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PCOS and Its Treatment

Aug 17, 2007
PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is estimated to affect over 10% of women around the world. It is essentially a hormone imbalance which causes women to undergo a series of symptoms. These include:

1. Hair growth in a masculine pattern on the face and elsewhere on the body.
2. Infertility
3. Irregular, reduced or a total lack of menstruation. When menstruation does occur, it can be much heavier than in a 'normal' period
4. Insulin resistance, which can result in diabetes
5. Weight gain-many women with PCOS become obese, which exacerbates other symptoms (such as insulin resistance). It can be much more difficult for women with PCOS to lose weight, as compared to women without the syndrome.

The root causes of PCOS are unknown, although several theories abound. A clear sign of PCOS is the production of many follicles on the ovary, none or few of which result in the production of a mature ovum which can be fertilized (hence the problems with infertility in many women with PCOS).

A theory which is gaining currency is that the underlying cause is the failure of the pituitary to secrete enough FSH, or Follicle Stimulating Hormone. This hormone starts the entire cascade of other hormones which leads to a proper fertility cycle. Without enough FSH, the follicles of the ovary are unable to mature effectively, which may lead to the proliferation of immature follicles on the ovarian surface.

The typical ovarian cyst in a woman with PCOS is typically enlarged 5 to 7 times greater than a normally - maturing ovarian cyst. Its larger-than-normal size and the number of immature cysts result in an excess of hormone production. The cysts generally produce androgens (male hormones, like testosterone) and insulin, both of which cause some additional symptoms seen in this syndrome.

Among PCOS' most serious effects is on the production of insulin and subsequent insulin resistance. Insulin is primarily produced by the pancreas, but also by the follicles on the ovary. Since the follicles are much more numerous, and produce much more insulin, they contribute to an overproduction of insulin in the body.

All cells in the body rely on insulin to take in the right amount of glucose. The liver relies on insulin levels to tell it when to produce more glucose, while the cells (muscles, brain, all cells) rely on insulin to tell them how much glucose to use. In a smoothly-functioning insulin-glucose system, the pancreas secretes insulin in response to the body's needs-after eating, during exercise, or during rest periods, for example. As you can imagine, the amount of insulin produced over a day can vary a good deal. The system is normally self-regulating. That is, the liver produces more glucose, the cells use more glucose, and insulin production goes down.

In a woman with PCOS, the ovaries become the main insulin producers of the body, overpowering the pancreas and the normal insulin-glucose cycle. Rather than responding to the body's true needs for insulin, the ovaries continue to secrete larger-than-normal amounts of the hormone, continually assaulting the liver and other cells of the body. Over time, the liver becomes a chronic overproducer of glucose, while the cells become increasingly resistant to the insulin signals. The result is insulin resistance and a resultant case of diabetes.
About the Author
Scott Meyers is a staff writer for Its Entirely Natural, a resource for helping you achieve a naturally healthy body, mind, and spirit. You may contact our writers through the web site. Follow this link for more information on PCOS Insulin Resistance .
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