5 Fast Facts About PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and Diabetes
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (often referred to as PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects between 8-18% of women worldwide. Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome often experience infrequent or absent menstruation, weight gain, and difficulty getting pregnant. There are many other symptoms ranging from cysts on the ovaries to increased facial hair growth.
There is also a high chance of developing pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes because there is an extremely high risk for insulin resistance and glucose intolerance in all women who have been diagnosed with PCOS. The good news is that managing lifestyle factors such as diet and physical activity can help decrease this risk—combined with appropriate medications if necessary.
Here are 5 fast facts about PCOS and diabetes you should know.
1) There is a strong association between Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and prediabetes/type 2 diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes affects over 300 million people worldwide, according to the IDF Diabetes Atlas . This number will only continue to rise as urbanization continues at an increasing rate. Women are twice as likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes in comparison to men, partially due to increased obesity rates among women of reproductive age. It is estimated that more than 80% of women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome have some form of insulin resistance or glucose intolerance.
2) The risk of developing pre-diabetes/type 2 diabetes increases after 30 years old
As the name implies, the diagnosis criteria for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome requires that a woman have 2 of the following 3 symptoms:
- Irregular menstrual cycles (oligomenorrhea)
- Excessive androgenic hormones (often resulting in hirsutism and/or acne)
- Presence of polycystic ovaries confirmed by ultrasound scan
It's important to remember, however, that most women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome do not meet all 3 of these classification criteria. In fact, internet self-diagnoses are very common among young women who otherwise wouldn't even be experiencing any noticeable symptoms at all. It is also possible for a woman who has been diagnosed with PCOS to experience a "reversal" after menopause or after losing weight, which allows her to conceive without medication.
3) If you are concerned that you might have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, see your doctor immediately
Prevention is key - especially when it comes to pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. There are no medications approved for the prevention of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, but lifestyle changes (including diet and exercise) can help decrease symptoms.
4) A blood test can confirm whether or not you have type 2 diabetes
If a woman who is experiencing PCOS symptoms has difficulty conceiving with unprotected intercourse after 6 months, she may be at risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Once this condition is suspected, doctors often order several fasting plasma glucose tests , HbA1c , cholesterol profiles, and a urinalysis. In addition to any of the aforementioned tests, a woman may be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes if she has elevated blood sugar levels (>140mg/dL) after having a high carbohydrate meal (75g glucose) .
5) If you have been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, your doctor should check your blood sugar
Type 2 Diabetes is a progressive condition wherein insulin production decreases over time. Women who have been recently diagnosed with PCOS are at an increased risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes later on in life, so it's important for your doctor to check your blood sugar as often as possible to keep tabs on its progression throughout treatment.
Natural Treatments for PCOS
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine disorder that affects 5-10% of women. Symptoms include irregular menstrual periods, infertility, acne, excessive body hair, and being overweight. Diet and exercise are the first line of treatments for PCOS, but because these remedies fail to work in certain cases where hormones are responsible for symptoms, other therapies are often necessary.
The following are some natural remedies that have been found effective in alleviating or eliminating symptoms associated with this condition.
- Clomiphene therapy – Clomiphene therapy stimulates ovulation by acting on estrogen receptors in the hypothalamus to inhibit negative feedback inhibition of GnRH secretion by estrogen levels rising during the late follicular phase . It also stimulates the release of FSH.
- Metformin – Metformin is a first-line treatment for PCOS because it helps women with PCOS lose weight and maintain a regular menstrual cycle more effectively than other common treatments. It has been shown to induce ovulation in some cases where clomiphene fails to work alone, though metformin does not appear to have any effect on fertility once pregnancy occurs. In addition to improving insulin sensitivity, metformin also inhibits glucagon secretion from pancreatic cells as well as increases cAMP concentrations in target tissues such as the liver, adipose tissue, and skeletal muscle .
- Acupuncture – The World Health Organization has included acupuncture as a potentially effective complementary therapy for a number of conditions including infertility, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. In a clinical study on women with PCOS, acupuncture resulted in ovulation rates approximately double those observed in the group that did not receive acupuncture .
- Acupressure – An alternative to acupuncture is acupressure which releases endorphins that help regulate hormone levels.
- Lifestyle changes – Eating healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats and fish can help reduce insulin resistance associated with this condition. Women who are trying to lose weight should focus on cardio-vascular exercise for 30 minutes five days per week. Because estrogen may be produced by fat cells, women should avoid prolonged periods of inactivity.
- High Vitamin D Diet – Vitamin D deficiency may be a significant risk factor for insulin resistance and metabolic disturbances . Studies have found that low levels of vitamin D are associated with the signs and symptoms of PCOS, including infertility, obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus , hyperandrogenism, hirsutism, acne vulgaris , acanthosis nigricans , and menstrual irregularities. Supplementing with vitamin D has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity in patients who had continuing hormone imbalances after ovulation.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – A recent study showed that dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids reduced serum triglycerides by 35% and free testosterone levels by 44%. Women who took omega-3 fatty acids also experienced significant increases in pregnenolone, DHEA, SHBG, LH, FSH, and estradiol.
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine – A recent human clinical trial found that acetyl-L-carnitine supplementation for twelve weeks significantly reduced the body mass index (BMI) of overweight women with PCOS . Metformin plus L-carnitine was even more effective than metformin alone at improving insulin sensitivity, reducing serum glucose concentrations.
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