A quick Google search will bring up an array of FAQs with listed symptoms to look out for, as well as coping mechanisms including medications, supplements, suggested diets and exercise plans. Along with it, you may find some misleading resources that complicate the situation. Surprisingly, Google’s servers have not yet crashed from the fact that PCOS is searched close to 11 thousand times a month in Ireland alone.
Coined as an official term in 1935 by Stein and Leventhal, PCOS is no easy ride and has since been a topic of debate among health officials and researchers. Luckily, regardless of the debate, your PCOS is manageable with the right tools.
What is PCOS?
*Deep breath* PCOS or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a complex condition where a woman experiences a range of disrupting endocrine and metabolic difficulties during reproductive age.
Despite its name, PCOS isn’t necessarily linked to the production of small cysts on the ovaries, and more correctly is referred to as an increased number of follicles.
To narrow it down, this affects how the ovaries function overall and may contribute to hormonal imbalances; however, having increased follicles present on one or both ovaries does not automatically imply that a woman has PCOS, nor is it a definite symptom of having PCOS. Yes, you can have PCOS with or without physical disruptions on your ovaries.
Often described as a misnomer, there are some clinical and research groups pushing for a rename on the condition due to its slightly misleading name and therefore difficulty in women being diagnosed and supported.
Despite the confusion, many symptoms are widely reported as;
- Irregular periods, light periods, or completely missed periods
- Ovaries that may be large and may have harmless cysts
- Hormonal acne and problem skin
- Velvety, thick, or leathery feeling skin
- Unwanted body hair in women such as the face, neck, chest, or back
- Unwanted hair loss or thinning hair (male pattern baldness)
- Difficulty conceiving
- Abdominal weight gain
- Skin tags or patches of dark skin
PCOS is complex as many women report having varying experiences, and determining a diagnosis can be obvious for some and not so obvious for others. Research into the condition is adapting and so it should. We’re in this together.
Do I have PCOS?
PCOS effects between almost 1 in 5 women and approximately 6% and 8% of women worldwide, could be one of the most common disorders among humans and the most common endocrine abnormality for reproductive age women. The numbers to report on PCOS could be even higher as so many go undiagnosed due to varying symptoms and even depending on your race, ethnicity, and geographical location.
Sharing some familiarity with female endocrine conditions such as endometriosis, hirsutism, and other thyroid conditions, PCOS is often difficult to detect due to the symptoms from one woman to another. Falling on a spectrum of endocrine conditions and is commonly undiagnosed in women until later in life when they are trying to conceive and may face some difficulty.
Above everything else, PCOS can be hereditary and it is likely you will have it if your sister, mother, or even auntie also has it, #cysters.
To determine if you have PCOS, several tests may need to be performed from ultrasound scans, insulin resistance tests, and other examinations such as documentation of your symptoms. It may also take some time and rigorous consistency. We apologise in advance for the inconvenience.
To throw another spanner in the works, there are different types of PCOS and no woman’s story could be farther away from the other.
There are different types of PCOS?
Yep, it just gets more interesting.
Also known as hyperinsulinemia and termed as the most common, this type of PCOS happens when your body stops responding to sugar, forcing the pancreas to actually produce more insulin and becoming insulin resistant. Basically, it’s trying to send your cells a message and they’re not listening.
With this type of PCOS you are likely to struggle with your weight, fatigue, and brain fog. We suggest;
- Regular exercise is always suggested but it is true, movement will help your body support itself. We’re not talking about crazy HIIT workouts, just keep movement a regular and natural part of your day
- Controlling your sugar intake is an unfortunate reality for most but makes sense, whether you have PCOS or not
- Getting the right amount of sleep is important and magnesium supplements have been reported to help with this
Supplements such as inositol or myo-inositol are commonly used to support your body’s response to insulin
Although the exact causes of PCOS are unknown, inflammatory PCOS may happen as a result of poor lifestyle choices due to a rise in androgenic hormone levels from poor diet or exercise. A balanced diet of healthy fats such as salmon, pre and probiotics, fruit and veg should keep you on track.
Post hormonal contraception
Artificial hormones taken with the contraceptive pill are often provided as a way to cope with the symptoms of PCOS. However, this can often mask your PCOS and is not exactly a long term solution for every woman.
