Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is an endocrine disorder affecting women who are in their reproductive years or childbearing years (15-44 years) which is around 12-18% of women. Polycystic ovary syndrome starts during puberty, and it continues to develop throughout a woman’s reproductive years.
Some symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome are irregular or infrequent periods where some women have less than six periods in a year or prolonged periods or periods that last longer than seven days, the formation of many cysts on the ovaries. To learn about symptoms, causes and effect of PCOS on the body we have covered all important information about the syndrome in our blog “Your Personal Guide About Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)”
During a normal menstrual cycle, an egg is produced by an ovary through the process of ovulation. Polycystic ovary syndrome affects the functioning of the hormones estrogen and progesterone the two most important hormones that affect how a woman’s body functions.
Estrogen is responsible for the release of an egg every four weeks. Since there is an imbalance of these hormones, fertility is, in turn, affected. Apart from an imbalance in hormones the ovaries also produce a lot of the male hormone than the required amount, these are called androgens (testosterone being one of them). Androgens are responsible for a lot of symptoms that are associated with polycystic ovary syndrome, namely, hirsutism or excessive body and facial hair, male-pattern baldness, severe acne, etc.
Additionally, insulin also plays a part in the symptoms seen in those with polycystic ovary syndrome. Insulin helps in controlling blood sugar in the blood. With insulin resistance where some cells do not readily respond to the insulin. as a result, the pancreas produces more of this hormone to compensate. Insulin, instead of being absorbed by the cells, starts to build up in the blood, thus affecting the functioning of the ovaries, thereby affecting ovulation.
Weight Gain: Common Side Effects of PCOS
Polycystic ovary syndrome is characterized by excessive body and facial hair (hirsutism), male-pattern baldness, acne, weight gain, infertility, irregular or infrequent periods. Weight gain might just be the biggest problem, along with others that come while living with polycystic ovary syndrome. While getting diagnosed for PCOS, the following symptoms or signs are taken into account:
- irregular or missed periods mainly due to high levels of androgens
- excessive body and facial hair, chronic acne again due to the male hormone androgen
- many fluid-filled cysts on the ovaries
- insulin resistance
- high cholesterol
Insulin resistance is the main cause of weight gain in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Insulin resistance is when some cells in the body do not respond to the insulin produced by the pancreas. As a result, the pancreas produces more insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels. This leads to more androgen production and weight gain. This creates a vicious cycle wherein the insulin resistance increases, so does the symptoms and the weight gain.
In women with PCOS insulin resistance is linked to postprandial thermogenesis- is the heat production due to metabolism after taking a meal that temporarily increases the metabolic rate. Slower metabolic rate means an increase in weight. As women with PCOS experience emotional issues like mood swings, depression, etc. weight gain can be linked to increased food cravings and emotional eating as well.
Losing weight for women with polycystic ovary syndrome can be a very big challenge as it is extremely to lose weight as compared to someone that doesn’t have PCOS.
Reason for Weight Gain During PCOS
One of the biggest effects of polycystic ovary syndrome experienced by women other than irregular periods, hirsutism, fertility issues has to be the issue of weight gain. There is a direct link between weight gain and polycystic ovary syndrome. Insulin resistance is one of the biggest contributors when it comes to weight gain in women with PCOS, insulin resistance is when the pancreas produces the hormone insulin to be absorbed by the body for energy, but somebody cells do not respond to it and to maintain normal blood sugar levels in the blood more insulin is produced. This leads to a build-up of insulin in the blood, which later on, can also raise the risk of developing diabetes.
When there is a build-up of insulin in the blood, this triggers the production of the male hormone androgen, which is associated with acne, excess facial and body hair, and weight gain. Just like it is seen in males, androgen causes weight gain in women around the abdomen area as a result instead of a pear shape they tend to have an apple-shaped body. The abdomen is associated with an increased risk of heart diseases, and so it is considered the most dangerous type of fat. Some of the reasons for weight gain are:
Stress, anxiety, and depression are linked to weight gain as it can cause emotional eating and an increase in appetite. But in some people, this is not the case as these can trigger weight loss rather than weight gain.
It is seen that people who get less than 7 hours of sleep each night are more likely to be overweight as compared to people that get nine or more hours of sleep. This is due to the fact that people that do not get enough sleep have elevated levels of the hormone Ghrelin or the hunger hormone.
Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid is a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. This affects a person’s metabolism, which in turn can cause weight gain. Some symptoms of underactive thyroid are depression, tiredness, dry skin and hair, and aching muscles
Insulin therapy or treatment can contribute to weight gain. It helps in breaking down of fats and proteins, regulating blood sugar levels and converting food energy into fat. Insulin treatment is related to weight gain in those with diabetes.
Steroid treatment increases a person’s body fat, and so it results in weight gain. Steroids are prescribed for asthma, arthritis, etc.
Polycystic ovary syndrome
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome struggle with weight. It is also harder for them to lose weight as compared to women that do not have PCOS. Almost 80% of women in the United States suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome are overweight
Risks Associated to Weight Gain Related to PCOS
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome have insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone that helps in the breakdown of certain fats and proteins in the body, convert sugar and starches from food into energy to be absorbed by the body, and it also helps in maintaining normal blood sugar levels in the blood. Due to insulin resistance, the body is not able to absorb the sugar or glucose, and instead, it starts to build up in the bloodstream. This increase in the level of insulin in the body triggers excessive production of the male hormone androgen by the ovaries.
