Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal health problem that affects 1 in 20 women. The effects of the syndrome are varied, but can affect everything from fertility, weight, menstrual cycle, to outer appearance. It is caused by hormonal imbalances that lead to the growth of cysts on the ovaries.

There is no single cause for PCOS, but it’s usually a mixture of genetic and lifestyle factors leading to the hormonal imbalance. Women with PCOS usually produce higher levels of androgens (male hormones) alongside higher than normal levels of insulin.

Depending on the severity of PCOS, the symptoms can vary from woman to woman. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Infertility
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Excessive body hair growth
  • Acne
  • Weight gain
  • Abdominal pains
  • Anxiety/low mood/mood swings/depression
  • Water retention, swelling

Because there is no one pill you can take to cure PCOS, the best way to manage the symptoms is by a mixture of medical and lifestyle interventions.

Lifestyle Changes

  1. Weight loss: Because insulin sensitivity is a major problem for women with PCOS, losing weight is extremely important to regulate insulin secretion. Even losing just a little bit of your excess weight can cause significant improvements in insulin imbalances.
  2. Exercise: Exercise helps with weight loss, helps rebalance reproductive hormones, and is extremely effective at combating the anxiety and depressive symptoms that can accompany PCOS.
  3. Focus on Carbohydrate Quality: When dealing with insulin imbalances, the type of carbohydrates you put into your body is especially important. It is important to choose foods high in fiber and low in refined sugars to prevent sudden spikes in blood sugar levels.
  4. Smoking: If you smoke and suffer from PCOS, you should consider quitting. Women who smoke have higher levels of androgen hormones, which are heavily associated with PCOS symptoms.

Medical Interventions

  1. Birth Control Pills: Regardless of their contraceptive benefits, birth control pills are a great way of balancing reproductive hormones, clearing acne, and reducing excessive hair growth in women with PCOS.
  2. Fertility Medications: Because infertility is one of the major problems associated with PCOS, your doctor may recommend several fertility medications to help combat the issue.