Go Red For Women…Wear Teal for PCOS!

While it is a common belief that cancer is the most common cause of death among women, it is actually heart disease. Approximately 33% of American women will die of heart disease or a complication of heart disease. There are several risk factors that put women at risk for heart disease including: obesity, poor diet, lack of good exercise habits, smoking and increased alcohol intake….sound familiar? Go Figure!

Risk Factors of Heart Disease:

1. PCOS: Having PCOS increases a woman’s chances of getting heart-related complications. This is due to the high insulin levels that have been associated with PCOS which increase the risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. All of these conditions can increase the risk for heart attack and stroke.

2. Hypertension: Blood pressure is a measure of the force of the blood moving through the blood vessels. When elevated, blood pressure can indicate that the heart is moving harder to circulate the blood. This can be caused by a hardening of the blood vessel walls from plaque accumulation or atherosclerosis. Insulin resistance and obesity are also linked to elevated blood pressure.

3. High Cholesterol : Having PCOS can put you at risk for high cholesterol and triglycerides and low levels of HDL (high density lipoproteins, or “good” cholesterol). Some cholesterol is a result of poor dietary intake, though our bodies also contribute significantly to ones cholesterol levels. Elevated levels of cholesterol is also one of the identifying factors of metabolic syndrome and can lead to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

4. Atherosclerosis: Atherosclerosis is the build up of hard, fatty plaques in the arteries. This can damage the blood vessels and impede normal blood flow throughout the body. Without sufficient blood flow transporting nutrients and oxygen to the extremities and essential body organs, severe damage can occur.

So what can I…and all of you do to reduce the risk of developing heart disease later in life? I’m going to sound like a broken record but the solution is maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise. Even if you are one of those lucky individuals that is naturally skinny, you need to cut yiour intake of fats and sugar, and keep up with a daily exercise routine. Routine blood pressure and cholesterol monitoring are also important to make sure your levels are staying stable.  

Click here to visit the American Heart Association’s website for more information on heart disease.

Click here to learn more about the Go Red for Women campaign…and here to learn more about PCOS Awareness Month.

I’m Past Puberty…So Why Does My Skin Still Think It’s 12?

Just when it seemed like the horrible/awkward teenage years were over, my best buddy acne decided to make a re-appearance. Luckily I’m blessed with fairly good skin, but that doesn’t stop those obnoxious bumps from invading my hairline or other places on my face that are so easy to spot. What is the reasoning behind this? The answer….testosterone, more specifically dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

Many dermatologists believe that DHT stimulates the production of oil which eventually can lead to clogged glands or pores. Clogged pores can no longer release oil and allow bacteria to grow and multiply in the follicle, leading to inflammation.

Acne can be caused by several things, many of which are common in PCOS:

  • Hormonal imbalances – insulin resistance and hyperinsulinism
  • Diet high in refined, high-glycemic carbohydrates that increase insulin levels.
  • Heredity – genetic predisposition to PCOS.
  • Stress.
  • Medications- anabolic steroids, anti-epileptics, lithium and some oral contraceptives.
  • Industrial pollutants – petrochemicals such as machine oils, coal tar derivatives, chlorinated hydrocarbons, etc.
  • Cosmetics.
  • Over-washing or repeated rubbing of the skin.
  • Hormonal imbalances – increased progesterone secretion prior to menstruation.
  • Allergic reactions to foods.

Acne is most common in teenage years when the body is still getting used to all the hormone changes that come with puberty. One of the tell tale markers of PCOS is if the acne continues into the adult years, especially when accompanied by previously mentioned symptoms such as hirsutism or hair loss. Tests typically done in older women with acne problems are: serum levels of testosterone, DHEAS, LH, FSH, prolactin, cholesterol, triglycerides, and thyroid hormones. A two-hour glucose tolerance test with accompanying insulin levels should also be done.

Many PCOS women will have abnormal levels of one or more of these tests, although normal values do not rule out a PCOS diagnosis.

If any of these symptoms apply to you, talk to your doctor….it’s never too early for PCOS diagnosis, the sooner the better!

Click here to read more information on treatment of acne in PCOS.

Acupuncture and PCOS? I don’t know how I feel about that.

Here is an article that was published in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism in April 2011 on the effectiveness of acupunture in treating PCOS:

18 April 2011

A study recently published in the American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism concludes that low frequency electro-acupuncture improved menstrual frequency and balanced sex steroid levels in women with PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Hyperandrogenism is a primary symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Hyperandrogenism is a medical disorder wherein excess androgens are produced. Primary symptoms are hirsutism (hair growing in areas where it would not normally occur), vertex alopecia (balding), deepening of the voice, increased muscle mass, acne of the chin, neck and thorax; and menstrual irregularities. Hyperandrogenism was measured in this study by determining the total concentration of testosterone, androgens, estrogens, androgen precursors, and glucuronidated androgen metabolites.

Amenorrhea or oligomenorrhea are common problems associated with PCOS. The study measured that electro-acupuncture improved menstrual regularity in women with PCOS. The sex steroid levels in the electro-acupuncture group improved significantly and acne markedly decreased. The study measured improvements in a wide range of endocrine variables such that the researchers concluded that electro-acupuncture may help induce ovulation in women attempting to conceive since participants showed significant improvement in monthly menstrual frequency.

Acupuncture was applied to CV3, CV6, ST29, SP6, SP9, LI4, and P6. All needles were stimulated manually until a de qi sensation was achieved. Thirty minutes of 2 Hz electro-acupuncture was applied to CV6, CV6, ST29, SP6, and SP9 for each treatment. The intensity was adjusted to induce local muscle contractions while also remaining comfortable. LI4 and P6 were manually stimulated every 10 minutes to evoke sensation. Needle length ranged from 30 to 50mm and the diameter was 0.32mm. Needle depth ranged from 15 to 35mm. Acupuncture was administered twice per week for two weeks, one time per week for six weeks, and once every other week for eight weeks for a grand total of 14 acupuncture treatments over a 16 week period.

Reference:
Elizabeth Jedel, Fernand Labrie, Anders Odén, Göran Holm, Lars Nilsson, Per Olof Janson, Anna-Karin Lind, Claes Ohlsson, and Elisabet Stener-Victorin. Impact of electro-acupuncture and physical exercise on hyperandrogenismand oligo/amenorrhea in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 300: E37–E45, 2011.

Click here to view a video on the practice of acupuncture for fertility.

Infertile Myrtle…PCOS & Pregnancy


PCOS is the most common cause of infertility among women, due to the absence of ovulation. Most women don’t find out they have PCOS until they try to become pregnant and are unsuccessful. Research has shown, however, that the symptoms of PCOS begin to appear before a girl has her first menstrual period.

What is Infertility?

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine defines infertility as the inability of a woman younger than age 30 to get pregnant after 12 months of having unprotected intercourse; the inability of a woman older than age 30 to get pregnant after 6 months of having unprotected intercourse; or the inability to carry a pregnancy to delivery. Most women with infertility related to PCOS can be treated and do become pregnant. However, some women with infertility related to PCOS will not respond to treatment and don’t become pregnant
Women with PCOS who do get pregnant are at higher risk for pregnancy complications.

Treatment Options for Women with PCOS Who Want to Have a Baby

When I was diagnosed with PCOS, I was told that in my particular case, getting pregnant would be a very difficult process. The chances of me getting pregnant without help from fertility treatments will be highly unlikely. This is the case for many women like me who have PCOS, but there are some who are able to conceive on their own. Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, can trigger body changes that improve pregnancy rates. For many women with PCOS who want to get pregnant, health care providers will recommend weight loss and other lifestyle changes before adding medications to see if fertility returns and pregnancy occurs naturally. In one study, lifestyle changes alone restored ovulation and improved pregnancy rates. Here are some of the most common medications physicians use to improve fertility in women with PCOS:

  • Clomiphene (clomid): the most common treatment for infertility in women with PCOS. Women who received this treatment were six times more likely to get pregnant than women who didn’t get the treatment. Women treated with clomiphene were also more likely to have multiple pregnancies (twins, triplets, etc.).
  • Metformin: an insulin-sensitizing drug currently used to treat diabetes has proven to be successful in treatment of infertility associated with PCOS. The treatment successfully restarted ovulation in significantly higher numbers of women with PCOS than among those who didn’t get the treatment.
  • Gonadotropins: a category of hormones used to treat infertility in women with PCOS who do not respond to metformin or clomid. Low-dosage treatments have a high success rate and show fewer associated problems.
  • Women with PCOS can also try other forms of assistive reproductive technology, such as egg donation and in vitro fertilization.

A surgical procedure—called ovarian drilling—was sometimes used in the past to start regular ovulation or to increase the likelihood of pregnancy. However, it is not clear that such a procedure is actually more successful than medication for treating infertility in women with PCOS.

Pregnancy Complications in Women with PCOS

  • Miscarriage or early pregnancy loss
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Pre-eclampsia (sudden increase in blood pressure after 20 weeks)
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • Pre-term birth
  • Cesarean delivery

For more information on infertility, pregnancy and PCOS, please visit the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
website.

What’s the Deal with Syndrome X?

Although it may sound like a villain out of a sci-fi movie, Syndrome X is anything but fiction. Syndrome X or Metabolic Syndrome is a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk of coronary artery disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. This syndrome is found in many women who suffer from PCOS, but it can affect men as well. Researchers are not sure whether the syndrome is due to one single cause, but all of the syndrome’s risk factors are related to obesity.

Metabolic syndrome is associated with many conditions and risk factors. The two most important risk factors are:

  • Extra weight around the middle of the body (central obesity). The body may be described as “apple-shaped.”

  • Insulin resistance, in which the body cannot use insulin effectively. Insulin is needed to help control the amount of sugar in the body.

Risk Factors for Developing Syndrome X

  • aging
  • genetic predisposition
  • hormonal changes
  • lack of exercise

Signs and Tests for Syndrome X

According to the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, metabolic syndrome is present if you have three or more of the following signs:

  • Blood pressure equal to or higher than 130/85 mmHg
  • Fasting blood sugar (glucose) equal to or higher than 100 mg/dL
  • Large waist circumference (length around the waist):
    • Men – 40 inches or more
    • Women – 35 inches or more
  • Low HDL cholesterol:
    • Men – under 40 mg/dL
    • Women – under 50 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides equal to or higher than 150 mg/dL

Tests that may be done to diagnose metabolic syndrome include:

  • Blood pressure measurement
  • Glucose test
  • HDL cholesterol level
  • LDL cholesterol level
  • Total cholesterol level
  • Triglyceride level

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes or medicines to help reduce your blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and blood sugar.

Recommendations include:

  • Lose weight. The initial goal is to lose between 7 and 10% of your current weight. This generally means that you need to eat 500 – 1,000 fewer calories per day.
  • Get 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, such as walking, 5 – 7 days per week.
  • Lower your cholesterol using weight loss, exercise, and cholesterol lowering medications, if needed.
  • Lower your blood pressure using weight loss, exercise, and medications, if needed.
  • Some people may need daily low-dose aspirin.
  • People who smoke should quit.
Syndrome X (Metabolic Syndrome), if left untreated has the potential to cause many complications that will dramatically reduce your lifespan including atherosclerosis, diabetes, heart attack, kidney disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, peripheral artery disease, and stroke. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or any of these risk factors pertain to you, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR DOCTOR as soon as possible to start on treatment in order to prevent these devastating complications!

Here is a video that illustrates the effects of Syndrome X on the body:

Tips for Moms When PCOS Comes Knocking on Your Daughter’s Door

As I said previously, I was diagnosed with PCOS at the age of fifteen, a critical time in my life. Getting this diagnosis as a teenager was a very difficult thing. I know that PCOS is not deadly, but there were many aspects of this disease that scared me: a lot more doctor’s appointments than I was used to, starting to see *gulp* a gynecologist, the possibility of not having children, the embarrassing symptoms, the feeling of not fitting in with my friends, depression, low-self-esteem, the list goes on and on. Dealing with the drama of being in high school and all that was bad enough, but to add this on top of it? I don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t been for my mom.

My mom has always been my greatest support in everything I’ve gone through in my life, but she has been even more supportive of my PCOS. So I decided it would be a good idea to provide some advice to you moms that read this blog, because you never know if your daughter will have to face this as well.

1. A Little Knowledge Goes a Long Way

To diagnose PCOS, the doctor can do an abdominal ultrasound to view the ovaries. This is less invasive than a pelvic exam, so you may want to suggest this option. However, if a pelvic exam is recommended, it can be a lot less scary if she knows what to expect. Give her a chance to ask you questions and be honest with your answers. Reassure her that she will be covered except where the doctor is doing the exam, and that there won’t be a lot of people in the room. Ask her whether she wants you to be in the room or waiting outside and whether she prefers if a man or a woman performs the exam. Having some control over the situation may help her cope with it better.
 
 
2. Get Involved!
While your teen daughter may still be a minor in the eyes of the law, supporting her includes involving her in the decision making process. Give her details about the disease and make sure that she has an opportunity to ask the doctor her questions as well. Discuss treatment options and let her voice her opinion. And, of course, listen to her concerns and make sure that they are addressed.
 
3. Get Some Support
There are a number of places that offer support groups for teens with PCOS. Meeting up with or talking with other young girls with the same concerns may help her feel not so alone. Of course, please do your own research and make sure that it is a safe and reputable group before encouraging your daughter to join. She may also be interested in a general PCOS group for women of all ages.
 
4. Finally…Be A Supporter
Never forget that you are your daughter’s number one source of information, support and love. Be there to listen, go running, or get manicures together. Use PCOS as an opportunity to enhance your relationship! My mom has done wonders for me in encouraging me to eat right and to exercise. She is also there to listen to me when I have having a down day or am upset for no reason.
 
Click here for a quiz to evaluate symptoms so you and your teenage daughter know what to discuss with the doctor

Jab…Cross…Uppercut…Hook–Kickboxing My Way to Healthy.

Weight loss has been the major recommendation by physicians for women with PCOS. Lifestyle modifications including stress reduction, exercise, and group support, along with a decrease in total energy intake, have had positive results. A weight decrease of only 5% of total body weight is associated with decreased insulin levels, increased fertility, reduced hirsuitism and acne, and lower free testosterone levels.

As I mentioned in a previous post, losing weight is really hard for me. I am a very active person, the only way I manage to stay sane through the chaos of work and school is the hour I get at the gym every day. I have found in my research that it is important to keep my stress levels low and to get enough exercise every day to reap the benefits for my heart and my body, even if my weight doesn’t change as quickly as I would like it to.

So what can I do that doesn’t bore me to death, gives me a good workout, and helps me release stress? The answer….KICKBOXING! I discovered this wonderful exercise when I was in high school and I fell in love immediately. Kickboxing provides an overall cardiovascular and resistance workout that aids with weight loss.

 

Aside from the physical benefits of kickboxing, I also get many emotional benefits. When I have a stressful day, there is nothing that makes me feel better than turning on some music and taking my frustrations out on a punching bag, or turning on a kickboxing video. There is something energizing about the punches and kicks, and when I master a combo, there’s no better feeling. The endorphins that are produced when I kickbox make me feel so light and happy that I forget about the pain. Research has also known that the endorphins released during exercise such as this can help relieve depression which is a common side effect of PCOS.

Here is a video of some basic kickboxing moves with the Biggest Loser trainer Cara Castronuova:

For more information on kickboxing, visit TryExtremeSport or check the class listings at your local gym