Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or Disorder, commonly known as the PCOS/PCOD is one of the common hormonal disorders that women of reproductive age face. Generally put, women with this syndrome may have infrequent menstrual cycles and/or unreasonable weight gain. The signs and symptoms of this disorder may vary from acnes to facial hair growth. 

Biology of PCOS

The ovaries of a woman contain her lifetime reserve of eggs. These eggs are immature and are stored in tiny fluid-filled sacs called follicles. The pituitary gland located at the base of the brain regulates the functioning of the ovaries by secreting the Follicle Stimulating Hormone or FSH  and Luteinizing Hormone or LH. While FSH signals the follicles to start maturing, a surge in LH causes the ovary to release the most mature egg for fertilization. After ovulation, the remaining follicles dissolve away. However, if you have polycystic ovary syndrome your pituitary gland may release abnormally high amounts of LH in your bloodstream. As a result, your follicles do not mature and ovulation does not occur and your menstrual cycle stops. Also, some of these immature follicles do not dissolve away and remain as fluid-filled sacs or cysts. Hence the name polycystic ovary syndrome. 

Some Statistics

A study conducted by the department of endocrinology and metabolism, AIIMS, shows that about 20-25 percent of Indian women of childbearing age are suffering from PCOS. The incidence of PCOS among women and teenage girls has risen to such an extent that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has taken up a nationwide survey. This syndrome has serious health consequences and if left undiagnosed it can lead to infertility and other long-term health concerns like type 2 diabetes.

Here are the top 3 causes of  Polycystic Ovary Syndrome 

Normally, even women’s body has a certain amount of male hormones like androgen. However, when the androgen is present in excess, it often becomes the central factor in causing PCOS.

1.Increase in androgen level due to Glyphosate-Rich foods

As we all know, androgens are male hormones. In any normal woman, ovaries produce eggs and the sac surrounding it produces a little amount of androgen. Normally, this androgen gets converted into estrogen by enzymes. However, when this conversion process gets halted for some reason, the androgen gets built up in a woman’s body, leading to disproportionately high levels of male hormones.

One of the major reasons for this phenomenon is Glyphosate. Glyphosate inhibits the enzymes that help in the conversion process. Glyphosate is a general use pesticide. Glyphosate-containing Roundup, produced by US agro-giant Monsanto, is one of the most widely used weedkillers in the world, including India. There is emerging evidence that long-term exposure to glyphosate causes many health concerns including cancer. The Genetically Modified foods, also known as GMO foods, are one of the major reasons for introducing glyphosate into your body. While GMO foods aren’t that prevalent in India, processed foods high in glyphosate content such as corn flakes, chips, soy milk and other store-bought canned/packed food products can cause a similar level of hormonal imbalance in women.

2. Increase in insulin level due to high intake of refined carbs and sugar.

Whenever you eat food, your pancreas releases insulin to absorb the sugar from your bloodstream. To put in simple wordings, insulin regulates sugar when you are eating. On the other hand, it also inhibits the breakdown of fatty cells and promotes fat storage. Now, one may easily get confused on whether insulin is a friend or a foe. As long as one is sensitive to insulin, it’s all good. However, resistance to insulin is unhealthy, and it often sets off overdose, which is vicious in many ways. And, as we all know high insulin is responsible for many chronic conditions, including PCOS. Too-high levels of insulin can cause your ovaries to produce more androgens, such as testosterone.

Further, the secretion of  Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF1)  that regulates your blood sugar when you are not eating increases.  According to a research, IGF-1 is one of the main growth factors to activate male hormones. Another NCBI research observed that elevated IGF-I levels may have a crucial role in many consequences of PCOS in addition to hyperinsulinemia.

3. Increase in androgen secretion by adrenal glands due to stress

Not only follicles and IGF-1 secrete or activate androgens, but even adrenal glands secrete adrenal androgens in both men and women. The amount of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) secreted in a normal woman’s body is significantly lesser. However, DHEA gets stimulated by production of the main stress hormone called cortisol. While cortisol is helpful in metabolism, excessive secretion of this stress hormone triggers excessive androgen release.

In layman terms, being highly stressful along with high sugar and GMO food intake is the root cause for PCOS/PCOD in women.

Now that the causes are clearly put on the table, let’s see the most common and important effect:

Due to high androgen levels, women will eventually start having more acne, facial hair, and thinning hair on the scalp. All of these are common male patterns caused by excessive androgen.  Some women may also develop hypothyroidism along with PCOS. Apart from these, one major effect of PCOS on women is irregular/infrequent/no menstrual cycle.

While your ob-gyn would definitely help you overcome PCOS/PCOD with medicines, a holistic approach to living can help you to not only heal better but also to prevent the syndrome from occurring in the first place.

Here are some tips to heal and prevent PCOS/PCOD:

  1. Reduce sugar intake. If possible, avoid added sugar completely.
  2. Remove processed, refined and GMO foods from your diet.
  3. Eliminate any kind of stress. Practice yoga and meditation.
  4. Add more healthy fats like Omega-9 and Omega-3, like Avocado, olive oil, chia seeds, flax seeds, etc.
  5. Avoid vegetable oils like corn, soybean, safflower oil as they increase inflammation in the body. 
  6. Maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. Daily exercises are particularly helpful in balancing hormonal imbalances. 

These days, more and more women spend a huge chunk of their time at their work desks and follow unhealthy food habits. This lifestyle change is the major factor for PCOS being one of the most common hormonal disorders in the current generation of women. However, one can effectively prevent as well as heal this syndrome by adopting a holistic lifestyle that involves healthy food habits, active workout routine, and practice of relaxation techniques such as Yoga, Pranayama, and Meditation.