Unexplained Weight Gain? | PCOS May Be the Culprit

Updated September 26, 2021

I bet you’re wondering what PCOS is and how it affects weight gain. Well, if you’re like me and have experienced bouts of weight gain, facial hair, acne, insulin resistance, dry skin, appetite fluctuations, edema, or any combination of these symptoms… then the culprit may be PCOS!

PCOS or better known as polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a condition that affects roughly 5-10% of child-rearing aged women in the United States. It is among the leading causes of infertility in women.

If you suffer from this disease, you may find that you feel pain and that pain could be from the formation of fluid-filled follicles or cysts on the ovaries. These follicles or cysts cause the failure of regular ovulation.

Along with developing cysts on the ovaries, we may also suffer from a hormonal imbalance. This hormonal imbalance leads to menstrual problems, mood swings, fatigue, and vitamin deficiencies.

As if PCOS couldn’t make things harder for us, women could also experience increased production of male hormones (androgens) from this syndrome. This, in turn, leads to excess development of hair on the body and face.

And the best part, we get to experience teen acne as adults, all over again! So, let’s dive right in. What are the suspected causes of PCOS and what can we do about it:

PCOS
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Causes of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

PCOS has many causes. The most common causes of PCOS include genetic predisposition, insulin resistance, obesity, improper diet management, accumulation of toxic substances in the body, and dysregulation of the immune system. A detailed description of the causes of polycystic ovarian syndrome is in the following section.

1: Genetic Causes                                                

PCOS has diverse genetic causes in different patients. However, all the genetic causes of PCOS are related to hormones, mainly androgens. There has been no identification of a single cause of PCOS, in any patient. So, polycystic ovarian syndrome is a polygenic disease.

The most common genetic cause of polycystic ovarian syndrome is a mutation in the genes responsible for enzymes of the steroidogenesis pathway. These genes include CYP11a, CYP21, CYP17, and CYP19.

All these genes are responsible for different enzymes involved in steroidogenesis. A mutation in these genes can lead to excess production of the androgens and subsequent PCOS. PCOS can also be caused by the over-activation of the genes involved in synthesising the androgens receptors. These overactive androgen receptors will amplify the effect of the androgens leading to PCOS. There are also some other minor genetic causes of PCOS, such as a mutation in the genes related to the production and action of gonadotropins.

2: Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is a vital driver of the metabolic disturbance that leads to PCOS. Insulin resistance and subsequent high blood glucose level disturb the regulation of androgen production. They also cause an imbalance in the hormones produced by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. An Imbalance of gonadotropins is a significant contributor to PCOS pathogenesis. The cause of increased production of the androgens in insulin resistance amplifies the signalling pathways related to androgen production.

3: Obesity

PCOS causes an increased risk of obesity, insulin resistance, and other reproductive disorders in women. There is an increased production of androgens and other hormones in obese women, such as testosterone. There are different ideas about the relationship between obesity and PCOS. However, the most common relation of obesity with PCOS is insulin resistance.

4: Inappropriate Diet

Diet can also be a contributing factor to the pathogenesis of PCOS. A diet rich in carbohydrates causes an increase in blood glucose levels. This increased blood glucose level leads to increased production of insulin by the pancreas. The high insulin level in the blood causes amplification of many metabolic pathways and increased glucose metabolism. This amplification can cause excess production of the androgens. The ultimate result is the development or progression of PCOS. In addition to a diet rich in carbohydrates, other highly processed diets affect the hormonal and metabolic balance. So, a highly processed calories rich diet puts you at risk of PCOS.

5: Chronic Inflammation

Chronic or recurrent inflammation can cause PCOS. There are different causes of inflammation. A weekend immune system allows the recurrence of infections of the urogenital tract. These infections can ascend to ovaries and cause inflammation there. A prolonged standing inflammation can cause the accumulation of fluid-filled cysts in the ovaries. 

6: Autoimmune PCOS

An autoimmune disease is a disease in which the body starts to make antibodies that destroy self tissue. Autoimmune diseases often occur secondary to foreign infections or other diseases. The antibodies produced to destroy the foreign invader start to attack self tissue after removing the foreign agent. If such auto-antibodies are directed again to the ovaries, they lead to inflammation in the ovaries. This inflammation can later lead to PCOS.

                                                        

Symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

The symptoms of PCOS depend on the severity of the disease. Usually, the cases of PCOS present with the following symptoms.

PCOS
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1: Irregular Menstruation

There is a lack of ovulation in PCOS. A lack of ovulation and a lower level of progesterone fails to cause regular shedding of the uterine wall—this failure of uterine shedding results in infrequent and irregular menstrual bleeding. There is an increase in the gap between uterine shedding, so there can be excessive bleeding after missed menstrual periods. The result of the loss of ovulation and irregular periods is infertility.

2: Inappropriate Hair Growth

There is an increase in the level of male hormones in PCOS. This increased level of male hormones causes growth of the hair on the women’s face, chest, and back. This excessive growth of the hair is called hirsutism.

3: Acne

Increased level of the androgens causes the skin to become more oily. Oily skin has an increased risk of acne. So, women with PCOS often have acne on the face and back.

