Can Polycystic Ovaries Cause Weight Gain?
5 Ways PCOS Might Be Secretly Messing With Your Weight
If you’ve been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, it may feel like the numbers on the scale tick up no matter what you do—and that is hella frustrating. “Women with PCOS often say they can’t lose weight,” says Daniel Dumesic, M.D., ob-gyn, a PCOS specialist, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and division chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at UCLA.
Though doctors aren't sure about exactly what causes PCOS, symptoms like weight gain and acne are caused by increased testosterone produced by the ovaries. Roughly 10 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 44 have this condition, according to the .
Here, five ways PCOS an cause weight gain and what you can do about it.
Excess testosterone is linked to higher rates of insulin resistance, which can cause you to store more fat, especially around the abdomen, says Dumesic. And when you start gaining weight, that further increases your insulin resistance, which promotes the production of testosterone and so on, he says. It's a vicious cycle that could lead to diabetes if you're not careful.
Strike back:To keep insulin resistance on the DL, you should get your glucose levels checked by a doctor regularly and start working a little cinnamon into your diet, says Dumesic. A couple of small studies have shown that the spice may balance blood sugar in women with pre-diabetes.
Your doctor may also consider the dietary supplement inositol, which is similar to a B vitamin, in pill or powder form, says Lori B. Sweeney, M.D., endocrinologist and associate professor of medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University Health System. Studies have shown that four grams per day can help lower testosterone levels as well as insulin resistance, resulting in weight loss for women with PCOS, she says.
They might also try another prescription that makes you more sensitive to insulin like metformin. “It helps your body use insulin better and tells your liver not to overproduce sugar,” says Sweeney.
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Women diagnosed with PCOS have higher rates of mood disorders, including depression, says Dumesic. And being depressed (obvi) makes it less likely that you'll feel up for a workout or healthy meal prepping. Since even active ladies with PCOS still gain more weight than equally fit women without PCOS, this is a huge bummer. "Year over year, that leads to accelerated weight gain that women have a hard time controlling," says Dumesic.
Strike back:If you think you might be suffering from depression, you've got to talk to your doctor about possible treatments, says Dumesic.
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With PCOS, your body’s base metabolic rate is lower than average, says Sweeney. “Women who have PCOS need an average of 400 fewer calories a day than women who don’t have PCOS—and any excess calories go to fat storage,” she says. Awesome, right?
Strike back:A diet rich in foods that are low on the glycemic index, meaning they won't spike your blood sugar and cause cravings shortly after you eat, is one of the best ways to combat the weight gain, says Sweeney. Plus, eating lots of anti-inflammatory foods, like leafy greens and healthy omega-3 fats, such as chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, wild-caught salmon, and tuna, can help reduce inflammation caused by excess insulin, says Angela Grassi, R.D., a dietitian who works frequently with women with PCOS.
Exercising right before a meal can also help rev your metabolism and store more carbs as energy than fat, says Sweeney.
When you work your muscles, you train them to gobble up extra glucose in your body, says Maria Horstmann, a National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified trainer who specializes in women who have PCOS. That helps keep your insulin levels down and boosts fat-burning growth hormones, she says. She recommends working out for 90 minutes before or after a meal, focusing on interval training that utilizes short, intense bursts of energy.
When women without PCOS wake up, they burn fat for energy until they eat again, says Dumesic. But, annoyingly, women with PCOS don’t start burning fat first thing in the morning. Instead, their bodies are programmed to save it. That means you have to work twice as hard to burn fat and maintain your body weight, he says.
Strike back:A low-carb diet that focuses on foods that are low on the glycemic index could definitely help, says Sweeny. But if you've been avoiding carbs and still have trouble losing or maintaining your weight, you may need to work with a doctor to adjust your calorie intake to a lower-than-normal level, she says. Also, PSA, never skip meals in the name of losing weight—especially if you have PCOS, says Sweeny. “If you go for a long period without eating you’ll have an exaggerated insulin response when you finally do," she says. Your best option: Eat a lower-carb diet and munch throughout day.
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(Check out this total-body workout that will make you sweat in no time.)
When you have PCOS, the hormones that regulate hunger and fullness, like ghrelin and leptin, are not on their A-game. That means you’re more likely to feel hungry when your body doesn’t need food and feel unsatisfied even when you’ve eaten enough, says Sweeney. Obviously, that really sucks when you're trying to lose or maintain your weight.
Strike back:Meds designed to help treat Type 2 diabetesand obesity will likely help with weight loss in PCOS patients, says Sweeny.
And as a precautionary measure, make sure you're drinking enough water to prevent phantom hunger pangs, says Horstmann. Aim to drink half of your body weight in ounces each day.
Video: Can Losing Weight Cure Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
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