PCOS Symptoms, Treatment and How It Impacts You
Author: Izzie Rowley
Have you been recently diagnosed with PCOS? Do you think you have PCOS symptoms? Or are just utterly confused about this strange condition people have started talking about… well this article is a good start to learning the many factors about PCOS, including symptoms, treatment, medication, diet and support.
What is PCOS? How do you get diagnosed?
PCOS or PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome is a very common hormonal imbalance found in many women of reproductive age (from when you first get your period to menopause), we are also known as cysters. It is characterised by 3 factors:
- An imbalance in insulin levels
- An imbalance in androgen hormone levels (male hormones)
- Cysts found on the ovaries
However, not all women with PCOS will have all 3 elements, in fact many young women don’t exhibit any cysts on the ovaries which can lead to misdiagnosis when insulin and androgen levels are not tested. Personally, I was diagnosed in 2019 when I was 19 due to an imbalance found in both my insulin and testosterone levels but without any cysts found on my ovaries.
There is no known cause of PCOS, however it has been found that genetics play a role. The main tools to manage PCOS involve changes in lifestyle as well as some medications and supplements which we discuss later on.
You might have seen a trending topic lately about PCOS being linked to the contraceptive pill, as many people who menstruate have recently been diagnosed with PCOS once coming off the pill. From our own research, it appears that a lot of younger teens get prescribed the pill to help deal with their heavy periods and painful cramps, as the pill can help mask and control these symptoms. However, many menstruators are finding these symptoms come back stronger than ever once they cease taking this hormonal contraception, and they find themselves with a PCOS diagnosis.
There is no proven link between the contraceptive pill causing PCOS, however there certainly isn’t enough medical research done on this topic yet. We recommend it’s best to consult a specialist when dealing with your menstrual health if you think something isn’t quite right.
There are many symptoms associated with PCOS and not cyster will exhibit every symptom. A few symptoms include:
- Irregular or infrequent periods
- Excess facial and/or body hair
- Scalp hair loss
- Weight gain
- Trouble sleeping
- And more…
If you believe any of this is ringing true for you I recommend popping to your GP to get a check up and get those hormones tested!
PCOS Diet... What Foods Can I Eat With PCOS?
There’s plenty of new research coming through about what you should and shouldn’t be eating after being diagnosed with PCOS. It can be tricky to filter through everything you find online, you have someone telling you to eat completely gluten and dairy free, and others saying enjoy your life and eat all the gluten and dairy you want…. Who is correct?
At the end of the day, neither of them are correct. You have to listen to your own body, because everyone is different. Try a few weeks without gluten and/or dairy and see how you feel. If you don’t notice a difference, maybe it’s not a concern for you. However, if you feel like a whole new person then go for it and be gluten/dairy free. Most sources are recommending to opt for a healthy balanced diet that doesn’t rely too heavily on one macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates or fats).
It’s also recommended to eat regularly in smaller portions, eating every 3 to 4 hours will help balance insulin levels and reduce intense hunger cues that may lead to overeating. Many women with PCOS have trouble reading their hunger and satiety cues correctly causing many women to over eat, eat when emotional or bored which can impact your hormone levels.
Some sources have also mentioned paying attention to the GI of foods, this is the glycemic index. Low GI foods produce lower insulin and glucose levels after consumption which will assist in balancing your hormone levels.
Professionals also state to lower alcohol levels to only 1 to 2 standard drinks per day with regular alcohol-free days every week. Personally, I certainly do not follow this rule on Saturday nights, but we’re all just doing our best!
Losing weight with PCOS
Losing weight with PCOS can seriously be an uphill battle, for some cysters you may feel like you gain weight just by breathing. You are not alone!
I have struggled with losing weight and still do, I haven’t found the right method for me but I have learnt so much along the way. Whether you’ve been there before and you’re on the other side, currently in the thick of trial and error and listening to your body, or if you don’t even know where to start there are plenty of helpful sources out there. The trick is learning to pick and choose what works for you. When you are overwhelmed with massive amounts of information just focus on one thing that seems well researched, backed by evidence and that won’t be detrimental to your physical or mental health and give it a go. You have to test what feels right for your body as we are all different and there is no cookie cutter formula to lose weight with PCOS.
