Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a medical condition that leads to abnormal production of androgen in the female body. All females produce some androgen but too much of it can intervene with menstrual cycle and fertility. Infrequent menstruation and infertility are trademarks of PCOS because androgen hinders ovulation.
PCOS is the most commonly occurring hormone-related disorder among women. According to a recent BBC report, one in every five women suffers from PCOS worldwide. The frequency of this disorder is unfortunately much higher for Asian women.
A study published in 2015 reveals that the general prevalence of PCOS as thought to be 3-10 percent does not hold true for all geographical regions. It also reveals that 52 percent of women living in the Indian subcontinent have PCOS syndrome, which is the highest prevalence recorded anywhere in the world.
Pakistan, being part of the Indian sub-continent is also a vulnerable region for PCOS. According to a local study, 21.9% of women in Pakistan face infertility and 38.5 percent of all the infertile women face trouble conceiving because of the PCOS. These statistics make PCOS the most frequent cause of female infertility in the country.
High comparative statistics of PCOS in Pakistan pose the question that why PCOS is more frequent in this region? One of the explanations that seem plausible is the high rate of obesity in the country.
Here we will try to understand the possible link between obesity and PCOS. We will also look into the probability that controlling one of them may help manage the other. The information in this article is, however, only for the sake of awareness. Women who are already struggling with PCOS should consult a specialist doctor for professional advice.
What causes PCOS?
As mentioned earlier, high levels of androgen are one of the most plausible reasons for PCOS. But what can lead a female body to produce excess androgen which is inherently a male hormone? Many factors are responsible but excess insulin is the key one.
Excess insulin causes the body to become insulin resistant. Insulin resistance refers to the body’s insensitivity of insulin. In other words, the body becomes unable to use insulin effectively. The worst part is that insulin resistance further increases insulin production to ensure that glucose breaks down into energy. Excess insulin enhances androgen levels even more and the cycle continues.
What is the link with obesity?
Recently, many types of research have linked insulin resistance with obesity. One such study was conducted in 2016 by a Harvard Medical School’s Endocrinologists who found out high levels of fatty acids in blood cause insulin resistance.
Obesity, as we all know, is a result of fat accumulation in the body. Thus, the study concludes that obesity causes insulin resistance and as a result enhanced insulin production in the body. Enhanced insulin as previously mentioned causes excess production of androgens ultimately leading to PCOS.
Does PCOS cause obesity or is it the other way around?
The answer to this question is complicated. Many researchers favor the idea that both of these conditions reinforce each other. Obesity leads to excess insulin which in turn enhances androgens and causes PCOS.
PCOS, on the other hand, affects the adrenal glands. Disturbed functioning of adrenal glands, in turn, slows down the metabolism rate. It also creates sugar cravings giving way to obesity. As a result, obesity and PCOS are highly interlinked.
How to manage both PCOS and obesity
PCOS is incurable but it is manageable. Simple lifestyle changes can go a long way in managing PCOS and obesity as well. Although it is hard to lose weight with PCOS, that does not mean that one should not even try. Women with PCOS should be extra careful about their weight so that they can avoid further complications.
According to Dr. Madeeha Rashid who is a gynecologist in Lahore, PCOS is not treatable but its symptoms can be controlled with a healthy lifestyle.
“The main reason for rising rates of PCOS in Pakistan is a sedentary lifestyle. Consumption of foods with high, fat content and levels of processed carbohydrates is also adding to the problem. PCOS is only manageable if one relies on leafy vegetables, lean meat and whole grains for dietary requirements. Sugary snacks and oily processed foods should be avoided. An exercise session of 40-45 minutes should also be added to the daily routine.” She suggests.
Research has shown that moderate weight loss is enough to decrease insulin resistance. Eating foods with low-fat content reduces fatty acids from the bloodstream and improves insulin resistance. Exercise improves fat to muscle ratio and metabolism rate, much needed by women with PCOS. Thus, curing obesity can help manage PCOS and once PCOS is under control weight loss speeds up itself.
PCOS and obesity are inter-connected in a complicated manner. If PCOS is not managed, then it can become very hard to lose weight. On the other hand, if a young adolescent girl is obese, it is highly likely that she will develop PCOS. It is necessary to avoid obesity if one wants to avoid PCOS. If someone already has PCOS, then they should keep an eye on their weight as weight gain can worsen PCOS symptoms.
This article was produced in partnership with oladoc.com, a digital health company in Pakistan. Using oladoc, you can find the best gynecologist in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and book an appointment online.