PCOS affects about 1 in 10 women in the US. And some would say that there are actually 5 different “types” of PCOS and therefore it’s important to have tests done to find out “where” the PCOS is starting. Is it starting in the brain? in the pancreas? in the adrenals? in the ovaries?
- Traditional PCOS: anovulatory, increased androgens, no insulin resistance
- Endocrine Syndrome X: anovulatory, increased androgens, insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes
- Non-traditional PCOS: anovulatory, normal androgens, obese, insulin resistant or type 2 diabetes
- Non-traditional PCOS: ovulatory, increased androgens, mild insulin resistance
- Idiopathic Hirsutism: ovulatory, increased androgens, no insulin resistance
Lara Briden, an Evolutionary Biologist and Naturopath Doctor, posits these 4 types of PCOS:
- Insulin-Resistant PCOS
- Post-Pill (or Pill-induced) PCOS
- Inflammatory PCOS
- Hidden-cause PCOS (like thyroid disease, a vegetarian diet leading to deficiencies, artificial sweeteners, and others)
And what causes PCOS? From my understanding, there are 3 main theories as to the causes of PCOS:
- Genetics... thanks Mom. And each time I hear that something is “genetic,” I like to take a moment to consider if there’s a possibility that a repeating pattern is being learned and absorbed by the new generation via epigenetics... just a thought... take it or leave it.
- Hormonal Imbalance... there’s miscommunication happening between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and ovaries (called the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis... and sometimes the miscommunication is between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis). They use hormones to talk to each other and for some reason with PCOS they're not communicating in the ideal amounts like they're supposed to do.
- Insulin Resistance... imbalances with insulin and androgens (like testosterone, DHEAS, etc.). One of insulin's jobs is that it can cause the liver to decrease making a molecule called sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG). Therefore, if there’s too much insulin, it may cause too little SHBG, and too little SHBG may result in excess free testosterone.
Now there's debate about Hormonal Imbalance (#2) being the side-effect of the actual problem of Insulin Resistance (#3)... or... that Insulin Resistance (#3) being the side-effect of the actual problem of Hormonal Imbalance (#2). There are lots of experts trying to figure this one out so thankfully we don't have to!
As a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner, I educate my clients to follow the best plan for them... and that might be to go down a (sometimes long) path of diagnosis with their health care provider so that the underlying problem is ultimately addressed. (There's more about holistic options here.)
When a woman with PCOS and/or irregular cycles charts them using the Fertility Awareness Method, then she has a better idea of what's going on with her body and reproductive health. She can give definitive answers to questions about how long her cycle is, how many days her periods last, what each period is like (especially if they differ), if she's ovulating or not, and if any interventions are making changes. (This is called using the menstrual cycle as a vital sign!) And if blood tests need to be done at certain points in her cycle (like 1 week after ovulation), she'll know if it should be around Day 21 like "everyone else" or (say) Day 63 if she ovulated later and will have a very long cycle.
Whether a woman with PCOS wants to avoid pregnancy, achieve pregnancy, or simply know when to expect her period, charting her cycle can give lots of really good information and make the process a little less frustrating.
Colleen Flowers is a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner who loves teaching individuals and couples about their bodies from a natural and holistic perspective using the Fertility Awareness Method... to avoid pregnancy naturally, to increase their chances of conceiving, and to better understand their bodies! See what others have to say or contact her and subscribe to her newsletter. Like what you see? Then book an online consult with her and/or purchase a package for more in-depth coaching.