Here at beeya, we're committed to providing education about women’s health and hormonal imbalances in a way that is digestible, honest, and accessible to all. You deserve to understand what’s going on with your body.
We talk a lot about the PMS-side of hormonal imbalance, but today we wanted to talk about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Whether you’ve been battling it for years or have never heard of it before, here’s what you need to know about PCOS.
PCOS is a multi-faceted endocrine disorder that results from hormonal imbalances in the body. This is usually shown by an excess of androgens, or testosterone, and insulin resistance, meaning cells stop responding to insulin and an excess is produced by the pancreas. A traditional diagnosis for PCOS¹ relies on having two of these three factors: excess androgens, multiple ovarian cysts, or irregular or missing periods.
Symptoms of PCOS vary widely from person to person, but some of the most common are:
- Irregular or no periods
- Excessive body hair
- Hair loss
- Weight gain
- Cysts on the ovaries (only detectable by ultrasound)
According to the CDC, PCOS affects up to 5 million women² of reproductive age in the US alone, and the numbers may be much higher as studies have shown up to 70 percent of cases go undiagnosed³ and untreated. PCOS is the leading cause of female infertility⁴, and also increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, depression, and anxiety.
If you think you may have PCOS, it’s important to talk to your doctor about steps you can take to alleviate symptoms.
Many women are able to manage their symptoms with PCOS effectively with a variety of natural lifestyle and dietary changes. Here are a few to get you started:
1. Consider intermittent fasting
While going for long periods of time without food can worsen hormonal imbalances in women, a gentle fasting window between 12-14 hours can give your body some much-needed recovery time where it doesn’t need to produce insulin. Try having your first meal around 8am and your last around 6pm, cutting out the late night snacks so your body gets that valuable rest and digest period.
2. Get serious about dialing in your diet
Research⁵ has shown that fiber-rich protein helps women with PCOS manage their body composition, as well as improve glucose metabolism. It may also help prevent the chronic illnesses associated with PCOS. Foods high in fiber and protein include seeds, beans, legumes, and peas.
Eating cruciferous vegetables is also a key component for a diet aiming to manage PCOS. Green leafy veggies like broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage are magnesium-rich, which studies have shown⁶ to reduce insulin resistance and hyperandrogenism often found in PCOS patients.
3. Get to know your body and cycle
Make sure you are tracking your menstrual cycles and symptoms from month to month. Going more than 35 days without a period, heavy bleeding, or mid-cycle bleeding can all be indicators of PCOS. Use an app like MyFLO to keep track of your symptoms so you can share them with your healthcare professional, and note any dietary and lifestyle changes so you can see the difference they make over time.
4. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise is key to managing PCOS symptoms. While high intensity or aerobic exercise can be especially helpful for managing weight or reducing BMI for PCOS, the most important aim is finding something you enjoy and stick to consistently. Studies⁷ have shown that mindfulness-based exercise including yoga, pilates, and tai-chi might be particularly helpful, as it helps alleviate stress levels that worsen PCOS symptoms.
5. Work with a health care team you trust
If your doctor’s default is to put you on the pill to mask the symptoms of PCOS and send you on your way, you are not getting the care and support you need. Make sure you have a healthcare team that will listen to your concerns.