Ovarian Syndrome and Women’s Hormones
The weight gain, hairy face, acne and hair loss epidemic for women.
Did you ever wonder why more women today are gaining weight around their mid-section, why some women have more hair on their face, have whacky periods and over-all just feel terrible? Well if you have some of these concerns you or you know someone who does then this article may be for you.
Today it is estimated that over 12 million women are suffering from what I call the “hormone hurricane”. Yes you read that right, it’s when the hormones that make a woman look, and feel good and help her get pregnant, go complete haywire! This poses a problem for women who are not big fans of an increasing waist line, acne, head hair loss, irregular periods and depression (see symptom list). This modern day epidemic has actually been around for decades and yet it has not been until the last 5 years that we have begun testing and treating more aggressively. I started testing and treating women about 10 years ago for this syndrome at which time it was commonly treated with the birth control pill. Now we know that there are many more techniques for testing and treating women and girls with this syndrome mainly due to the fact that without treatment these women/girls will go on to have significantly increased rates of diabetes, infertility, obesity, high blood pressure, depression and many types of cancer. The hormones that are off balances start with the signally hormones in the brain. The hypothalamus (hormone regulating center of the brain) sends a signal hormone after the period ends called the GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) to the to the pituitary gland in the brain that then shouts down to the ovaries some quick messages by way of lutenizing and follicle stimulating hormone to the ovaries to produce estrogen and progesterone. In a normal cycling female, the production of estrogen and progesterone happens monthly through the event of ovulation, which then at the end of the period sends a special little message back to the hypothalamus to start the whole gig over again. The bad news is that with polycystic ovaries, the hormones are just not cooperating like they should. Researchers in the field of PCOS feel that the underlying disorder is really a problem with insulin resistance. This means that women that either have some genetic link to diabetes, or have had a diet that is high in sugar or white starchy carbohydrates, and has over time begun making too much insulin (hormone necessary to regulate the sugar in the blood). With the presence of too much insulin in the body, it begins to sensitize the ovaries to over-produce too much testosterone. The presence of too much testosterone and insulin, creates an imbalance in estrogen and progestone, leading to missed ovulations, ovarian cysts, and full blown polycystic ovarian syndrome (see list of hormone interaction imbalances below).
Now that you know the underlying hormone disturbance, we can focus on how it is tested, and treated. For testing we often order a full hormone profile, this would include looking at the levels that regulate the cycle: FSH, LH, Estradiol, Progesterone, Free Testosterone, in addition we often order thyroid tests, since many women with PCOS have undiagnosed thyroid disorders. Lastly, an ultrasound is ordered to identify if there are cysts present in the ovary (only about 25-35% of the cases show polycystic changes in the ovaries). Once all of the data is collected including: complete history, symptom evaluation, test results, and ultrasound, the puzzle is put together in order to accurately diagnose the hormone imbalance.
Recent research has pointed out that using treatment for the high levels of insulin with medications that help to sensitize insulin and better utilize sugar in the blood will reduce the incidence of women with PCOS developing diabetes and infertility problems.
For the treatment of PCOS the best approach is to regulate the cycle with Micronized progesterone or the birth control pill or both. This will restore the balance needed to work with the woman’s other concerns of insulin resistance. In addition regulating the cycle will allow the woman to have a greater chance of restoring the hormones and improving her fertility (if this is a concern). The medication needed for insulin control is often a medication known as Metformin. This medication adequately controls the insulin resistance; helps lower the testosterone and restore balance in many women. The use of medication to lower the high testosterone may be helpful in diminishing facial hair, loss of head hair and acne.
I must say that the number one most important drug in the treatment of PCOS is food. Yep, that’s right food. You must change the types of food you are predisposing yourself to in order to lower your insulin production, and regulate your blood sugar. This can be done very efficiently through the diet.
Each patient deserves an individualized approach. The testing is important but so is the teaching of lifestyle changes and medication or natural interventions.
Symptoms: (not all need to be present)
- Missed periods
- Irregular periods
- Painful periods
- Heavy periods
- Weight gain (mostly around the middle)
- Skin tags
- Nigrans Ablicans (brown raised patches of skin)
- Cravings for sweets or breads
- Hair loss
- Increase in facial or body hair
- Oily skin
Symptoms of Hormone Imbalances:
- High Testosterone: oily skin, increase hair on face and body, irregular periods, hair loss and acne
- High Insulin: Weight gain, depression, skin tags, brown patches of skin, fatigue, cravings, unstable blood sugar
- Low Progesterone: depression, irregular periods, water retention, heavy periods, painful periods, missed periods
- Low/High Estrogen: fatigue, irritability, irregular cycles
- Eat a diet low in sugar (read labels get less than 4-6 grams of sugar in each serving)
- Eat a high fiber diet (only eat breads/no more than 2 per day that are high in fiber (4 grams or more)
- Eat more lean protein with each meal to stabilize blood sugar levels
- Eat at least 4 servings of fruits and veggies daily
- Snack on nuts, seeds and low carb foods only.
- Drink more water (8 10 glasses)
- For a more detailed plan call Heather Safely at 773-9772 for a complete plan
- Chromium Picolinate 400-600mcg daily for insulin sensitivity
- L-Glutamine 500-1500 daily for blood sugar balance