Polycystic ovary syndrome, also known as PCOS, is one of the most common hormonal endocrine disorders in women of reproductive age. A growing number of us — an estimated 10 to 18 percent — suffer from PCOS. What does this mean? If you don’t personally have PCOS, you most likely have a friend who does. The symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome include irregular periods, facial hair growth, weight gain, and very stubborn fat loss (even if you’re eating healthy and exercising). Sadly, PCOS is a widely misunderstood condition that greatly impacts women’s mental and physical health.
Here, Goodness outlined five of the most common misconceptions about PCOS to help you educate yourself about this disorder, whether you’re affected by it or know someone who is.
Myth #1: If you have cysts on your ovaries, you have PCOS.
Dr. Heather Eade, one of Dubai’s leading naturopaths, recently spoke to Goodness about PCOS and explained, “a lot of women are told they have PCOS when all they have are polycystic ovaries. They are told they have a syndrome, when all they have are the cysts, which are normally easier to treat. The difference is that the syndrome is usually a quadrat of abnormal weight gain or difficulty losing weight, irregular periods, acne, and unusual facial hair growth. There has to be three out of four of those symptoms presenting in order for the woman to be diagnosed with the syndrome. Why patients are being told they have PCOS when they don’t is another question.”
Even if you’re unsure about whether or not you have PCOS, it’s always a good idea to see a doctor just in case. What may initially appear to be a random, unexplained symptom could actually be the catalyst for a variety of other health concerns. As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Myth #2: You will have PCOS for life.
This is indeed a hotly debated topic. As Dr. Eade explains, “To simplify things, I would say that the biggest myth out there about PCOS is that it’s with you for life. It’s not; it’s a reversible condition. I know that there are OB-GYNs out there who would argue with me about it, but my argument is that, when you are not treating the root cause, of course it’s going to return. Treating the root cause will lead to remission.”
Read a first-hand account of healing PCOS, here.
Myth #3: The best treatment for PCOS is the birth control pill.
Women with PCOS are often prescribed birth control pills, however, “[all that] really does is blanket their own hormones. It’s not actually correcting an underlying hormonal imbalance,” says Dr. Eade. Getting to the root of the problem is crucial when treating PCOS, and taking the pill will only tackle symptoms.
It’s important to mention that the pill has been used to treat PCOS successfully in the past, but that it’s very rare. “Women who are asked to go on the pill are often told that it will ‘reboot’ their hormones, and sometimes that does work. That being said, my own treatment bias is that we try to get to the root of the problem, which is the insulin resistance and the hormonal irregularities,” explains Dr. Eade.
Myth #4: You’ll never get pregnant with PCOS.
Women with PCOS are indeed able to get pregnant, although they may find it more difficult to do so, depending on the severity of their condition. Speaking to women around you, you will find that some were able to conceive without any assistance, some required the support of supplements and naturopathic medicine, and others went down the route of conventional medicine.
Recent research by Penn Medicine found that letrozole, a drug that stops estrogen production, resulted in higher birth rates among women with PCOS than other prescribed drugs, such as Clomid. Even without the drug treatment, a lifestyle change can reduce symptoms and improve your chances of getting pregnant.
The relationship between PCOS and pregnancy is actually quite interesting; “There is such a big hormonal change during pregnancy and even in the first year post-partum that often women can heal their syndrome just by having a baby,” Dr. Eade tells Goodness.
Myth #5: You can’t lose weight with PCOS.
If you are overweight and have PCOS, your body is unable to use the insulin it produces. To help regulate your hormone and insulin levels — in turn preventing weight gain — Dr. Eade recommends:
– Eliminating foods that trigger inflammation.
– Avoiding refined sugars and other additives.
– Eating healthy, high-quality proteins.
– Steering clear of strenuous exercise.
– Incorporating strength and resistance training.
– Adding multivitamins and vitamin D to your diet.
Exercise is key, “not just for the insulin regulation, but also for hormonal regulation — and more specifically cortisol regulation,” says Dr. Eade. Our body is very systematic, relying on patterns of movement, sleep, eating, and more to regulate our hormones. However, it’s important to note that if you have high cortisol levels, an intense workout can actually make your problem worse. In that case, Dr. Eade recommends “a milder — but really consistent form of exercise” as opposed to something along to lines of CrossFit, which may be too much for your body.