4: Weight gain

PCOS is the cause as well as the effect of insulin resistance. So, PCOS causes an increase in insulin resistance and subsequent high blood glucose levels and obesity.

5: Pattern Baldness

Increased level of the male hormones causes increased growth of the hair on the whole body. But these hormones cause the hair of the head to shed. So, women with PCOS have thin hair on their scalp. There can be typical male pattern baldness in some cases.

Some other symptoms, such as lethargy and headache, are due to an imbalance of the hormones. 

Blood tests for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

If you have PCOS symptoms, and physical examination and X-ray support the diagnosis of PCOS, your doctor may ask you for the following test.

a man holding a blood tube
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1: Complete Hormonal Panel of the Blood

There is an imbalance of androgens and other reproductive hormones in PCOS, so a complete hormonal picture of the blood is necessary. The FSH level, LH, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, anti-mullerian hormone and other hormones are checked. There will be a decrease in FSH level and a significant rise in androgen level in PCOS.

2: Blood Glucose level

A high blood glucose level also contributes to PCOS progression, so fasting, post-prandial, and OGTT are done to support the diagnosis.

3: Insulin Level

The insulin level is essential to measure in PCOS because insulin resistance and higher blood insulin contribute to the progression of the disease. 

4: Lipid Profile

The doctor often suggests the evaluation of different types of lipids in the body in cases of PCOS. Patients with PCOS often have a raised cholesterol and triglycerides level.

Natural Ways to Minimize the Symptoms of PCOS

There is a genetic predisposition to PCOS. But there are some natural ways that you can adopt to prevent or reduce its symptoms.

1: Regular Exercise

Regular exercise can help minimize the symptoms from this disorder, as well as reversing the symptoms of the. By regular exercise, you can manage your weight. An appropriate weight will reduce the occurrence of insulin resistance.

2: Diet Planning

Eating a plant-based diet is beneficial for patients with PCOS. A plant-based diet that is minimally processed is called a whole food diet.

Whole foods are helpful because it does not have too many carbohydrates, so it does not raise blood glucose levels. High blood glucose level is a risk factor for this disorder. Additionally, food with minimal processing has a more negligible effect on hormonal balance.

3: Supplements

Myo-inositol is a beneficial supplement for women suffering from PCOS. It causes a reduction in insulin resistance. A reduction of insulin resistance lowers the risk of hormonal imbalance and PCOS. Some other supplements that have shown beneficial effects in PCOS cases include vitamin D, magnesium, and Omega-3 fatty acids. 

4: Sleep and Stress Management

Your sleeping pattern and stress level are interconnected. An increase in mental stress causes hormonal imbalance. This increases the risk of PCOS. A proper sleep schedule and therapy for stress management can be helpful in symptom management.

The Takeaway Message

PCOS is a severe disease related to hormonal imbalance and the development of fluid-filled cysts in the ovaries. It has various causes, such as genetic predisposition, insulin resistance, and inflammation. The disease usually manifests in the form of menstrual irregularities accompanied by symptoms such as hirsutism. If you have such symptoms, you should consult your doctor. A complete bloodwork panel may be needed to make an accurate diagnosis of PCOS.

Though the genetic causes of the disorder are inevitable, some lifestyle changes can help you beat the chances of triggering the disorder from other reasons. Lifestyle adaptations can also reverse the symptoms of PCOS and should include regular exercise, a whole food diet plan, stress management, and some supplements.


References

1: Ndefo, U. A., Eaton, A., & Green, M. R. (2013). Polycystic ovary syndrome: a review of treatment options with a focus on pharmacological approaches. P & T : a peer-reviewed journal for formulary management38(6), 336–355.

2: Witchel, S. F., Oberfield, S. E., & Peña, A. S. (2019). Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Pathophysiology, Presentation, and Treatment With Emphasis on Adolescent Girls. Journal of the Endocrine Society3(8), 1545–1573. https://doi.org/10.1210/js.2019-00078

3: McCartney, C. R., & Marshall, J. C. (2016). CLINICAL PRACTICE. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. The New England journal of medicine375(1), 54–64. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMcp1514916

4: Moghetti P. (2016). Insulin Resistance and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Current pharmaceutical design22(36), 5526–5534. https://doi.org/10.2174/1381612822666160720155855

5: Unluturk, U., Harmanci, A., Kocaefe, C., & Yildiz, B. O. (2007). The Genetic Basis of the Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Literature Review Including Discussion of PPAR-gamma. PPAR research2007, 49109. https://doi.org/10.1155/2007/49109

6: Sheehan M. T. (2004). Polycystic ovarian syndrome: diagnosis and management. Clinical medicine & research2(1), 13–27. https://doi.org/10.3121/cmr.2.1.13

7: Arentz, S., Abbott, J. A., Smith, C. A., & Bensoussan, A. (2014). Herbal medicine for the management of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and associated oligo/amenorrhoea and hyperandrogenism; a review of the laboratory evidence for effects with corroborative clinical findings. BMC complementary and alternative medicine14, 511. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-14-511


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