Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a whole-body hormonal imbalance that affects a woman’s ability to ovulate. It’s surprisingly common, affecting up to 26% of adult women.
Women with PCOS typically have irregular periods. Their hormonal imbalance means they show signs of excess androgen hormones too, such as acne, excess facial/body hair and thinning of hair of the head. Some women with PCOS also experience weight gain and infertility.
If left unchecked, PCOS can contribute to the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.
How is it diagnosed?
A woman needs to meet two of the following three criteria to get a diagnosis of PCOS:
- Irregular periods or no periods at all
- Excess androgens, identified either via symptoms or through a blood test
- Small ‘cysts’ on the ovaries, as shown in an ultrasound
What are the causes?
There’s no single cause of PCOS, as hormonal imbalance is triggered by different things in different women. There are a few underlying factors:
Insulin resistance. This is one of the most common drivers of PCOS. It’s typically brought on by a high-sugar, low-fibre diet.
Inflammation. This can also drive hormonal imbalance. Chronic, underlying inflammation can be caused by poor gut health, food sensitivities, infections, toxicity and more.
Stress. Some stress hormones are also androgens, which means they can also drive PCOS. Stress can be physical, mental or emotional.
The oral contraceptive pill. Coming off the oral contraceptive pill can cause a temporary surge in androgens, leading to ‘post-pill PCOS’.
How to test?
PCOS is a clinical diagnosis, which means it’s identified by its symptoms. However, there are a few tests that can help to provide more information:
Blood tests to look at levels of hormones such as testosterone, DHEA, DHEA-S and LH
A glucose tolerance test to assess insulin sensitivity
An ultrasound to look at cysts on ovaries
Remember: these tests alone cannot diagnose PCOS. For that, you have to meet two of the three criteria listed above.
Conventional treatment for PCOS
Conventional treatment for PCOS focuses on managing symptoms. This may include:
The oral contraceptive pill. Confusingly, although the oral contraceptive pill can induce PCOS, it’s also given to mask its symptoms. Some forms of the pill can suppress androgen hormones—but they’ll surge again when you stop taking the pill.
Spironolactone. This is another drug that can suppress androgens, reducing symptoms such as acne and excess hair. It does nothing to restore ovulation.
Metformin. This common drug corrects insulin resistance, one of the key drivers of PCOS. It may improve ovulation in some women.
Although all these drugs can help to reduce symptoms, they don’t address why PCOS has developed in the first place. That’s where the Functional Medicine approach can be transformative.
Our approach to managing PCOS
Here at the London Clinic of Nutrition, our nutritionists and Functional Medicine Practitioners take a multi-faceted approach to tackling PCOS. This may include:
- Optimising diet to improve insulin sensitivity
- Supporting gut health to reduce inflammation
- Reducing toxicity to encourage hormonal balance
- Minimising stress through lifestyle tweaks
- Using targeted supplements and herbs to support hormones further
Our practitioners take a thorough case history (and recommend tests where appropriate) to determine the underlying causes of your PCOS, and tailor the approach to your needs and circumstances.
Rather than merely masking your symptoms, our goal is to restore your hormonal balance—enabling you to get over PCOS for good.
Supporting fertility with PCOS
The central issue in PCOS is that a woman isn’t ovulating as she should, which can make falling pregnant very difficult.
Through tackling the root cause of hormonal imbalance, the Functional Medicine approach to PCOS works to restore ovulation. This, combined with other natural methods of boosting fertility, can help you conceive when you want to.
Get in touch
We're here to help you find the best way to address your concerns if you have been diagnosed with PCOS.
We offer a range of appointments in-person or online. Of course, with our virtual, online clinic, you’ll receive the same exceptional service from your expert Functional Medicine practitioner as you would seeing us at our London clinic.
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