PCOS and Ovulatory Dysfunction
No Ovulation - No Pregnancy
In order for a woman to conceive and become pregnant, she has to ovulate. Ovulation is a phase of the menstrual cycle when one of the ovaries releases an egg for fertilization. At the right moment, the body sends a signal that triggers a response to increase the level of estrogen. The luteinizing hormones surge as a reaction to the increase of estrogen and when the surge hits a certain point the egg is released to travel into the fallopian tube where it can be fertilized. It's a very exact and incredible process the body performs when everything is working properly.
When Ovulation Isn't On Schedule
However, sometimes things don't work properly and ovulation doesn't happen when it should, or it occurs sporadically or not at all. Ovulation problems can be the result of dysfunction of the part of the brain and the glands that control ovulation, or the ovaries may be dysfunctional. The system that organizes ovulation within the body consists of the hypothalamus (an area of the brain), pituitary gland, ovaries, and other glands, such as the adrenal and thyroid glands.
An ovulation problem is often the cause of infertility in women who have irregular periods or none at all (amenorrhea). Sometimes it is the cause of infertility in women who have regular menstrual periods but do not have premenstrual symptoms, such as breast tenderness, lower abdominal swelling and mood changes.
Many different disorders can affect ovulation, such as diabetes and obesity. One of the most common disorders is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which is characterized by an overabundance of male hormones, weight gain, acne, irregular periods, hirsutism and insulin resistance. These conditions are the result of the ovaries' inability to produce hormones that keep the menstrual cycle regular. Because of the irregularity of periods, women with PCOS don't ovulate and consequently don't conceive. PCOS and infertility tend to go together.
Insulin Resistance and PCOS
Insulin resistance, a possible root cause of PCOS, prevents the efficient conversion of food into energy because the walls of the cells have become desensitized to insulin. This causes a severe imbalance in the glucose and insulin blood levels sending free-floating glucose to the liver to be converted into fat. Weight gain and obesity are common with PCOS and often lead to Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease in PCOS sufferers.
The number of women dealing with PCOS is estimated to be between five and ten percent of all women in their childbearing years and the numbers are going up in the US as obesity and inactivity plague the nation. PCOS sufferers are subject to myriad illnesses ranging from stubborn obesity and heart disease to breast and endometrial cancers and they have a seven to ten times higher risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
The List of Symptoms Grows
However, since the symptoms vary widely and a woman may not display some of them, doctors still tend to misdiagnose the syndrome. The reality is that eight out of every ten women with PCOS may also be insulin resistant. The higher-than-normal insulin levels act on the ovaries by increasing male hormones (androgens) that in turn cause anovulation (the cessation of ovulation), as well as all of the symptoms mentioned earlier. Added to all of these symptoms are the following:
· decreased sex drive
· high cholesterol levels
· lack of mental alertness
· depression and anxiety
· sleep apnea
· thyroid complications
Treatment Requires a Broad Approach
There is no magic bullet for PCOS treatment; the multi-pronged approach must be relied upon. A complete, disease specific nutriceutical program that includes vitamins, minerals and herbs; an exercise program that is realistic; nutritional guidance and a strong support network help a woman develop a healthy lifestyle and help control the effects of this major ovarian disorder.
Learn more about ovarian issues in this section.