PolyCystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a tragedy because it affects so many young women who desperately want to have babies of their own – and it affects their partners and other family members as well.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a condition in which a woman’s ovaries and, in some cases the adrenal glands, produce more androgens (a type of hormone) than normal. High levels of these hormones interfere with the development and release of eggs as part of ovulation. As a result, fluid-filled sacs or cysts can develop on the ovaries.
Because women with PCOS do not release eggs during ovulation, PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility.
How does PCOS affect fertility?
A woman’s ovaries have follicles, which are tiny, fluid-filled sacs that hold the eggs. When an egg is mature, the follicle breaks open to release the egg so it can travel to the uterus for fertilization.
In women with PCOS, immature follicles bunch together to form large cysts or lumps. The eggs mature within the bunched follicles, but the follicles don’t break open to release them.
Image courtesy U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
As a result, women with PCOS often have menstrual irregularities, such as amenorrhea (they don’t get menstrual periods) or oligomenorrhea (they only have periods now and then). Because the eggs are not released, most women with PCOS have trouble getting pregnant.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
In addition to infertility, women with PCOS may also have:
- Pelvic pain
- Hirsutism, or excess hair growth on the face, chest, stomach, thumbs, or toes
- Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair
- Acne, oily skin, or dandruff
- Patches of thickened and dark brown or black skin
Also, women who are obese are more likely to have PCOS.
Although it is hard for women with PCOS to get pregnant, some do get pregnant, naturally or using assistive reproductive technology. Women with PCOS are at higher risk for miscarriage if they do become pregnant.
Women with PCOS are also at higher risk for associated conditions, such as:
- Metabolic syndrome—sometimes called a precursor to diabetes, this syndrome indicates that the body has trouble regulating its insulin
- Cardiovascular disease—including heart disease and high blood pressure
What is the treatment for PCOS?
Conventional medicine says here is no cure for PCOS, but holistic doctors like Dr. Myatt believe that many of the symptoms can often be managed, improved greatly, or even eliminated with carefully targeted natural therapies.
It is important to have PCOS diagnosed and treated early to help prevent associated problems.
Conventional medicine will offer medications that may help control the symptoms, such as birth control pills to regulate menstruation, reduce androgen levels, and clear acne. Other medications can reduce cosmetic problems, such as hair growth, and control blood pressure and cholesterol. Many of these medicines have significant, serious, even dangerous side effects.
Naturopathic physicians like Dr. Myatt can offer more natural solutions including metabolic modification diets, hormone testing and balancing, strategies for the reduction of inflammatory factors, and more.
Lifestyle changes such as corrective diet and regular exercise will aid weight loss and help reduce blood sugar levels and regulate insulin levels more effectively. Weight loss can help lessen many of the health conditions associated with PCOS and can make symptoms be less severe or even disappear.
Surgical treatment may also be offered as an option, but it is not recommended as the first course of treatment.
Recent research has also examined the effects of the anti-diabetes drug metformin on fertility in women with PCOS. Dr. Myatt can help her patients to understand the mechanisms of this option.
Extensive recent human research also shows that myo-Inositol, a part of the B-complex family, helps to support healthy ovulatory activity, ovarian function, and reproductive system function
How is PCOS diagnosed?
Your health care provider will take a medical history and do a pelvic exam to feel for cysts on your ovaries. He or she may also do a vaginal ultrasound and recommend blood tests to measure hormone levels.
When examining hormone levels, remember that your conventional doctor will almost always order a blood test. (and it is likely that a blood test is the only hormone test your disease insurance will pay for) This blood test, while technically accurate, is only a “snapshot” – an accurate picture of your hormone levels only at the moment the test was performed.
Sex hormones are made and secreted in “waves” over a 24 hour period and a blood test cannot show the averages of those waves or highs and lows.
A more accurate test is an examination of saliva – this will provide a look at hormone levels over the past few hours. It still runs the risk of catching a “peak” or “trough” of a hormone level and thus providing an erroneous result. Dr. Myatt finds this to be a useful test when performed and interpreted correctly and offers it as an economical alternative to more expensive (and more accurate) 24 hour urine testing – find more information here.
The “Gold Standard” of hormone testing is considered to be the 24 hour urine collection. While it may be a bit time-consuming and awkward for someone who is busy and “on-the-go” it will provide the most accurate possible look at overall hormone health as it will show your body’s hormone production over a full 24 hour period.
Dr. Myatt finds that the 24 hour COMPREHENSIVE PLUS HORMONE PROFILE is the most accurate and useful of the hormone tests when performed and interpreted correctly. Interpretation of the results of this test, which includes and examination not only of the major sex hormones but of their intermediates and metabolites as well, is time consuming and complicated – this may be one reason most conventional doctors are reluctant to perform it. Dr. Myatt spends a great deal of time analysing the results of this test for her patients and she offers Brief Phone Consultations to non-patients.
Other tests may include measuring levels of insulin, glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides. Vitamin D levels, and Iodine levels.
Iodine Testing is especially important to PCOS since so many Americans are Iodine deficient and Iodine Deficiency is a major contributor to cystic conditions of all sorts – especially the breasts, ovaries, and thyroid. Learn more about Iodine testing here – Dr. Myatt offers two accurate Iodine tests.