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What Role Does Weight Loss Play in PCOS?

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Updated June 18, 2014

Question: What Role Does Weight Loss Play in PCOS?
Why are PCOS and weight loss connected so frequently? PCOS is a hormonal imbalance in which obesity is one of the major factors. Besides leading to complications, being overweight actually contributes to the severity of the disease.
Answer: There is an unmistakable link between PCOS and weight loss. Many, though not all, women who have PCOS have an issue with their weight. The hormonal changes that occur with this disease aren’t just an imbalance of the reproductive hormones such as estrogen, testosterone and progesterone. Insulin, the body’s tool for dealing with sugar, is also affected.

Insulin Resistance

Women with PCOS frequently have insulin resistance, meaning their body does not respond as quickly to high amounts of glucose. The sluggish body response results in larger amounts of insulin being required to metabolize a given amount of sugar. If left unchecked, this change can contribute to obesity and complications like diabetes.

The Insulin-Androgen Connection

Androgens, or male hormones, are typically elevated in PCOS, leading to the various symptoms that women experience. It is currently believed that high levels of insulin actually increase ovarian androgen production. This is not typically seen in women with high levels of insulin who do not have PCOS. There is some debate among researchers as to what is different about women with PCOS that this response happens.

Weight Loss

Thankfully, there are a number of treatments available today that can help you manage your PCOS. However, the single most important thing that you can do is lose weight if you are overweight. By following a healthy diet and beginning a regular exercise routine, you can help your body increase it’s response to insulin and possibly decrease androgen production. This may help reduce symptoms, restore normal menses and make it easier to conceive.

Nutrition

While there are tons of gimmicks out there claiming to make weight loss easy, the most effective, healthy and long-term method is good old-fashioned exercise paired with a healthy diet. Cut back on sugar and fat, and increase the amount of whole grains, fruits and vegetables that you eat. Make sure to include servings of lean protein and plenty of water throughout the day.

Exercise

Many women are intimidated by exercise. They may not know what to do or how to do it. The two most important things you can do is arm yourself with information and get active. Of course, check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Once you get clearance, start with 3 to 4 sessions of cardio training a week in; engage in around 30 to 45 minutes of activity in your target heart rate each session. In addition, select at least one weight training exercise for each major muscle group. You will want to use a weight that allows you to finish the set of 8 to 12 reps. Finally, stretching should be done after every workout, when the muscles are still warm.

Sources:

Jensen, Jani R. and Ruben Alvero. "Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome." Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility: The Requisites in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Ed. Mark Evans, MD. Philadelphia: Mosby, 2007. p65-75.

Thatcher, Samuel S. "PCOS: The Hidden Epidemic." Indianapolis: Perspectives Press, 2000. p45-62.

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