Struggling to Manage Your Weight with PCOS? Here’s Your Comprehensive Guide
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a complex hormonal condition that many women of child-bearing age deal with.
But, the name is a little confusing.
From the name, you may think that women with PCOS are dealing with multiple cysts on their ovaries. However, you don’t have to have cysts on your ovaries to be diagnosed with PCOS.
In this blog post we’ll explore:
- Signs and symptoms that reveal you have PCOS
- PCOS causes
- How to diagnose PCOS
- The connection between PCOS and insulin resistance
- Natural solutions for managing your weight with PCOS
PCOS can be a frustrating and challenging diagnosis, but you are not alone! So, keep reading to learn more about PCOS and how to find relief.
You’re Not Alone When It Comes to PCOS
PCOS is the most common endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age. It’s estimated that 1 in 10 women have PCOS – that’s about 382 million women.
However, PCOS often goes undiagnosed. This is because of a lack of awareness and the variation in signs and symptoms. So most women who have PCOS may be struggling with symptoms but don’t have answers to what’s really causing them.
Let’s explore the common symptoms most women with PCOS experience.
PCOS Symptoms You May Experience
While PCOS is common, the range of symptoms and the similarity of symptoms with other conditions makes it difficult to diagnose.
- Weight gain
- Hirsutism: Excessive hair growth
- Oily skin
- Irregular periods
- Hair thinning or hair loss from the head
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Low self-esteem
- Poor body image
What could be causing these symptoms? You’ll learn this next.
What Causes PCOS?
I don’t like admitting this, but the causes of PCOS aren’t fully understood. However, let’s look at the data.
Scientists know that insulin resistance is present in 70% of women with PCOS.
Insulin is a hormone that’s released from your pancreas that regulates your blood sugar. Insulin resistance is when your body can produce insulin, but other organs and tissues that have insulin receptors become less sensitive to it. So, your body has to produce more and more insulin to get the same response. This leaves a higher amount of insulin in your blood which can lead to chronic diseases like diabetes.
When it comes to reproduction, women with PCOS have a hard time getting pregnant or experience infertility because insulin causes hormone imbalances that interfere with the release of eggs from ovaries. In fact, insulin forces your ovaries to convert estrogen to testosterone. This interrupts ovulation, and when you can’t ovulate, you don’t experience a rise in progesterone so you can’t get pregnant.
Now, let’s explore how doctors diagnose PCOS.
How Doctors Diagnose PCOS
In order to diagnose PCOS, doctors perform three things:
- A pelvic exam
- Blood tests
- An ultrasound
Sometimes your doctor may be able to look at your symptoms to determine if you have PCOS, and the above tests are used to confirm the diagnosis.
PCOS Initial and Secondary Lab Tests
The initial lab tests that are run include:
- Testosterone: This is the initial test to determine if your body is producing excess androgens (aka sex hormones). If your body is producing too much testosterone it can lead to male characteristics, like facial hair.
- Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG): The SHBG hormone is low in women with PCOS.
- Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH): AMH is often increased in women with PCOS.
Secondary lab tests that can help confirm if you have PCOS include:
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH): FSH will be normal or low in women with PCOS.
- Luteinizing hormone (LH): LH will be elevated. The ratio between LH and FSH is normally 1:2. However, in women with PCOS, the ratio is normally 2:1 or 3:1.
- Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate: DHEAs may be elevated.
- Androstenedione: Androstenedione may be elevated.
- Estrogens: Different variants of estrogen may be normal or elevated.
- Progesterone: Progesterone is commonly low.
- Fasting insulin, HOMA-IR index, or 2-hour insulin glucose test: Your insulin levels will be high with PCOS, due to insulin resistance.
There are other tests that your doctor may run to diagnose PCOS and rule out other conditions, but these are the ones I normally start out with when I see my patients. Work with your doctor to determine the best lab tests for you.
Now while dealing with PCOS can be frustrating, there are natural solutions to help you deal with the symptoms – especially weight management.
6 Natural Solutions for Managing Your Weight With PCOS
While some doctors may prescribe birth control to manage your PCOS and regulate your hormone levels, there are alternative and natural solutions. Let’s explore six natural solutions for managing your weight and insulin resistance when dealing with PCOS.
