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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: What It Is & What You Should Know

wrote this on January 9, 2015

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, has become somewhat of a household name, and with nearly 1 in 10 women suffering from the disorder, it’s no wonder. But what is it, and how do you know if you might have it?

What is PCOS?

PCOS is a disorder of the endocrine system, which is the system in your body that produces and regulates all of your hormones. Needless to say, your endocrine system is kind of a big deal! PCOS is most commonly known for causing very long cycles and often a lack of periods, altogether. For those with PCOS, the absence of a period is the result of the body’s failure to ovulate. The ovarian follicles that fail to ovulate then become cysts, giving PCOS its name.

What causes it?

The direct cause of PCOS is uncertain, though there appear to be many factors that contribute to the condition. Research shows that there is a genetic component to PCOS, but that it is made worse by factors such as obesity. Additionally, many women with the disorder suffer from insulin resistance and excess insulin, leading researchers to believe that this may contribute to its development. This excess insulin is thought to increase the body’s androgens (or male hormones) above the normal level, causing problems with ovulation.

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Recent research is also beginning to show a link between PCOS and endocrine disruptors (like BPA) that are found in many household products and beauty supplies. It’s thought that these endocrine disrupting chemicals contribute to the development of PCOS by interfering with hormone health in those who are predisposed to the condition.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of PCOS are menstrual disorders—in particular, experiencing long, irregular cycles and very heavy or long periods when they do occur. Because of the effect PCOS has on your cycles, it’s a common cause of infertility (and difficulty conceiving) among women. PCOS can also result in excess hair growth (thanks to increased androgen levels), acne, and weight gain.

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Can it be “cured”?

So this information is all well and good, but the real question is “What can you do about it?” Luckily, you’re not SOL if you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS. It can be very appealing to turn to hormonal contraception as a quick fix (trust me, I’ve been there!), especially when it’s recommended by your physician or someone you trust. But a PCOS diagnosis isn’t a death sentence, and the pill definitely isn’t your only option if you’re interested in exploring alternatives.

Many women have great success treating (and even REVERSING) PCOS through lifestyle improvements like diet, stress management, and exercise. Your diet can greatly impact the balance (or imbalance) of your body’s hormones, so cutting out processed foods—especially highly refined carbohydrates and sugars—can do wonders to improve the symptoms of PCOS and help your periods return to a healthy state.

While this route is certainly not a quick fix like the pill, loads of women have had incredible results. Our friend Nicole Jardim, a certified women’s health coach, wrote a great overview of PCOS and created wonderful online programs like her Fix Your Period Program that can help you rebuild the health of your hormones. Nicole is seriously AMAZING, and I highly recommend spending some time on this lady’s website!

How Groove can help

While Groove’s app can’t directly improve the health of your cycles (only YOU can do that!), using our app can give you amazing insight into what’s happening with your body. This means more knowledge and education to help you make the decision that’s best for you. Groove can also help you visualize the effects of lifestyle changes on the health of your cycles. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, and it’s pretty darned awesome!

Jennifer Aldoretta is the cofounder and CEO of Groove. She is an entrepreneur, engineer, and biohacker who is obsessed with periods, nutrition, hormones, and the microbiome.