One of the most insidious aspects of PCOS is that it has so many diverse and apparently unrelated symptoms. Up to 20 have been counted. The symptoms include everything from weight gain and an inability to lose weight, absent or irregular periods (amenorrhea or oligomenorrhea), infertility and excess facial and body (hirsuitism) to thinining hair, acne and ovarian cysts. The list can also include fatigue, mood swings, sleep apnea as well as high levels of heart-damaging cholesterol and blood pressure, which, if neglected, can lead to metabolic syndrome and diabetes. As if all those weren't enough, there's a new sympton to look out for: urinary problems. Researchers in Turkey were studying 140 women with PCOS when they discovered a link between high testosterone levels associated with the disorder and increased urinary urgency, incontinence, a need to urinate at night, bladder or pelvic pain and pain during sexual intercourse. So if you're having trouble with your bladder and your doctor has not found an infection or other clear cause, it could be that high levels of testosterone brought on by PCOS are contributing to the problem. Be sure to report this possibility to your doctor. There are at least three self-help measures you can take to bring your hormones, including testosterone, into better balance. First, consume more whole foods and minimize processed, manufactured foods of all kinds. Second, reduce your exposure to chronic stress. And third, get regular exercise and be physically active.
Yesterday we reported on research that questioned the long-term safety of some "third generation anti-androgen" birth control pills with a synthetic progesterone called drospirenone. The pills are often prescribed to help women improve their hormone imbalance caused by PCOS and regulate excess levels of androgens - male hormones like testosterone. One of these newer birth control pills is called Yasmin and a study by the University of Wisconsin suggested that the product, which includes drospirenone, impaired mental agility in women taking it. Birth control pills containing drospirenone may have another disturbing attribute according to a different report. Researchers at the Universitaire du Sart-Tilman in Belgium compared 32 young women taking birth control pills containing drospirenone and ethinylestradiol (synthetic estrogen) with 30 young women not taking birth control pills. They found the birth control users had significantly higher levels of lipid peroxides than the women not using the contraceptive. Lipid peroxides are basically rancid fats that cause a chain reaction of cell damage.
To control the symptoms of their condition many women with PCOS take birth control pills. But research has raised concerns regarding the long-term safety of seeking relief from PCOS in this way. Newer "third generation anti-androgen" birth control pills contain a synthetic constituent called drospirenone, which mimics the essential female hormone called progesterone. These pills are often prescribed to women with PCOS because their condition can play havoc with hormone levels, lowering progesterone and producing excess levels of androgens - male hormones which include testosterone. Yasmine is one of these newer birth control pills and it was included in a study by the University of Wisconsin, where researchers tested mental agility among a group of women who were taking various oral contraceptives or none at all. Women using the older types of a birth control pill with an androgenic effect performed the mental test better than anyone else, including women who were not using birth control pills. However, Yasmin users not only performed more poorly on the mental task compared to older generation pill users but they performed significantly worse than women using no birth control at all. The researchers concluded that "visuospatial performance is hindered with the introduction of anti-androgenic preparations."
Although as many as 25% of the female population are thought to have polycystic ovaries, around half of them are diagnosed without PCOS symptoms like menstrual irregularities. If you do experience pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), there could be a silver lining because your metabolic rate may increase during the part of the cycle known as the luteal phase - the day after ovulation to the first day of your period. This metabolic boost can equal as much as 300 calories a day, which is why appetite increases during this phase. To take advantage of this hormone-driven calorie burn to lower or better control your weight for improved management of your polycystic condition, keep a journal of what you eat the week before and the weeks after your period. Then try to cut down or even remove from your diet any food cravings that you discover you're consuming regularly. The resulting improvement in weight control and hormone balance could help to reverse the cysts on your ovaries.