When you decide to come off the pill, temporary symptoms of PCOS may occur and may last a long time - however is considered to be reversible once different lifestyle choices are consistently made.
Usually triggered by stress, DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) is naturally produced from the body as a signal of stress. This type of PCOS is tricky, as it can also closely relate to post pill PCOS when the body suddenly has to produce its own hormones again. Lifestyle changes can help you prevent and cope with this such as;
- mindfulness journaling
- breathing work
- take that holiday
Debunking the PCOS myths
Your periods are gone
While you very likely may experience disruptions to your menstrual cycle due to PCOS, the truth is, irregular or missed periods are just one potential symptom. They are not always definite. This goes for all listed potential symptoms.
Many women have reported difficulty during their menstrual cycle, such as unpredictable periods that vary in length and intensity with some even having prolonged periods that last an excessive amount of time. It isn’t uncommon for a woman to experience no changes whatsoever to her periods but still have PCOS and there are various studies to suggest this.
An incredibly insightful and interesting study by Contemporary OB/GYN on ‘Diagnosing PCOS in women who menstruate regularly’ states “normal menstruation is common in women who have hyperandrogenism, hirsutism, or both. In fact, in several studies that looked at different populations, 50% to 70% of hirsute women had normal menses. 1-4 In our experience, for instance, 50.8% of 588 hirsute women had normal menstrual cycles.”
This can be due to many factors such as her lifestyle choices including what she eats, how consistent her sleep pattern is, her exercise habits, and/or hereditary factors. Or, there is no concrete or simple explanation and research is still ongoing.
This is one of the reasons why women go undiagnosed. Some women who experience other PCOS symptoms but not specific menstrual issues find it difficult to navigate conversations with their healthcare provider to find adequate solutions. They are often crossed off the list for PCOS but still experience disrupting unexplained symptoms.
It goes without saying, if you are experiencing little to no periods there are options to help you regulate. But we’ll get to that later.
You’ll never be pregnant
Wrong, again! This is perhaps one of the most difficult to swallow yet misinformative myths about PCOS. It’s an unfortunate connotation to relate PCOS to infertility because it simply is not true.
Pregnancy is possible, with many women having success stories. Just look at Victoria Beckham’s who has openly shared living with PCOS but gone on to have a biological family.
The truth is, PCOS can make the predictability of your period very difficult. Understanding when you are your most fertile might be a struggle. Thankfully, living in 2022 means there are a lot of apps and other digital tools at our disposal to help with keeping track of your cycle. By following various dietary, supplementary, and physical changes - you may be in luck.
You’ll never have clear skin again
PCOS is a large disrupter to the overall health of your skin, and this is true no matter the type of PCOS you have. Increases in DHT male hormones (Dihydrotestosterone) or androgens produce an oily and sebaceous ground for bacteria to grow and form hormonal acne, cystic acne, and blemishes.
When tackling your health from within, you will begin to see changes to your health overall and this should be reflected on your skin.
There are many treatment options available to help balance the skin and see clearer days again. We recommend using a combination of targeted skincare with AHAs and working on your inner health for best results, more on this later.
This is your “problem”
Despite what you may believe, we were not placed on the earth randomly (although each to their own - no debate here). Without getting too philosophical, men and women need to conceive in order for humankind to continue. Therefore, women’s reproductive and menstrual health is everyone's business because it’s not exactly only affecting women - right?
It’s important to have this connection with your partner and to not feel like this is all on you. This is your sign to reach out to loved ones, family, friends, the online community for help, advice, or even just to have a bit of a vent. Which leads us to…
How to cope
Do your research
Knowledge truly is power, but don’t expect to learn everything about PCOS in one sitting. It’s likely that you will continue to learn more and more about it as time goes on.
With that in mind, it’s important to have the correct support system at your disposal such as;
- a trusted healthcare provider that you can have open conversations with
- a list of resourceful websites (create a bookmark folder, honestly)
- a supportive community (think social media, forums, local meeting groups)
- documentation of your own personal experiences
- skincare products that help with unwanted acne
Think carefully about hormones
Many women are prescribed hormonal contraceptives in order to regulate their periods or clear acne, which, depending on your personal goals and health history may not be suitable for all women.
