I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) when I was around 19 old. I had gained about 80 pounds over a 2-year period, without substantial changes in my diet and despite regular exercise. I wasn’t menstruating, and I was struggling with fertility. The Dr. who diagnosed me advised that it would make getting pregnant more difficult but didn’t really give me any other information.
After a few years of trying, and 5 miscarriages, I decided that having a biological child wasn’t in the cards for me and I stopped fertility treatments. That effectively stopped any treatment I was getting for my PCOS because I thought of it purely as a hindrance to fertility. I did not know all the ways that it was affecting my life every day.
Thankfully, several years later, I finally found a Dr. who really explained PCOS, how it was affecting me, and how I could help manage the symptoms. I struggled with amenorrhea, which means I did not menstruate, I had great difficulty losing weight, I was fatigued and nauseated daily, I had adult acne that was worse than when I was a teenager, I had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, and I had embarrassing facial hair.
It was almost a relief to find out that all these things can be attributed to the endocrine disorder that is PCOS. I was able to educate myself, with the help of a great doctor and over the years I came to be able to manage PCOS as well as could be expected.
In 2 years, I will be 40 and I started wondering what that means for my PCOS. In the last 7 months, I have lost 76 pounds, lost my diabetes diagnosis, and lowered both my cholesterol and blood pressure to within normal limits. I have done this through following a keto diet, which you can read more about here.
While I have seen positive changes in my PCOS, namely the weight loss, less pain, and lessening of my nausea, there are other facets that haven’t changed. I still must shave daily to keep the hair that grows on my face and neck at bay, I still deal with stubborn acne, and restful sleep basically never happens. Then last month, out of no-where, for the first time in 21 years, I spontaneously had a period. Was this due to weight loss? I wasn’t sure, I’ve been at lower weights and never started menstruating. I decided to do some sleuthing.
What I found was that as we age, the symptoms of PCOS naturally improve some. Testosterone levels, for example, decline to those of “normal” women by the age of 61. Androgen, a key hormone in period disruption, also declines as we age and so women in their 30’s can start to see more normal periods (PCOS Nutrition, 2016).
There are even some age-related issues that women with PCOS may fare better than their normal peers. For example, women with PCOS report fewer hot flashes and sweating during menopause. Unfortunately, we also report more male-pattern hair growth, a lot more. 64% of women in menopause with PCOS reported excessive hair growth while it was a complaint of non-PCOS women only 9% of the time.
Now, because PCOS is an endocrine disorder, many of us have trouble with insulin resistance and some of us have cardiovascular problems due to the disorder. As we age, what happens to those things? Unfortunately, it seems as those we maintain increased insulin, higher rates of inflammation, and higher cholesterol as we age, in fact, those markers may worsen after we go through menopause. This is likely due to excess weight as the highest gains in these areas were by women who were overweight (PCOS Nutrition, 2016).
All women naturally have a more difficult time losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight after menopause, we tend to get shorter and carry more body fat, especially around the middle. This is especially true of those of us with PCOS. To me, that means the time to get our bodies to a healthy weight is now!
If you’ve been putting it off, or have failed on numerous diets, it can be a daunting task, but it is not impossible. We know more than ever before about PCOS and, yes, it is hard to lose weight and keep it off, it is more difficult for us than our non-PCOS peers, but it is also more important for us. Our predisposition to numerous health problems, almost all of which are exacerbated by excess weight, means that to be healthy and live our fullest lives, we must strive to reach a healthy weight.
I want to stress that I am not talking about getting your body ready for a bikini, I firmly believe that all bodies can be beautiful, and anyone can rock a bikini. I am talking about weight loss to ensure a healthy future. The science is clear that in PCOS, excess weight makes almost all our symptoms worse and leads to higher rates of cardiovascular issues, stroke, and even premature death.
In fact, in a study of 1,345 women with PCOS it was shown that while aging increases insulin resistance (and all the health issues that go along with it) in obese women, it did not have that effect on women who were a healthy weight or overweight (PCOS Nutrition, 2016).
So what does this mean for me? I may have more regular periods, which for me would mean any periods. I will still struggle with my facial hair and honestly, other than my infertility, that is the most difficult symptom for me emotionally. I know that maintaining a healthy weight is vital to stay healthy and I know that it’s not easy.
I am 7 months into a weight loss journey that has been really successful thus far but I know from experience, that no matter how great I do, I can always slide backwards. An illness, an injury, increased stress, anything that interrupt my momentum can make staying on track difficult.
I’m sure that you have probably noticed that even if you’ve lost a significant amount of weight, it doesn’t take a lot to gain it back. I understand that following a keto lifestyle must be exactly that for me, a lifestyle. I cannot look at it as a diet, a temporary thing to achieve a goal. My body will never process carbs and sugar the right way, my stomach will always fight to hang onto every bit of fat it can get. I will have to always eat differently than most of my peers or I may not be around to enjoy the beautiful life that I have.
PCOS Nutrition. (2016). What Happens to Women with PCOS as They Age? Retrieved from: