PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, is the most common female hormonal imbalance today.
PCOS has far-reaching consequences, including an increased risk of autism in offspring. The good news is that it may be reversible through diet and lifestyle changes.
PCOS is a condition in which an imbalance in estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone causes cysts to grow on the ovaries. While this can be painful, the consequences of PCOS can be severe, including a 60 percent increased risk of giving birth to a baby who will develop an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). What helps manage PCOS will help manage Hashimoto’s. Research shows a strong link between PCOS and Hashimoto’s.
The symptoms of PCOS with Hashimoto’s
Consider the symptoms of PCOS below, which reflect how pervasive this disorder is on the body as a whole, especially when you have Hashimoto’s.
Here are some symptoms:
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Ovarian cysts
- Acne, oily skin, or dandruff
- Obesity and excess weight usually concentrated around the abdomen
- Male pattern baldness
- Dark, thick patches of skin on the neck, arms, breasts, or thighs
- Skin tags
- Anxiety or depression
- Sleep apnea
PCOS causes male attributes
The hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS cause higher levels of the male hormone testosterone. This, in turn, leads to the development of such male attributes as male pattern balding, facial hair growth, deepening voice, and perhaps a more aggressive or indifferent personality. These hormonal balance issues can also worsen Hashimoto’s.
What causes PCOS when you have Hashimoto’s?
It’s no accident that symptoms of PCOS are similar to those of high blood sugar and diabetes. Although genetic predisposition plays a role in PCOS, the diet and lifestyle factors that cause insulin resistance (high blood sugar) and type 2 diabetes also cause PCOS: a diet high in sugars and processed carbohydrates, lack of plant fiber, overeating, and lack of exercise.
The upside to this is that switching to a whole foods diet that is free of sugar, lower in processed carbs, and high in vegetables and adding in daily physical activity can help reverse not only high blood sugar but also PCOS. For younger women, this paves the path to a smoother transition through perimenopause and menopause, a period in life that can be made miserable by blood sugar imbalances. The approaches to managing high blood sugar and PCOS are vital to managing Hashimoto’s as well.
The vicious cycle between PCOS and blood sugar
Standard lab markers that can identify PCOS include a fasting blood sugar of over 100 and elevated triglycerides and cholesterol, especially if triglycerides are higher than cholesterol. Not surprisingly, these are also markers found with insulin resistance or pre-diabetes. These are red flags with Hashimoto’s too.
Insulin resistance is when the body’s cells become less sensitive to insulin due to a high-sugar, high-carbohydrate diet, overeating, and sedentary lifestyle.
This leads to high testosterone and PCOS in women (and elevated estrogen in men).
Unfortunately, elevated testosterone causes cells to become more resistant to insulin, thus creating more testosterone in a vicious cycle.
These factors also trigger or exacerbate Hashimoto’s.
If you want advice on managing PCOS and Hashimoto’s, ask my office for advice on functional medicine strategies to balance your blood sugar and hormones.