I am still definitely in the trial and error phase of my journey where I’m not sure if counting calories is for me, or if I want to go for a more intuitive approach but I have learnt that patience is the only thing that’ll help. If you think counting calories for a week will help you decide whether or not it’s for you, unfortunately you’re not going to get anywhere. It’s a long and tiring road but we gotta stick it out and give things a real go! Try it for a month, 2 months, and if nothing good comes from it (not just if no weight loss occurs, do you feel better at all?) then try something else.
PCOS Drugs and Supplements
Everyone has something to say about what you should be taking when you’re diagnosed with PCOS and it is so common for doctors to prescribe birth control to “fix” PCOS symptoms. However, whilst birth control can make life a little easier (sometimes) it won’t actually assist with the root hormonal imbalances causing PCOS symptoms.
Unfortunately, this area of PCOS management is another trial and error situation. Some cysters swear by certain drugs or natural therapies that have only negatively impacted others. For example, Metformin is a prescription drug used to assist with insulin management. Some cysters' experiences with Metformin are fantastic and it helped them lose weight, get their insulin in check and they’ve never looked back. However, the side effects of Metformin have torn some cysters apart, sometimes literally as the digestive side effects can be brutal in the bathroom. I have personally been on and off Metformin and haven’t had any terrible side effects which I am grateful for, however my personal aim is to get off prescription drugs and use only naturally found compounds to assist in my hormone management.
Natural remedies are popping up everywhere since PCOS is currently a hot topic, however there have been 2 names that I see everywhere in the current research, Berberine and Inositol. I have tried Berberine and am currently trialing Inositol. Berberine didn’t seem to do much for my insulin, however I wasn’t pairing it with the best lifestyle choices and I’m still too new to Inositol to make any comments. So here’s what the research (like actual scientific studies) says:
One study discovered a large difference between the performance of Berberine and Metformin in reducing women's waist circumference and cholesterol levels with Berberine being superior. However, when it came to Insulin resistance neither Berberine or Metformin was more effective in regulating this (Source: https://tinyurl.com/2kdd9mp8 ). This same result was found by a second study with neither Berberine or Metformin being more efficient and alleviating Insulin resistance (Source: https://tinyurl.com/zsck8rcr )
A meta-analysis (an analysis of a lot of other studies) discovered positive impacts made by Myo Inositol on both insulin resistance and androgen imbalance (including testosterone). This is promising and is only the beginning of Inositol’s journey to help out cysters (Source: https://tinyurl.com/y2df2n2u ). Another study from 2020 discussed the impact the addition of other molecules to Myo-Inositol can have on the efficacy of Inositol. It was found that myo-inositol should be paired with D-chiro-inositol in a 40:1 ratio for optimal performance. Too much D-chiro-inositol can actually increase androgens and negatively impact women with PCOS. This is an important understanding to have as many women are unaware of this (including myself, I’m going home to check what kind of Inositol I’m taking right now). Moral of the story, do your research cysters (Source: https://tinyurl.com/8kest4hs ).
Is Period Underwear Suitable for PCOS?
So, you have PCOS, you never know when you’re going to get your period, for how long it’s going to stay and if it’s going to make you bed ridden due to the pain for a few days. Do you really want to be constantly buying tampons and pads just in case or have to worry about tampons and pads when those surprise attack periods do come crashing down on your life? Trust me, this is where period undies come in handy. If you throw a pair of period undies in your car, in your handbag and keep a couple at home you never have to worry about buying another pad or tampon for a very long time AND you don’t even need to go through the process of putting on/removing a pad or inserting/pulling out a tampon.
Also don’t forget to throw some Panadol and a heat pack in when you think your time might be coming, particularly if you’re blessed with awful and uncomfortable periods like me. If you’re lucky enough to be on the other side of trial and error and have worked out what you need to do to return your period to a regular, somewhat comfortable cycle then period underwear will be suitable for you.
Moral of the Story...
It’s a long, windy road but there finally is some research coming out to help guide you, so be critical and enjoy learning about your body along the way. We’ve got your back when your period does eventually come so you can have some solace in that. You got this cyster!
Have you been experiencing PCOS symptoms or did you just get diagnosed? We would love to hear your story of what happened, as the more people that share their experience, the more we can spread awareness and help others find the right information.