You have plenty of problems to deal with when you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), including irregular periods, skin issues, unwanted hair growth or loss, and frequent headaches, but one of the lesser-known symptoms is an expanding waistline.
In fact, overweight/obesity and PCOS have a two-way relationship that can trap you in a symptoms cycle that’s tough to break without help.
That’s where we come in. Our board-certified specialists at The Endocrine Center help women throughout Houston, Texas, resolve PCOS symptoms and live active, comfortable, even fertile lives. In this blog post, our experts explain the bidirectional link between PCOS and obesity.
If you have polycystic ovary syndrome, you likely know more than most about your condition, but let’s recap to ensure we’re on the same page.
PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects up to 20% of women. It makes your body produce higher levels of androgens (male hormones) than normal, which can lead to various symptoms like those mentioned above. You could even have trouble getting pregnant due to irregular ovulation.
While researchers don’t know the exact cause of PCOS, we know the risk factors that can increase your chances of developing it, such as having a family history of PCOS and insulin resistance (diabetes).
However, being overweight is also a risk factor for PCOS that you may not often hear about, so our team highlights it here.
The PCOS-obesity connection
A reported 38%-88% of women with PCOS also suffer from obesity. And it appears that each condition impacts the other. When people gain weight, PCOS may develop; when they lose weight, it can improve. It’s also possible that early childhood obesity could lead to PCOS later in life.
One working theory focuses on how energy expenditure affects body weight in women with PCOS.
Researchers conducted a study that measured energy use in 14 women with PCOS and compared them to 14 without. Those with PCOS used less energy after eating, especially if they were obese. The amount of insulin resistance was linked to how much less energy was used.
Evidence suggests that polycystic ovary syndrome may have something to do with your body's ability to break down fat. A study showed that women with PCOS but who weren’t overweight were able to break down fat twice as fast as other people of similar weight.
PCOS is a complex and frustrating condition that can lead to emotional problems and depression, which may contribute to weight gain. It may also reduce your motivation to get out and stay active, so lack of exercise could be a part of the problem, too.
Obesity may exacerbate PCOS
Most women with PCOS can’t use insulin properly. Scientists don’t completely understand why this happens but think it might be because of the amount of testosterone in the body or an issue with androgen receptors. One study showed a problem in the pathway that helps insulin move glucose into muscle cells.
Insulin resistance is connected to many health problems associated with PCOS. When you can't use insulin properly, you end up with too much in your body, which triggers high blood sugar and tells your ovaries to make more androgens — worsening your PCOS symptoms, including your weight.
How to break the PCOS-obesity cycle
While there’s no cure yet for PCOS, The Endocrine Center has several effective treatments that can help you manage your symptoms, such as:
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Birth control pills
- Anti-estrogen medications
By balancing your hormones, we can help you lose weight and stop the vicious cycle of insulin resistance and weight gain. You can do your part by adding regular exercise to your daily routine and swapping out fatty, fried, and processed foods for a nutrient-rich diet.
To learn more about the link between obesity and PCOS, schedule a consultation with our team at any of our three locations throughout Houston. You can call our friendly staff or request an appointment online.