falling pregnant but after seeing a fertility specialist who diagnosed me with PCOS, i was prescribed Clomid. After 1 cycle i fell pregnant and had a beautiful healthy boy so it pays to get checked out!!

    • Amanda June 24, 2010 at 9:01 am #

      And what a boy he is! Thanks for sharing Leah. 😀

  4. BrookeNotOnADiet June 29, 2010 at 10:56 pm #

    I never realized how many women suffered from PCOS until I joined the weight loss blog community.

    I’ve never been diagnosed (I hate doctors), but I have it. I have all the symptoms possible. The excess body hair is the most frustrating!

    I will say that my weight loss has helped me in the period department. Its still not regular, but at least I’m getting one. Hopefully this will be a good sign for when I want to have children.

    Thanks for the info! 🙂

    • Amanda June 30, 2010 at 9:45 am #

      It really is quite incredible how many women this affects but it’s good to hear that we won’t just roll over and let it overcome us. 🙂

  5. Amira August 23, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    Hi Amanda,

    I know this post will be a blast from the past for you, but I have a severe case of PCOS for which I have had surgery. I was prescribed Metformin and progesterone, but don’t take them because 1.They make me feel ill and 2. I don’t see a discernible difference in weight/moods, etc when I take them. I was wondering, do you take medication, or are you diet and exercise controlled?

    • Amanda August 23, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

      Hi Amira! I’m sad to hear that. 😦 I did try metformin but it made me ill so I stopped. Under my drs supervision I decided on exercise and diet as a way to elevate symptoms of my PCOS. 🙂

      • Amira August 23, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

        Thank you so much for your quick reply. My Gyno is very pro medication but I’m glad to know I can survive without it! 🙂

      • Amanda August 23, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

        Most doctors are! 😉

        But it’s not safe to just take my word for it. We have different factors and circumstances. Get a second opinion before deciding on anything.


  1. Hmmm…. « Jenny 2.0 - June 23, 2010

    […] So I was reading another blog and the entry I have it… and 1 in 5 of you will have it too by Amanda and it got me thinking. I remember when I was 18 and the doctor saying that my irregular […]

  2. Fitness Tests, Red Dresses and Reflections « Me vs. The Bulge - December 7, 2010

    […] and PCOS and I’m happy to report that I conquered insulin resistance earlier this year and my PCOS is now under control.  That was my main goal this year and I achieved it.  Now to get to […]

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