While a little amount of androgen produced by the ovaries, which is normal, high levels of it brings forth some unwanted changes in the body. The changes include excessive hair growth on the face and body, severe acne, irregular periods, male-pattern baldness and weight gain typically around the abdomen area as it is seen in males.
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome tend to have an apple-shaped body instead of a pear-shaped. Fat around the abdomen is considered dangerous as it can lead to the development of heart disease and other complications.
Some risks associated with weight gain related to PCOS are:
- Type 2 diabetes: Insulin resistance raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.
- High cholesterol: Also known as hypercholesterolemia, can lead to the development of heart disease and stroke. It can be treated by adopting a low-fat diet, medications, and exercise.
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure or hypertension can be caused by being obese, drinking too much alcohol, smoking, and family history Hypertension can lead to cardiovascular diseases and stroke.
- Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes breathing to start and stop repeatedly. Risk factors include obesity and age.
- Infertility: Being overweight and obese affects women’s fertility. Women with PCOS have an imbalance of hormones in their bodies that causes them to gain weight, thereby affecting fertility.
- Endometrial cancer: Polycystic ovary syndrome results in excessive production of the hormone estrogen in the body that raises the risk of developing endometrial cancer or cancer of the uterine lining.
Tips to Lose Weight Due to PCOS
In women with polycystic ovary syndrome dropping even 10% of the total body weight helps in regulating periods thus improving fertility, not only that it can also help in alleviating most of the symptoms associated with PCOS to a great extent. Losing weight can also help with insulin resistance and reduces the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
Before starting with weight loss, it is imperative to consult a doctor. A doctor will check the body mass index or BMI of the patient and according to that will prescribe medications and recommend a diet plan. In addition to taking medications, it is important to inculcate healthy eating habits and a healthy lifestyle:
High levels of insulin in the body is associated with an increase in body weight in people, excluding those with PCOS. Carbohydrates impact the levels of insulin in the body and to keep the level of insulin normal it is important and helpful to consider a low carbohydrate diet. In addition to a low-carbohydrate diet, a low glycemic diet is also helpful, the glycemic index or GI measures how fast a particular food raises blood sugar.
Taking a high fiber diet also helps with polycystic ovary syndrome as loading up on fiber means staying full for longer. This means lowered hunger pangs, reduction in insulin resistance, weight loss around the abdominal area.
Healthy protein options like eggs, nuts, and seafood, etc. Protein like fiber helps in controlling cravings by increasing the fullness after meals and helping the body burn more calories.
As opposed to the common misconception that eating a high-fat diet increases weight, a high-fat diet actually means healthy fats like the ones obtained from nuts, and sources like avocado, olive, coconut, etc. It can help in weight loss by increasing the feeling of fullness after eating. A healthy fats diet can help in reducing belly fat by reducing hunger pangs and the feeling of needing to snack in between meals.
Eating fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc. can help in weight loss by increasing and maintaining the number of healthy bacteria in the gut. These foods are high in probiotics which can help in weight and metabolism management.
Mindful eating helps in being more in tune and aware of bodily cues like hunger and feeling full. It also proves helpful, especially for women with PCOS as they are more prone to developing an eating disorder. Mindful eating promotes weight loss by reducing binge eating.
Limit Processed Foods and Added Sugars
Processed foods are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates that increase the risk of insulin resistance. Women with PCOS with PCOS should avoid processed foods like cakes, canned soups, biscuits, candies, etc.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to an injury or an infection. Women with PCOS suffer from chronic inflammation which causes obesity. Processed foods and sugars contribute to inflammation in the body. To combat inflammation, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains,omega-3-rich foods, such as fatty fish may protect against inflammation.
When it comes to weight loss, undereating or calorie restriction seems to do the opposite of what is intended. Long term calorie restriction can affect the metabolism making it slower, and it also affects the hormones that control hunger. After restricting calories for a certain amount of time, the metabolism becomes so slow that when normal eating habits are resumed all weight loss and more is gained quickly. So to avoid that, it is advised to eat more whole foods instead.
Exercises like weight training and cardio can help in weight loss and also reducing insulin sensitivity in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.
A minimum of 8-9 hours of sleep is recommended for a healthy living. Sleeping less than 7 hours each night can disturb the balance in hormones that control hunger like ghrelin and cortisol, an increase in the amount of these hormones mean an increased appetite which is linked to weight gain. Sleeping better also leads to fat loss.
Stress increases the amount of the hormone cortisol in the body, which can increase insulin resistance and cause weight gain. Therefore, to lose weight, it is important to manage stress.
To lose weight in a healthy manner when it comes to women with PCOS, it is important to consider lifestyle choices very seriously. Cutting down on processed and high sugar foods and instead opting for healthier options along with managing sleep schedules, exercising, managing stress can greatly help in weight loss for women with PCOS. Also bringing you a handy and informative FAQ guide about PCOS here.