Thanks to the Internet and real life stories from celebrities like Lena Dunham and Padma Lakshmi, more people are familiar with the hormone imbalance known as PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome).
These days PCOS is estimated to affect 5-10% of women of childbearing age, with 30% of all women exhibiting some symptoms of PCOS.
Reports indicate that PCOS is on the rise and yet, despite its prevalence, much remains unknown about the syndrome. As with most things that are related to a woman’s menstrual cycle and hormones, there has been little discussion about this syndrome and many women are left wondering if they have PCOS, misunderstanding what PCOS is, or being diagnosed with PCOS and unfortunately coming to believe things that just aren’t true about their condition, what it means for their health and how to treat it.
What is PCOS?
What many people don’t realize is that PCOS is not one syndrome but rather four different disorders:
- Type 1: Classic Women with classic PCOS have high androgen (male hormone) levels, irregular or absent ovulation, and a polycystic ovary.
- Type 2: Hyperandrogenic anovulatory Those who have hyperandrogenic anovulatory PCOS have an excess of androgens and irregular or absent ovulation.
- Type 3: Ovulatory Women diagnosed with Ovulatory PCOS have a high level of androgens and a polycystic ovary.
- Type 4: Non-hyperandrogenic For women with non-hyperandrogenic PCOS, the syndrome presents as an irregular or absent ovulation and a polycystic ovary.
The recently proposed fifth strain of is Obesity. Women with this typehave insulin resistance which causes their testosterone and estrogen production to go into overdrive. As a result, these women typically experience acne, facial hair, and irregular or absent ovulation.
It is often falsely assumed that the way one woman experiences PCOS is how all women experience it. For example, it is commonly believed that having PCOS means you have cysts on your ovaries and won’t have a regular period. In fact, only three of the four types of PCOS are associated with ovarian cysts and while menstruation can be affected by the condition, it is also heavily dependent on inflammation, body fat percentage, and one’s cortisol and insulin levels. Similarly, some, but not all, women with the condition will experience acne, facial hair growth, or both.
How to treat PCOS and if it can be treated at all are also widely misunderstood. Women who come to Parsley Health with a PCOS diagnosis are often on a birth control pill and believe that their diagnosis means they are infertile.
“In reality, the birth control pill does nothing to cure, prevent, or fix PCOS or any other hormone disorder. It can be helpful as a management tool for symptoms, but ultimately it just masks the problem,” explains Parsley Health founder and CEO Dr. Robin Berzin.
How to Treat PCOS
Although the cause of PCOS remains unknown, research indicates that imbalances in hormone levels, body fat percentage, and metabolism are to blame. At the root of these imbalances are stress and diet, which often go hand in hand as high stress can lead to poor dietary and other lifestyle choices. Treating the condition requires making dietary and lifestyle changes. For our patients, we recommend a low-glycemic, plant-based, Paleo-style diet complemented with supplements to balance hormone levels, blood sugar, and insulin levels and decrease inflammation.
By following our protocols, our patients have rebalanced their bodies, reversed PCOS, and oftentimes been able to conceive.
If you have been given a diagnosis of PCOS, the best thing you can do is educate yourself and find a physician who will take the time to explain the syndrome and work with you to heal. Just because a friend has PCOS or you have heard that women with it always have a particular symptom, does not mean that you will have that experience. At Parsley Health, we believe in a personalized approach to medicine because no two people are the same.