Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common conditions in reproductive-aged women. It is estimated that 8-13% of all reproductive-aged women have this condition and up to 70% of those women are undiagnosed. People with PCOS have cysts on their ovaries that cause hormonal symptoms such as:
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Excessive hair growth
- Weight gain and weight loss resistance
- Scalp hair loss/thinning
- Oily skin/acne
Often we find that PCOS patients also have insulin resistance and/or type 2 diabetes. According to some studies, nearly 70% of women with PCOS also have insulin resistance. High levels of blood insulin increase androgen levels (male hormones such as testosterone). Excess androgens in females are mostly to blame for the undesirable effects of PCOS, including acne, weight gain, facial hair, and weight loss resistance.
Inflammation increases the risk for PCOS. Insulin resistance is just one cause of systemic inflammation. Gut health, stress levels, and weight gain can all contribute to inflammation as well.
Currently, health care providers recommend weight loss as a primary approach to PCOS relief. Fat cells cause inflammation, so this makes sense. However, as many people may already know, weight loss is not always as easy as it sounds! Insulin resistance can make losing weight through exercise feel impossible.
As far as medications, health care providers often prescribe combination birth control pills to adjust hormone levels, or metformin for insulin resistance. Neither of these approaches truly address the root cause of the insulin resistance and systemic inflammation.
The B Vitamin Cycle of Doom
Just like with most medications, the common prescriptions for PCOS have side effects. Both birth control pills and metformin are known to deplete B vitamins. Metformin specifically makes it more difficult for your body to absorb B12. Birth control pills, on the other hand, are known to cause nutritional deficiencies in folate, vitamins B2, B6, B12, vitamin C and E and the minerals magnesium, selenium and zinc.
Why are B vitamin deficiencies so concerning? B12, also known as cobalamin, is a vitamin that is essential for brain health and nervous system function. It is needed for the creation of red blood cells, which help distribute oxygen to the rest of our bodies (including our brains). It is no wonder, then, that low B12 levels have been linked to dementia.
In addition to taking medications that deplete them, many people with PCOS have a specific gene mutation that makes it even more difficult to create active B vitamins. MTHFR is a gene that helps our bodies convert folate to an activated version that we need in order to use B12 (5-MTHF). Birth control pills deplete folate, B6 and B12 levels, so if you also have the MTHFR mutation then your body will really struggle to activate and utilize B12.
Some studies have suggested that women with PCOS are more likely to have a mutation on the MTHFR gene. So, due to medication side effects and/or gene mutations, people with PCOS often suffer from B vitamin deficiency (hence their association with Major depression).
What’s interesting is how much overlap there is between B vitamin deficiency symptoms and PCOS symptoms. It begs the question: Are PCOS symptoms made worse by B vitamin deficiency, caused by the very medications meant to bring the patient relief?
The Dr. Autoimmune Difference
Our office uses a functional medicine approach to identify and address the root cause of chronic conditions such as PCOS. Rather than using medications, we know how to help you provide your body with the tools it needs to correct imbalances naturally.
For example, our office uses continuous glucose monitoring technology to help our patients identify how certain foods affect their blood sugar. Our nutritionist works one on one with patients to develop plans that help their bodies regulate blood sugar levels more effectively. Once insulin resistance is under control, weight loss becomes much easier. Loss of excess fat= less inflammation= less PCOS symptoms.
The bottom line is that PCOS is not a life sentence- lifestyle changes such as exercise, supplementation, and diet change designed to address the root cause will provide relief. If you are ready to tackle your chronic condition and change your life naturally, click the “Start Your Journey” button at the bottom of this page.