Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a very common condition that is estimated to affect over 3% of women worldwide; some studies suggest that up to 18% of women may be affected, many without having been diagnosed. The main features of PCOS are irregular or no periods, excess body or facial hair, acne and overweight or obesity.
PCOS is usually diagnosed in young women in their teenage years or twenties. It is easy to understand how the problems it can cause can be very upsetting at this time of life. Treatments are directed at correcting the hormonal imbalance and encouraging weight loss. In my experience, many women with PCOS find it very difficult to lose weight, and I think this was for a number of reasons. Firstly, many didn’t feel very good about themselves, and such low self-esteem is a real barrier to making lifestyle changes; secondly, the effects of PCOS can often lead to a sense of depression, which itself can drive unhealthy ‘comfort’ eating. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the high insulin levels make it very difficult for people to lose weight, especially if they follow a standard low fat, high carbohydrate diet, that just stimulates yet more insulin to be reduced. Metformin (a treatment for type 2 diabetes that reduces insulin resistance) can be very effective in restoring regular periods and a low glycaemic index diet (ie avoiding highly refined carbohydrates) has also been shown to beneficial. Individuals who are able to lose weight will often find that their periods (and their fertility) return, as their hormones re-establish a normal balance.