PCOS is estimated to affect 1 in 10 women of childbearing age and is one of the most common causes of infertility. Thanks to the Internet and real life stories from celebrities like Victoria Beckham and Daisy Ridley, more people than ever are familiar with this hormonal imbalance.
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, and signs of PCOS look like. Unfortunately women are coming to believe things that just aren’t true about their condition, what it means for their health, and how to treat PCOS.
What many people don’t realize is that PCOS is not a disease but rather a set of symptoms that can present together. The syndrome can express itself in a variety of different ways such as the following:
Classic PCOS: High androgen (male hormone) levels, irregular or absent ovulation, and a polycystic ovary.
Hyperandrogenic anovulatory PCOS: An excess of androgens and irregular or absent ovulation.
Ovulatory PCOS: High levels of androgens and a polycystic ovary.
Non-hyperandrogenic PCOS: Irregular or absent ovulation, along with a polycystic ovary.
The recently proposed fifth strain of PCOS is obesity. Women with this type have 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.
Although PCOS causes remain 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 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, insulin levels and decrease inflammation . We also recommend getting a minimum 150 minutes of heart-raising physical activity per week since exercise has been shown to not only improve the irregularity of menstrual cycles and ovulation in 50 percent of women diagnosed with PCOS, but also increase insulin sensitivity and lipid metabolism.
By following our protocols, patients have been able to rebalance their bodies, reverse PCOS, and oftentimes conceive.
If you have been given a PCOS diagnosis, 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 the same experience. At Parsley Health , we believe in a personalized approach to medicine because no two people are the same. Between our comprehensive hormonal testing and in depth doctor visits, we will get to the root cause of your symptoms and design the best possible treatment plan to meet your needs.
Dr. Robin Berzin is the founder and CEO of Parsley Health. A Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Robin completed medical school at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.