Stress is a factor in insulin resistance development. Stress can be caused by a variety of factors like:
- Physical stress from pain or trauma
- Chronic inflammation or infections
- Poor nutrition
- Psychological stress
In the end, high stress leads to high amounts of cortisol (aka the stress hormone). This high cortisol level can increase your blood sugar. So, here are ways to reduce stress:
- Exercise, but avoid overexercising
- Connect with your loved ones
- Try counseling and therapy
- Take a warm bath
- Try journaling
- Get adequate sleep
Poor sleep is one of the most common reasons I see women with increased blood sugar and chronic stress. I recommend getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night to manage your insulin levels. This will help with weight management and insulin resistance.
Take Care of Your Gut Health
The foods you eat influence your insulin levels, and your gut microbiome does too! Your gut bacteria can determine how your blood glucose levels rise after a meal.
If you’re experiencing PCOS symptoms, it may be beneficial to have your doctor test your gut. Your doctor can use tests like the GI-MAP test to determine the types of bacteria in your gut. A high amount of firmicutes bacteria and low Bacteroides may lead to insulin sensitivity and inflammation. This will make it harder for you to manage your weight if you have PCOS.
Food is truly medicine. When you feed your body whole foods, this helps you maintain a healthy weight and optimize your health and life span. So, when it comes to choosing healthy foods here are some things to keep in mind:
Reduce Your AGES
The types of foods you eat is important, and the way you cook your meals is important too. I recommend you reduce your consumption of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that can lead to inflammation, insulin resistance, and weight resistance.
You can do this by:
- Avoiding cooking your foods at high temperatures
- Avoiding cooking with oils
- Avoiding processed and packaged foods
- Cooking with water or broths, rather than oils
- Coating your meats in acidic liquids like wine, vinegar, or lemon juice before cooking
Eat Whole Foods
Nothing nourishes your body better than whole, natural foods. It can be hard to only eat whole foods, so try to take baby steps toward a healthier diet. Here are some tips:
- Eat wild-caught, organic, or pasture-raised meats
- Avoid processed foods
- Avoid or eliminate grains and dairy
- Eat more vegetables and fruits
I recommend that each plate include 4 ounces of cruciferous vegetables (like Brussel sprouts, kale, and cauliflower) and 5-6 ounces of meat.
Practice Intermittent Fasting
The timing of your meals can help you manage your weight. Fasting can help your body use stored fat as an energy source. You also lower your insulin when fasting, which can help with weight management. So, if you have PCOS this can be a powerful tool to help you manage your weight.
While exercise isn’t effective for weight loss because it can increase your cortisol levels and cause stress, exercise is needed for weight management and PCOS.
Exercise can also benefit your heart and brain. Here are some exercises that I recommend to my patients:
- Strength training
- Short high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts
Work with your doctor to come up with the best exercise program for you. You should also listen to your body to make sure you’re not overexerting yourself and still enjoying your exercise routine.
Supplements for PCOS
Supplements can provide many benefits when it comes to PCOS. They can:
- Help improve your lab results
- Improve ovulation and egg quality
- Replace nutrients that are missing in your diet
- Optimize your nutrient levels
Supplements should do as their name suggests: supplement your health. They’re not a replacement for a healthy diet, and there’s no such thing as a weight loss pill.
Some supplements I recommend to my patients with PCOS to help them with weight management include:
- N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC): NAC can help with infertility by lowering your androgen levels and inflammation. It can also help to decrease your cholesterol levels. I recommend 1.6 to 3g per day.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D can increase mature follicles and help regulate your periods. This can help with improving fertility.
- Omega 3s and fish oils: Omega 3s can provide mental health benefits, skin and hair health, and reduce inflammation. Omega 3s are commonly taken by women to support a healthy pregnancy.
Remember, before adding a supplement to your treatment plan, make sure you discuss the correct dosing with your doctor and read supplement labels carefully.
Managing Your Weight With PCOS Is Possible
While it can be a struggle to see the scale not budge, it IS possible to manage your weight when you have PCOS. To learn more consider watching my PCOS webinar. CLICK HERE
If you’re interested in a weight loss program that provides you 1:1 accountability, a supportive community, supplement advice, and a customized meal plan, consider our Metabolic Reset Program! I’m currently accepting new members.
Do you have questions about PCOS? Ask them below in the comments – I’d love to hear from you.
Rooting for you and your health,
Struggling to Manage Your Weight with PCOS? Here’s Your Comprehensive Guide