femme qui lit syndrome des ovaires polykystiques

Living with polycystic ovary syndrome

Article co-written with Andrea Bomo of Ann & Eli Apothecary.

To all those who live with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) on a daily basis, we see you. ❤️

*The word "woman" has been used to lighten the text; it refers to any person of XX phenotype, regardless of gender identity.

What is PCOS?

PCOS is an endocrine disorder affecting 1 in 7 women of child-bearing age. It’s characterized by ovulation dysfunction and hyperandrogenism (overproduction of male hormones) as well as by the presence of small cysts on the ovaries that can affect normal ovarian function.

Causes of PCOS

PCOS is a complex, multi-factorial condition whose exact causes are not fully understood. Several genetic, hormonal, and metabolic factors appear to play a role in the development of PCOS. Here are some of the possible influences:

  1. Genetic factors

There is evidence of a genetic component to PCOS. Women who have family members with the condition have an increased risk of developing it themselves.

  1. Insulin resistance

Insulin resistance, a condition in which cells don’t respond effectively to insulin, is frequently associated with PCOS. This leads to increased insulin production to maintain blood sugar levels, which can stimulate androgen production by the ovaries.

  1. Hormonal imbalance

A disturbance in the normal regulation of sex hormones, including follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone, can contribute to PCOS. Elevated androgen levels are also characteristic of the condition.

  1. Inflammation

Chronic inflammation may play a role in PCOS. Studies suggest that women with PCOS may have an increased inflammatory state.

  1. Lifestyle

Factors such as obesity and lack of physical activity are associated with PCOS. Obesity can worsen insulin resistance, contributing to the development of PCOS.

  1. Environmental factors

Certain environmental factors and in utero exposures may also be linked to the development of PCOS.

It’s important to note that each person with PCOS may have a unique combination of contributing factors. The condition’s symptoms and severity can vary considerably from person to person. Diagnosis and management of PCOS require a personalized approach and may involve lifestyle changes, medications to regulate hormones and treat symptoms, and, sometimes, fertility treatments if conception is difficult.

woman wiping eyes with tissue

PCOS symptoms and possible complications

PCOS causes a range of symptoms, including irregular and anovulatory cycles, amenorrhea, hirsutism, acne, sleep disorders, infertility, overweight, depression, and chronic fatigue. These vary from person to person, and it’s possible to have PCOS without experiencing all the symptoms.

PCOS is also associated with an increased risk of developing certain long-term health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and difficulty conceiving.

PCOS and cancer

Many people with PCOS wonder whether the syndrome can lead to an increased risk of developing cancer of the reproductive system. PCOS and cancer are distinct, but as can some diseases, PCOS can influence the risk of certain cancers and vice versa. Below, you’ll find a few points to consider. Then we’re done with the all the scary medical information, and we’ll give you some concrete tips—we promise!

Endometrial cancer

Women with PCOS may have a slightly increased risk of endometrial cancer due to hormonal imbalance, in particular increased estrogen exposure without progesterone balance. However, this risk remains relatively low.

Insulin resistance and cancer

As mentioned above, PCOS is often associated with insulin resistance, and high insulin levels may be associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, including breast and colorectal cancer.

Fertility and treatment

Some people with PCOS may have difficulty conceiving and may require fertility treatments. These treatments may be associated with a slightly increased risk of certain cancers, although the relationship between fertility and cancer is complex and depends on many factors.

Medical surveillance

People with PCOS can be encouraged to monitor their health closely and take steps, such as maintaining a healthy body weight and managing insulin, to reduce modifiable risk factors.

It’s crucial to stress that PCOS itself is not a cancerous condition, and the vast majority of women with PCOS do not develop cancer. However, it’s always a good idea to have regular, open discussions with your health-care professional to monitor your reproductive health, discuss your concerns, and develop a plan tailored to your specific situation.

If you have a family history of cancer or specific concerns, your health-care professional can advise you on prevention strategies and appropriate screening and measures to maintain good reproductive health.

women walking down stairways

Prevention and healthy living

Since lifestyle habits play a significant role in both the development and management of PCOS, here are some lifestyle habits that can positively influence your well-being:

1. Adopt a colourful, varied, and anti-inflammatory diet

Diversifying meals and focusing on anti-inflammatory foods is important for balancing intestinal flora, reducing inflammation, and regulating the intestinal cycle. Examples of good foods include fresh and seasonal vegetables and fruit, omega-3s, whole grains, and legumes. At the same time, it’s also a good idea to reduce your intake of sugar, processed foods, refined carbohydrates, red meat, and dairy products.

2. Eat protein

Eating protein with every meal (including in the morning) helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce insulin resistance, which affects at least 75% of women with PCOS and contributes to ovulation and menstrual cycle disorders. Some food choices include poultry, eggs, fish, and vegetable proteins.

3. Take care of your lifestyle

Adopting the right daily habits is important for hormonal balance. For example, get at least 7 hours’ sleep a night, take time to relax and reduce stress, drink enough water every day, take part in moderate physical activity adapted to PCOS, and reduce endocrine disruptors and alcohol consumption.

4. Use medicinal plants

Certain medicinal plants help regulate sex hormones and the menstrual cycle as well as reduce common PCOS symptoms. They can be used as a cure and prepared as herbal teas, infusions, or decoctions, depending on the plants used. Among your allies are mint, licorice root, raspberry leaves, burdock root, nettle, cinnamon, green tea, and alchemilla.

5. Take the right food supplements

People with PCOS have higher deficiencies of key vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, vitamin B9, vitamin B12, zinc, and magnesium. These nutrients play a key role in metabolism, hormonal balance, and fertility. So it’s essential to eat foods that contain them and to take supplements when necessary.

Myo-inositol and PCOS

Myo-inositol is a type of dietary supplement that has attracted interest in the context of PCOS.

Myo-inositol is an isomer of inositol, a substance found in many foods. It’s often considered a B-complex vitamin, although the body can produce it in small quantities.

Here’s how myo-inositol is linked to PCOS:

  • Improved insulin sensitivity: Some research suggests that myo-inositol may help improve insulin sensitivity. Insulin resistance is often associated with PCOS, and improving this sensitivity may help regulate insulin levels.
  • Hormone regulation: Preliminary studies indicate that myo-inositol may play a role in the regulation of hormones involved in PCOS, including follicle stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, and androgens.
  • Improving egg quality: There are suggestions that myo-inositol could help improve egg quality in women with PCOS, which could benefit fertility.
  • Symptom reduction: Some women with PCOS report a reduction in symptoms such as acne and hirsutism when taking myo-inositol.

It is essential to note that although some studies have shown promising results, research into the use of myo-inositol in the treatment of PCOS is still ongoing, and some results are only preliminary.

In addition, it’s important to consult a health-care professional before starting any supplement, as it may interact with other medications or medical conditions.

Everyone’s unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. If you’re considering trying myo-inositol for PCOS, be sure to discuss it with your doctor for personalized advice based on your specific health situation.

woman in bed typing on laptop keyboard

Finally, the goal is not to do everything perfectly and adopt these habits tomorrow! Go at your own pace, without putting pressure on yourself and by listening to your body.

For more tips, download the free guide: 5 Steps to Regulating Your Cycle and Getting Pregnant with PCOS.