• Dr Sally Norton


September is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome awareness month and it's a topic close to my heart as it makes weight control even more of a struggle for the 10% or so of women who have it...but may not actually know they have it.

PCOS is a condition that can affect your weight and fertility. It may show up as excess facial hair and greasy skin prone to spots, as well. Want to know more? Read on....

What actually is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is actually quite common and you're more likely to have it if your mother or other close relatives have it.

It is not fully understood – but it's a hormonal condition where your ovaries produce more male hormones than usual, affecting egg production and release, and making it more difficult for women with PCOS to get pregnant. Also, it's associated with resistance to the hormone, insulin – increasing the risk of metabolic disorders which can affect liver, heart and blood vessels and weight. And increase the risk of diabetes too.

Anything else?

A previous study suggests that the ratio of fat-to-lean tissue and the fat distribution itself may be a bit different from that of women without PCOS.

In PCOS, the waist:hip measurement is often higher than normal – are you more of an apple shape than a pear?

It is associated with lots of small cysts in the ovaries (hence the name) and you may have noticed missed or irregular periods.

In addition, the excess of the male hormones (females without PCOS produce these ‘male’ hormones too, just in smaller quantities) can mean more hair on face and body (though there's some thinning of head hair) and greasier skin, prone to acne. Not brilliant news – but most of these problems can be overcome so don’t panic!

What can you do about it?

It is really important for women with PCOS to control their weight to reduce the risks of illness later in life. Also, just a 10% in weight loss can restore normal periods and help fertility.

Going on the pill can make your periods more regular too, reduce the male hormone levels and therefore the acne. However, if you are trying to get pregnant then the pill obviously won’t be much good to you. If weight loss doesn’t help, and other causes for infertility (including your partner!) have been excluded, then tablets to improve fertility or even IVF can be tried.

A tablet called metformin, often used to help diabetics, is also of benefit in PCOS, helping the body to maintain stable sugar levels and reduce the male hormones. There are also other drugs that reduce the levels of male hormones and can therefore help with acne and male-pattern hair changes. You need to have a full discussion with your doctor about any of these problems that may be troubling you. He or she may refer you to a specialist to discuss what, if any, of the above treatments may be of benefit.

But, there's more you can do yourself

It's so important that you focus on your health – keeping fit and eating fresh, non-processed food – as I always go on about anyway!

There's also evidence that insulin resistance and metabolic problems can be reduced by avoiding too much carbohydrate (especially processed carbs) and reducing snacking – eating just two meals a day rather than 6 smaller meals helped in a recently published study of type-2 diabetic patients who have similar metabolic problems of insulin resistance to patients with PCOS. Plenty of fresh fruit and veg will help skin and hair as well as general health – aim for 5 servings a day, mainly veg!

Keeping active will help the weight too - HIITS exercise (high intensity interval training) has been found to reduce insulin resistance in several studies.

I hope this helps. Please get in touch if you have any more questions.

If you need more info and support, my 12 week, online Weight Loss For Life programme covers hormones, insulin resistance, exercise and more that will help anyone struggling with PCOS, perimenopause or other weight control issues. Click here to find out more.