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PCOS Love-Hate

Hey guys!! Here’s an old PCOS blog I wrote in 2013. Could be a helpful read for anyone also dealing with PCOS.

Everything is still rather relevant but please continue to read my recent “Power of Hormones” blog for a brief update on my skin mission.

In this blog and at this point in my life a few years ago, Accutane was the only thing that had worked for my skin. Since then, I have targeted some hormone balancing using Spironolactone & COMPLETELY changed my diet! Currently: no medication & clear skin.

More blogs to come about diet & acne for you 🙂

 

The disorder, its symptoms and life with PCOS can all be described similarly… kind of wishy washy with pros and cons, ups and downs, advantages and disadvantages. Like an emotional, physical and mental rollercoaster. You’ll see why.

 

Definition

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a heterogeneous endocrine (hormonal) disorder of uncertain etiology, with some evidence that it is a genetic disease. Basically, your body’s hormones are anything but balanced, often with elevated levels of male hormones (androgens). THIS is how I can build muscle freakishly easy. So, naturally, I stumbled into the life of a gymrat  fitness competitor, so I can take full advantage of basically the only pcos ‘pro’, in my opinion.

 

Diagnosis

There is no single test to diagnose PCOS. Not all women with PCOS have polycystic ovaries, nor do all women with ovarian cysts have PCOS. You kind of just have to assume based on your symptoms…

A pelvic ultrasound is a major diagnostic tool used to search for cysts. I’ve had three of these, only two of which showed cysts on my ovaries. To my knowledge, ovarian cysts don’t just come and go from your ovaries, so unless I just had one crappy ultrasound technician, a pelvic ultrasound might not be too reliable. Could explain the second type of ultrasound I’ve experienced… a cold, gelly wand all up in there… UGH! Not the most comfortable situation, but case closed, cysts were visable, and at the age of about thirteen I was diagnosed with PCOS.

 

Symptoms

Below are several common PCOS symptoms, some of which I have experienced, others not… yet.

  • Polycystic ovaries. Enlarged ovaries containing numerous small cysts.
  • Infrequent, absent, and/or irregular menstrual periods. Got my period at age 13, regularly at first, then stopped for months at a time. I thought I was just too active with too little body fat. Could have been true, but I blame PCOS.
  • Acne, oily skin, or dandruff. Acne and oily skin, yes! And so far acne has been the deathliest, most severe symptom. Thankfully this god-awful symptom only affects my face rather than other parts of my skin, but I started getting acne in grade 4 and still get to experience the satisfaction of popping pimples to this day… joy….
  • Weight gain or obesity, usually with extra weight around the waist. I can gain weight just looking at food. At the same time though, it’s not too hard for me to lose weight either, but that may just be because I’m still only 25. My weight gain is almost 100% to my butt… with the rest to my quads, arms and face. My stomach and back are last to gain fat. I’ve always been very athletic, however, so I’ve spent the majority of my life mostly in shape and haven’t had to experience obesity 🙂
  • Water retention. Some days I’m married, others not. My body’s excess estrogen and what I eat determine whether or not my wedding rings fit that day. This is probably one reason I can gain or lose weight so easily. If I had to guess, I can retain at least up to 10 pounds in water weight, primarily as a result of food consumption and (somehow… progesterone is involved..) the estrogen holding onto the water. Carbs, refined especially, are the worst! Along with salt and alcohol. Again, prime water-retentive areas: butt, legs, arms, chipmunk face.
  • You can Google that one, but let me tell you, I could grow one mean unibrow.
  • Anxiety or depression. Never been depressed, but I can be a stress case.
  • Not sure yet. Haven’t been pregnant but haven’t tried, so who knows!
  • Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair. If I go bald but still have constant cacti-prickly legs, I’ll be pissed! BUT, my hair is neither thinning nor falling out 🙂
  • Patches of skin on the neck, arms, breasts, or thighs that are thick and dark brown or black.
  • Skin tags.
  • Pelvic pain. Never, and surprisingly have never gotten PMS cramps, in the rare event I actually get my period.
  • Sleep apnea. Not too sure, but I doubt it. I can sleep anywhere, any time, and almost nothing wakes me up.

 

Medications

Acne

Acne has been my most significant pcos symptom and has affected me since a young age. When I say I’ve tried everything, I’ve actually tried everything, both medicated and non, topical and oral, in attempts to kill bacteria, reduce inflammation and the skin’s oil production, and lessening hormonal effects.

Bacteria killers: Benzoyl Peroxide gels, salicylic acid creams, tetracycline (oral)

Anti-oil: Retin-A creams, Isotretinoin (Accutane) (oral)

Increase estrogen: Birth control pill (every one basically)

Androgen blocker: Spironolactone

The one and only thing that has ever worked is Accutane, often referred to as the ‘nuclear option’ for acne. It is the strongest acne medication which can cause severe long-lasting side effects, and is prescribed only as a last resort. I’ve used it three times! Each time it works incredibly, but the results are short term.

It works to reduce the size of your oil glands and basically rids all oil production to stop acne. However, because it has no hormonal effect, the results are temporary and the root of my acne problem is unaffected, unbalanced hormones.

 

Infrequent, absent, and/or irregular menstrual periods

Birth control worked to regulate my period, but once I stopped taking this medication, the regularity stopped too.

 

Water retention – my current battle!

Most of my water weight gain is around my hips and thighs. Even with less than 10 percent body fat, I hold water from my waist down. I believe this is the result of excess estrogen stored on my behind, which is the result of my abnormally high testosterone levels. Goal: rid excess, ‘toxic’ estrogen.

Androgen blocker: Spironolactone

Anti-estrogen: Anastrozole

I’ll keep you posted on the outcome!

 

Diet

LOW CARB and low glycemic!!! The absolute only way I feel like a human being is on a low carb diet, about 50g of carbs a day. Zero sugar or starches, completely gluten-free… as basic, bland and boring as you can get. Yet another reason I compete, so I’m “not allowed” to eat poorly, otherwise I do and I’m useless… lethargic, swollen, grumpy.

 

I have yet to do the research thoroughly, but pcos is often associated with insulin resistance… this is likely where the low carb, low glycemic is beneficial… I think? See below!

 

“One of the major biochemical features of polycystic ovary syndrome is insulin resistance accompanied by compensatory hyperinsulinemia (elevated fasting blood insulin levels). There is increasing data that hyperinsulinemia produces the hyperandrogenism of polycystic ovary syndrome by increasing ovarian androgen production, particularly testosterone and by decreasing the serum sex hormone binding globulin concentration. The high levels of androgenic hormones interfere with the pituitary ovarian axis, leading to increased LH levels, anovulation, amenorrhea, recurrent pregnancy loss, and infertility.”

 

Exercise

If I don’t exercise, I get fat. If I get fat, my hormone imbalance gets worse. If my hormones are messed up, my skin gets worse, my periods are even more out of whack, I’m bloated and ANGRY. Again, have yet to do the research, but guess this could be why:

 

“When you have PCOS, shedding just 10% of your body weight can bring your periods back to normal. Sometimes weight loss alone can restore hormone levels to normal, causing many of the symptoms to disappear or become less severe. Weight loss can improve insulin sensitivity. That will reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other PCOS complications.”

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