It is estimated that 1.4 million Canadians have symptoms of PCOS and affects about 1 in 10 people with ovaries of childbearing age. PCOS is an endocrine (hormonal) disorder that can effect the menstrual cycle, fertility, hair growth (usually resulting in excess hair growth), acne, weight gain, blood sugar levels, etc.
PCOS can be experienced very differently by different people - for example, some may have regular menstrual cycles, some may have a slim build, some may not have had a menstrual cycle for years! PCOS is subdivided into 4 types - but I find it to be much more complicated than that so I prefer to think of each person individually rather than type them.
People with PCOS often have high testosterone levels (hence the acne and extra hair growth for some), insulin resistance (hence the difficulty losing weight for for some), and low estrogen & progesterone (without regular menstruation hormones aren't rising as they do in a typical menstrual cycle). There are also usually lots of small follicles (fluid filled sacs) found on the ovaries on ultrasound. PCOS is usually only investigated/diagnosed if a person isn't menstruating or is having a hard time getting pregnant.
What to do about PCOS?
I always work on eating & lifestyle. Eating a diet full of fruits & veggies, while making sure to stabilizing blood sugar is key. Moving the body is also important in managing PCOS.
There are lots of different researched supplements that can help balance hormones and ovulation, if a nutrition/lifestyle approach isn't enough. Interestingly, in many people simply by stabilizing blood sugar levels at a good level (using diet, lifestyle, supplements, or pharmaceuticals), the menstrual cycle can return. I've also used acupuncture with patients who have PCOS to get their menstrual cycles to return to a regular pattern.
I feel that it is important to manage PCOS regardless of whether you've got a period or not, and regardless of whether you're trying to conceive or not. Long term insulin resistance can have detrimental effects on heart health and increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.