What causes PCOS?
Honestly, researchers are not sure.
We know that PCOS is a common syndrome affecting the endocrine system, and results in a hormonal imbalance. You may not know that hormones control way more than your reproductive organs. They also control things like body temperature, insulin levels, growth, metabolism, response to stimuli like stress, and much more.
There are many theories about the cause of PCOS. In fact, it seems that there are even different types of PCOS. It is possible that there is more than one cause. This would account for the wide range of symptoms that PCOS women exhibit.
So what are the causes of PCOS?
- It may be genetic. Many studies suggest that genes predispose a woman to PCOS.[iii] In fact, studies show that a woman with PCOS has a 40% likelihood of having a sister with the syndrome and a 35% chance of having a mother with the disorder.[iv] If heredity is the case, a woman’s latent PCOS may be triggered by rapid weight gain or other lifestyle risk factors. The interaction of a woman’s diet and environmental factors may worsen or improve the problems associated with PCOS as well.[v] These environmental triggers may even begin in prenatal life and include the mother’s obesity, or (as is the case in thin women especially) a mother’s high intake of Advanced Glycation products (AEGs), and Bisphenol A (BPA).[vi]
- High insulin levels (hyperinsulinemia) and insulin resistance are common in women with PCOS and may also be a trigger. In both cases, the dysfunctional insulin cycle results in a host of related health risks including PCOS, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, breast cancer and heart disease.
Hyperinsulinemia (caused by an abundance of insulin, a powerful growth hormone) causes a vicious cycle of weight gain. Gaining weight causes high insulin levels, which in turn cause weight gain, which raises insulin levels, and so on.
On the other hand, an insulin resistant person’s cells do not react properly to amounts of insulin in their body. In this case, the cell will not take on the glucose and give it to other cells that need it. As a result, the body produces more insulin cells to increase the likelihood of glucose getting to cells. More insulin means more weight gain, and the cycle continues. Insulin resistance can also cause the ovaries to produce excess androgen hormones (like testosterone) which can result in PCOS symptoms including excess body hair, acne and irregular periods.
- It is possible that a defect in a hormone producing organ could be the cause. In an analysis of current research, the PCOS Australian Alliance found that an underlying hormonal imbalance may lead to a combination of increased androgens and/or hyperinsulinemia as a result of insulin resistance.[vii]
- A problem with the hypothalamus could stimulate the ovaries to produce too many male hormones (like testosterone). Too much of the male hormones can cause anovulation (failure to ovulate) in women.[viii]
- A defect in the ovary causing too much production of testosterone would result in the same effect.[ix]
- Issues with the adrenal glands called adrenal excess may be at play as well. The androgen DHEA-S is only produced by the adrenal gland, and it’s been found that women with high DHEA-S have rather different characteristics than other women with PCOS.
Whether PCOS is caused by genetic, environmental, or lifestyle factors, or whether it is simply a result of individual biological differences, one thing is clear, you can heal. There is hope.
I remember when I was in my teens and twenties feeling exhausted, having wildly irregular periods, excess body hair and acne. I was told by my doctor that they would have to “jump through hoops” to get me pregnant. I felt hopeless.
It seemed that living with PCOS was my fate. My mom dealt with this, my grandmother dealt with this. It was the genetic fate of women in my family.
After years of following mainstream advice from countless doctors, I realized that nothing was helping. The drugs they offered made me sicker and more miserable. I was way too young to feel so old and couldn’t go on living this way.
It was then I realized that I had to empower myself and take control of my health. No one else could do it for me. I couldn’t take advice at face value and continue to think and act like a victim.
After years of seeking out the latest research, personal trial and error, and going back to school to learn from top experts, I discovered the diet and lifestyle protocol that works, and PCOS Diva was born!
I often hear from women with PCOS who are frustrated and have lost all hope because the only advice their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill and live with their symptoms. For much of my life, I was one of these women. Now, I help these women thrive with PCOS!
As a certified health coach, Amy Medling often hears from women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) who are frustrated and have lost all hope when the only solution their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill and live with their symptoms. In response, she founded PCOS Diva and developed a proven protocol of supplements, diet and lifestyle programs that offer women tools to help gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health and happiness.
[i] Kristensen S., Ramlau-Hansen C, Ernst E, A Very Large Portion of Danish Women Have Polycystic Ovaries: Is a Revision of the Rotterdam Criteria Needed? Human Reproduction, 25, 2010, 3117-3122.
[ii] R. Legro and J Strauss, Molecular Progress in Infertility: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Feril Steril, 78, 2002, 569.
[iii] Fratantonio E, et al, “Genetics of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome”, Reproductive Biomedical Online, June 2005; 10(6), 713-720.
[iv] Futterweit, A Patient’s Guide, 11.
[v] Thatcher, PCOS 101
[vi] Diamanto, Kandarakis, E, “Phenotypes and Environmental Factors in PCOS,”Endocrine Abstracts, 2011, http://www.endocrine-abstracts.org/ea/0026/ea0026s28.1.htm.
[vii] Evidence-based guideline for the assessment and management of polycystic ovary syndrome. Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health on behalf of the PCOS Australian Alliance; Melbourne, 2011, S70.
[viii] Futterweit, A Patient’s Guide, 10.
[ix] Grassi, Angela, A Dietician’s Guide to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Haverford, PA, Luca Publishing, 2007, 2.