As a sufferer of PCOS, diagnosed at 19, it is of personal interest and also a pleasure to share PMS expert Maryon Stewart to the blog to share her expertise.
Over to Maryon:
It is thought that up to 90 per cent of women with infrequent periods and 30 per cent of women whose periods have ceased prematurely have polycystic syndrome.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS as it is often known, is characterised by a necklace-like structure of at least ten fluid filled sacks surrounding each ovary. On an ultrasound scan the ovaries would appear on average to be three times the size of normal. This syndrome was originally associated with women who were of child-bearing age but whose periods had stopped. They had in common an over-growth of hair in unwanted places and a tendency to be considerably overweight.
What causes it?
There is undoubtedly a hormonal disturbance in women with polycystic ovaries, with an excess of LH, Luteinising hormone, from the pituitary and androgens, the male hormones.
Being overweight makes women much more susceptible.
Binge-eating, as in bulimia nervosa, has also been found to be associated with polycystic ovaries.
In one study, published in The Lancet, it was discovered that it was rare for bulimics to have a normal ovarian picture on ultrasound. It is thought that the fluctuating levels of the hormone insulin, brought about because of the bingeing, may also stimulate the underlying tendency to polycystic ovaries.
Elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol are also thought to increase inflammation making symptoms worse.
What your doctor can do
Your doctor can examine you physically to determine whether there is any other underlying problem as well as arrange for you to have an ultrasound scan. Ideally it will be suggested that you lose weight if you are overweight and you may be prescribed an oral contraceptive pill or other hormonal therapy depending on whether you are hoping to conceive or not.
In severe cases, surgery is performed. Favoured approaches include laser or diathermy during a laparoscopy, which aims to pepper the ovarian surface, and is less likely to cause adhesions, the fibrous tissues that sticks to other organs.
What you can do to self-help
• It’s vital to lose weight if you are overweight. One study from St Mary’s Hospital in London revealed that even modest weight loss from a low-fat high-fibre diet can correct the hormonal abnormalities, reduce the growth of hair in unwanted places and improve the chances of conceiving. Don’t worry if you do not reach an ideal weight. A 6–7 kg (one stone) weight loss can produce a real change in body chemistry.
• Possibly cutting down on wheat (bread, cakes, biscuits and pasta) and relying upon rice, green vegetables and fish, might help hormonal balance.
• Reduce or completely avoid dairy products and use alternatives made from soya, rice, oats and nuts.
Foods containing phytoestrogen, the naturally occurring isoflavones found in soy, linseeds and red clover, help to moderate levels of oestrogen in the body starving the fluid filled sacks. Use soya milk instead of dairy milk which contains environmental oestrogen and has been associated in studies with an increased risk of PCOS.
• Severely limit your intake of sugar as women with PCOS have a higher risk of developing adult onset diabetes. Consume intrinsically sweet food including low sugar fruits including
berries, rhubarb, citrus fruit and pomegranate.
Women often have low levels of important nutrients which make it difficult for our hormones to function normally. Taking a broad spectrum multi-vitamin and mineral formulation like Premtesse will help to get your nutrient levels into an optimum range.
• Take a good quality B-complex providing between 50–100mg per tablet. B vitamins are essential for the metabolism of oestrogen in the liver. Magnesium can also be taken in conjunction with the B-complex to help the process and vitamin D levels should always be checked as it’s necessary for normal hormone function and often in short supply.
• Consider taking some supplements. The herb Agnus Castus is used successfully in balancing female hormones. The berries contain a wide range of active compounds, including flavonoids. Promensil, the red clover rich supplement which contains 40 mg of isoflavones, naturally occurring oestrogen or MacaHarmony which helps to normalise the function of the hormone producing glands.
Practice regular formal relaxation or meditation to keep calm and centred as stress is now believed to make women more susceptible to PCOS.
Do frequent sessions of moderate exercise including yoga, Pilates and dancing.