However, while we cannot give official medical advice, we would suggest being an active researcher and having an open and honest conversation with your doctor about hormonal treatment before diving in head first. Write down your concerns and long term goals before deciding this course of action with them.
Follow key influencers
A quick search into Instagram or Tik Tok will bring up accounts that openly talk about and give advice on PCOS.
The Food Medic or better known as Dr.Hazel Wallace, is a UK based influencer from Dundalk, Ireland who we love to support. Forever sharing delicious recipes and nutritional advice, her page is a hub of information worth following.
We love taking a peak at UK based influencer, Zoe Antonia from time to time. She isn’t afraid to openly share her struggles with unwanted facial and neck hair. This is the kind of content that makes us not feel alone. As an active #cyster she shares lots of supportive food choices and exercise.
Some other honourable mentions;
- Katie - PCOS dietitian
- Fertility Network UK
- Dietitian Ro Huntriss
- Kirsten - PCOS Nutritionist
- Martha McKittrick
- Cory - The Woman's Dietitian
While following key PCOS influencers, please be aware that each one of these women may have similar experiences but different nonetheless. It’s important to weigh up all your own research and discuss a treatment plan with a healthcare provider that’s relevant to you.
Keep a journal
A journal will help you keep all your research notes in one place, but it will also help you keep track of your symptoms which might be useful for doctors visits. Look for a journal with a monthly diary and take note of what did or didn’t work for you that week.
As well as that, use a journal that has free pages to just vent. You’ll be surprised how good it feels to let it all out in writing, when sometimes conversations fail you. It will also be nice to look back on and see how far you’ve come.
Yes, we know. This may be the last thing on your mind if you’re having a bad day but hear us out.
Have you ever gone to the doctor with a concern that’s gone by the time you finally get an appointment? However, you are still concerned about your symptoms and know they are likely to reoccur. Take. pictures. It will save you in the long run and help you avoid difficulty.
Aswell, sometimes we think our skin, hair, or body is not improving when in actual fact, it is (albeit slowly). We’re not telling you to obsess by any means, but whip out the camera if something is really bothering.
A supportive skincare routine for hormonal acne
One thing prevalent among the 4 types of PCOS is the presence of cystic or hormonal acne. No one in their 20s, 30s, or even 40s wants to experience what their once teenage self thought they’d grow out of. Don’t put copious amounts of effort into your wellness routine and not support it with targeted skincare, let our co-founder Justine give you a little insight into her story.
Acne is a problem that needs to be tackled from every angle, so let’s get into it.
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)
To really tackle hormonal acne, we need to ensure we are giving the skin the perfect healthy base. Chemical exfoliation with AHAs such as azelaic, malic, lactic, glycolic, and citric acids help with quicker cellular turnover and the reduction of sebum produced by an overproduction of androgens. This doesn't give acne much chance to occur.
Try our AHA collection and full treatment plan includes:
Is an anti-inflammatory ingredient used in skincare to decrease hyper-pigmentation associated with acne breakouts. By decreasing the production of oil on the skin, it inevitably brightens and reduces the appearance of painful breakouts.
Try our Purifying Gel Cleanser.
Tea Tree Oil
A tale as old as time, most skincare fanatics know of the benefits of this ingredient for acne. If you don’t, let us welcome you to our Soothing Serum!
It is concentrated to support the skin by supercharging it with antibacterial and antimicrobial benefits of tea tree, along with aloe vera to support hydration. Without adequate hydration, the skin can’t rejuvenate or use other active ingredients to its advantage.
While not directly related to skincare, improving your gut health is highly advised to keep your skin balanced. Many people report on the role our gut has on our overall health.
Try a diet with some:
- natural greek yoghourt (not the one loaded with sugars)
- leafy green veg
September is PCOS awareness month
Pop it in the calendar and get out the notebook and pen. The annual PCOS awareness month takes place in September and every year we are expected to hear even more women’s stories about living with the condition.
This will be a great opportunity for you to connect with others online by joining a forum, spreading the word while the world is looking, or browse social media using PCOS related hashtags. Why not get in touch with different organisations in your local area to see if events are coming up that you can attend.
Knowledge is power, and we wish you every success in your journey! As always, feel free to reach out to us for support or let us know if you can relate, #PokoCysters.