Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a complex hormonal and metabolic disorder affecting women, causing symptoms such as weight gain, excess hair, acne, scalp hair loss, fertility problems, mood swings, skin tags, and an increased risk of diabetes.
There are many myths surrounding PCOS, so let’s set some of them straight!
MYTH 1: If you are overweight you will just have to put up with it because there is nothing you can do.
WRONG! If you have PCOS and you are overweight, it can be more challenging to lose weight than the ‘average’ person, but it is certainly not impossible. The only way you will lose weight and keep it off is by dealing with the underlying factors that cause you to hold onto fat. Fat will not be burned when insulin levels are high, so you need to target insulin resistance by following a low GI diet, doing regular exercise at least every 2 days, maximising your sleep, and taking nutritional supplements. A multivitamin is a good place to start, but insulin resistant people need more magnesium, chromium, and B vitamins as well. If you are taking metformin you should supplement with a multivitamin and separate vitamin B12 tablet. A naturopath can also prescribe you a herbal formula to target insulin resistance.
MYTH 2: If you have PCOS you won’t be able to have kids without the help of IVF.
WRONG! Although having PCOS can make it difficult to conceive, and IVF has helped many women with PCOS to become mothers, it is not the only option for you. There are also many women who have conceived with less invasive treatments, and some even just with natural treatments. With PCOS, ovulation does not always occur regularly, so the first step is to determine if you are ovulating which you can do via blood tests, daily temperature testing, and/or ovulation detector kits (although these may not be 100% accurate for PCOS). If you are, great! it’s a matter of getting the timing right for conception. If not, seek help with naturally stimulating ovulation. Losing 5% of body fat can help restore ovulation, as can reducing stress, dealing with nutritional deficiencies, and restoring hormonal balance with herbal medicine and/or acupuncture. You can still have PCOS and be a mother!
MYTH 3: PCOS is only a real concern if you are trying to conceive.
WRONG! For many women, trying to conceive is the biggest concern they have with PCOS, but PCOS brings with it many other concerns that can be just as challenging. The effect that PCOS has on a woman’s femininity and self esteem cannot be underestimated. Depression can be a real consequence of this and should be taken seriously. The physical issues that occur with PCOS such as excess hair, hair loss, weight gain, and acne can cause a lot of distress and are sometimes dismissed by health professionals as being only a cosmetic problem, when in fact they are a consequence of more serious underlying imbalances. Insulin resistance is a major health concern underlying many PCOS symptoms and should be dealt with as early as possible, to prevent the risk of diabetes. If your symptoms are being dismissed as minor, when you know they are affecting your quality of life… find a new health professional who will take you seriously. It is your right to have a supportive health guide who will not judge or dismiss you.
MYTH 4: PCOS goes away after menopause, or a hysterectomy will fix all my problems.
WRONG! After menopause, a lot of changes occur. Some of your PCOS symptoms may subside such as period problems obviously, but the underlying metabolic causes of PCOS will still be there. Menopause will not cure your PCOS, although it will affect you differently. You may still experience excess hair and acne, weight gain, and sugar cravings. Although the name of the syndrome implies an ovarian basis, cystic ovaries are really just another one of the possible symptoms that you can experience. Don’t be fooled into thinking a hysterectomy will fix all your problems either. As with menopause, it will stop period problems, but it won’t stop the other symptoms. After menopause or a hysterectomy, you are more at risk of weight gain, osteoporosis, hot flushes, and cardiovascular disease. PCOS is a whole body condition that requires a more ‘holistic approach’.
MYTH 5: The oral contraceptive pill will ‘regulate’ my cycle.
SOUNDS RIGHT, BUT IS TECHNICALLY WRONG! Taking the pill will provide your body with artificial hormones to simulate what a normal cycle is supposed to be. It gives you a period regularly which can prevent the lining of the uterus from building up which is beneficial, and it is also a good contraceptive, and can reduce symptoms such as acne and excess hair. BUT, most pills actually make insulin resistance WORSE! Why take something that is going to stimulate one of the main factors contributing to your symptoms? The pill may also increase the development of atherosclerosis, a process that leads to heart disease in which PCOS women are more at risk of. So, the pill is not really regulating your cycle because it is not allowing your body to do the work, it is doing the work for your body. A regulated cycle is one that is occurring regularly of it’s own accord.