PCOS Awareness Month Message: PCOS can be treated!

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS is the world’s most common endocrine or hormone disorder, affecting up to 15% of women in the US and more than 20% of women in the rest of the world. PCOS causes a range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms that drastically reduce a woman’s quality of life and also increase the risk of serious health complications.

The good news is that, although there is no cure yet, PCOS can be treated very effectively. Each year in September, when PCOS Awareness Month is observed, our team at Cape Fertility add our voices to raise awareness of this disease that affect so many women, this year by sharing freely the treatment advice we provide our patients with PCOS.

Because there are so many different symptoms of PCOS, these symptoms often go unnoticed or are attributed to other causes. As a result, PCOS is often a long time before it is diagnosed.

The most common symptoms of PCOS are irregular menstruation, weight gain and skin symptoms, such as acne and abnormal hair growth.

PCOS is also often associated with diabetes, heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, depression and low self-esteem, and is also a leading cause of female infertility.

To raise awareness of this disease and its impact on the quality of women’s lives, PCOS Awareness Month is now observed around the world to help improve the lives of those affected by PCOS; to reduce their risks for life-threatening related conditions; and to help them to find treatment for their symptoms.

For this PCOS Awareness Month, our team at Cape Fertility want to highlight the fact that PCOS can be treated, and that the cornerstone treatment is weight loss.

Treatments for PCOS

PCOS is a chronic medical condition caused by an imbalance of hormones. As such, it can be well managed over the long term like other chronic medical problems.

Contraceptive pills, Provera, or a Mirena are among the first line medical treatment options for those who are not trying to fall pregnant. There are also treatments that will help you if you want to fall pregnant. Certain fertility drugs are effective for many of the symptoms of PCOS, but should be monitored by qualified and registered medical specialists. Treatment may also include specific medication that decreases testosterone levels, blood pressure medication, or medicines to reduce insulin levels.

Weight loss as a cornerstone treatment

PCOS is caused by the hormonal changes in the body, which also leads to weight gain. The weight gain itself is detrimental to PCOS and increases the severity of the symptoms. It leads to a vicious cycle in which weight gain and PCOS negatively affect each other.

For this reason, weight loss is a cornerstone in the treatment of PCOS, and is beneficial both to prevent the long term health problems associated with PCOS and to increase the chance of conception.

In fact, studies have shown that losing 5% of body weight is often enough to make a significant difference to PCOS symptoms, and will also increase the chance of conception.

For this reason, women with PCOS are often advised by doctors to lose weight by ‘going on a diet’ and ‘getting exercise’.

However, this is not easy, because it is literally their hormones make them fat. As a result, many women feel confused and despondent, feeling that they have tried everything without success.

At Cape Fertility we advise women with PCOS to follow a specific diet and a specific exercise program to help them maximise their weight loss.

The right type of diet

It is important that women with PCOS understand they have a disease, and that managing the symptoms of this disease requires following a different diet and exercise routine, much like people who suffer from, for example, allergies.

Women with PCOS should follow a very specific diet, which should also be regarded more as a permanent lifestyle change than a short-term dietary fix.

Sugar and carbs are the main culprits when it comes to PCOS. Women with PCOS should never consume sugary drinks, including all types of fruit juices. Processed and low-fat foods nearly always contain high amounts of sugars and must also be avoided.

Carbs such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes should also be eliminated from your diet but, if carbs are consumed, low GI alternatives should always be chosen.

The Banting (LCHF) diet is suitable for women with PCOS. The Banting diet is a type of low carb, high fat (LCHF) diet that mostly restricts starchy, processed and sugary foods, and instead promotes the intake of wholesome foods to lose weight rapidly.

One of the most common mistakes people make is to skip breakfast, but especially women with PCOS should make time to have a healthy breakfast that includes protein. Breakfast cereals often contain a lot of sugar and should be avoided. Eggs, fruits, vegetables and high protein cereals are better choices.

Lunch and supper should include protein and a minimal amount of carbs. Fresh produce is always a better and healthier choice.

It is also best to avoid snacking between meals.

The right type of exercise

At Cape Fertility, we recommend High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as the right type of exercise for losing weight when you have PCOS.

Research has shown that this type of exercise is more effective for weight loss, and it is also beneficial for those with insulin resistance and high blood pressure. It can also be done in a shorter time than conventional training and can be applied to cycling, running and many other types of exercise.

HIIT involves alternating short periods of very intense exercise with less-intense recovery periods. An example is the 30-20-10 method from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

Here is the structure of a 15-minute HIIT exercise session for runners:

1. Warm up for five to ten minutes

2. Jog for 30 seconds at a comfortable level

3. Pick up the pace to a moderate speed for 20 seconds

4. Sprint as hard as you can for 10 seconds

5. Repeat steps 1 – 3 five times (this should take about five minutes)

6. Rest for 2 minutes

7. Repeat the full 5-minute cycle (steps 1 – 5)

HIIT can typically be done three times per week. Always be sure to check with your doctor before starting any training program.

Weight loss is difficult for most people and can be even more challenging for women with PCOS. However, the combination of a low carb diet and a HIIT exercise program can give good results. The weight loss will be beneficial for both women with infertility as a result of the PCOS and for the associated health issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

If you suspect that you have PCOS and would like to know more, we would like to invite you to come and meet one of our specialists by clicking here
We offer all the most effective fertility treatments at Cape Fertility, including treatment for PCOS.

At Cape Fertility, we also value each individual patient and we look forward to providing you with individualised and personalised care, affordable quality fertility treatment, and higher success rates at our purpose-built premises in the beautiful city of Cape Town.