The name Polycystic Ovary Syndrome implies there is a problem with your ovaries, but really it’s a whole body disorder that affects ovulation and causes your body to produce too many androgens (masculine hormones like testosterone).
This causes symptoms like irregular or missing periods, acne, facial hair growth, thinning hair on your scalp, and weight gain.
There has been much debate about the name PCOS as it doesn’t accurately describe what’s going on in your body.
For starters, the name was coined due to the “cyst-like appearance” of follicles seen on ultrasound scans.
Researchers noticed women with PCOS often had ovaries that looked like a string of pearls – with lots of tiny, under-developed follicles.
These “cysts” aren’t really cysts at all, but multiple “baby eggs” that attempted to grow but never made it to full size.
It’s common for baby eggs to begin developing but become stalled due to the hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS.
Once the egg becomes stalled, your body decides to discard that baby egg and try again with a new one.
It often takes several tries before your body is able to grow a full-sized egg and release this at ovulation.
Once you have finally ovulated, this is followed by a period around two weeks later. This is why very long cycles or missing periods are a common feature of PCOS.
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Research in this area is still developing, however at this point in time, there seem to be three key influences that increase your risk of developing PCOS: genetics, endocrine development, and environmental exposure.
When researchers examined families of women with PCOS, they found that both male and female relatives were much more likely to have metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
This suggests that there may be a familial genetic link involved with the development of PCOS.
Research has also shown that early exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals like pesticides, phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA) as a fetus or in early childhood may impact the development of your hypothalamus pituitary-ovarian axis (the way your brain talks to your ovaries).
This can lead to issues with ovulation and increased production of androgens, causing the symptoms of PCOS.
Increased stress hormones and chronic dieting in the years before and during puberty have also been linked with an increased risk of developing PCOS later in life.
Finally, there are several environmental triggers that have been shown to accelerate or “switch on” your development of PCOS. These include insulin resistance, inflammation, and stress hormones.
In some women, taking the oral contraceptive pill can also temporarily trigger the symptoms of PCOS due to a surge in androgens.
Think about it like this: You are born with an increased likelihood of developing PCOS, and then certain triggers in your environment and your lifestyle cause that gene to be switched on, leading to the symptoms of PCOS.
While we can’t change your genetics or what happened in your early life, we can change your current environment to minimize the expression of your PCOS and eventually reverse your symptoms.
If you don’t address why your body is producing too many androgens and having issues with ovulation, your symptoms probably won’t improve and will likely get worse over time.
You may also increase your risk of developing more severe conditions over time.
Let’s look at some issues that can happen with each root cause if it goes unaddressed for a long time. I’ve provided these points to keep you informed and to motivate you – not to scare you.
It’s important to understand what putting the work in now can mean for your future.
Just because these risks are listed for your root cause does not mean you are destined to experience them.
If you take action now to take charge of your PCOS, you can dramatically reduce your risk of the conditions mentioned below.