Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is among the most common conditions that affect women. Caused due to hormonal imbalance, it can severely affect women’s reproductive health leading to irregular periods and even infertility. Many obese women suffer from it. Consecutively, PCOS can cause weight gain. So, what is the link between PCOS and obesity? And, how can a woman keep both in check? As a part of Onlymyhealth’s ‘Healthy Nari, Happy Nari’ campaign in the run-up to International Women’s Day, we spoke to Dr. Vikas Singhal to get answers to these questions. Dr. Singhal is a GI Surgeon, Oncology & Bariatric Surgeon at Medanta Hospital, Gurugram.
PCOS & Obesity: What Is The Link?
PCOS is linked to a woman’s reproductive health. And her reproductive health is regulated by female sex hormones: estrogen and progesterone. PCOS and obesity have an established relation, said Dr. Singhal. When obese, women have excess fat stores. These fat stores release excess hormones, which causes hormonal imbalance. In obese women, it is generally seen that these fat stores release excess estrogen, which gradually starts getting converted into testosterone, which is the male sex hormone. It, in turn, causes:
- Facial hair
- Acne, etc.
This hormonal imbalance directly affects ovulation and can cause irregular periods, enlarged ovaries, and polycystic ovaries. It can also cause infertility. In fact, PCOS is among the most common causes of infertility in women.
Although not every woman suffering from PCOS is obese, having a BMI (body mass index) above 30 increases your risk of this condition by 30%, explained Dr. Singhal. Although obesity is a risk factor, those who weigh normally can also develop PCOS. It is because they might not have proper body composition, which means their fat mass is greater than muscle mass. Hence, more than weight, fat stores pose a problem as they can cause hormonal imbalance, which can lead to PCOS. Hence, even if you are thin and your weight is ideal, you should exercise, focus on muscle building, and have a proper diet.
Symptoms Of PCOS
Here are some of the symptoms of PCOS:
- Excessive facial hair
- Irregular periods
- Infertility, in some cases
Health Risks Associated With PCOS
PCOS in itself is an issue. However, it can increase your risk of several health issues, such as:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- Joint problems
Also, PCOS is generally associated with weight gain, which can make you prone to obesity-related health issues.
How To Keep PCOS In Check
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Losing weight can reduce your risk of PCOS. However, if you are thin:
- Exercise regularly for at least 30 to 45 minutes. Focus on building muscle mass through strength and weight training.
- Have a healthy diet
- In some cases, medications are given to control the issue and its symptoms.
Can PCOS Be Cured Without Medication?
It depends on the condition. If you experience mild symptoms, such as excessive facial hair, you might not need any medications. However, if you experience infertility, you might need medications along with some assistive procedures. If the latter is not the case with you, focus on your overall lifestyle:
- Focus on losing weight
- Have a proper and balanced diet
- Exercise regularly and include a mix of workouts like aerobics, strength training, deep breathing, etc.
A-Z On Obesity
As obesity is a major risk factor for PCOS, let us look at it in detail. Although both men and women can suffer from obesity, it reflects differently in both of them. The fat composition is different. In women, the fat build-up is generally seen around the abdomen and hips. And if you store fat around your tummy, it can increase your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels. In women, it is even associated with cancers, such as that of breast, uterine, etc. Hence, it is crucial to address it on its onset.
Causes Behind Obesity
An improper lifestyle characterised by poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, excessive stress, and lack of enough sleep can cause obesity. However, even though following a good lifestyle, some women get obese. Other causes of obesity include:
- Genetic predisposition to obesity
- Mental health problems like depression
- Hormonal imbalance such as that of thyroid, cortisol, etc.
Doctors first assess the weight gain, the reason behind it, and then recommend a solution accordingly. If a person has a BMI of 40 or above, he/she can be even considered for bariatric surgery.
Is Bariatric Surgery Safe
Many undergo bariatric surgery to shed weight. It is a safe, well-standardised procedure with a low complications rate, said Dr. Singhal. More than complications, one needs to understand the surgery, the doctor said. It helps the patient to reap the maximum benefits of the procedure. Understanding the diet and exercise routine that needs to be followed post the surgery is crucial. Remember, weight management is a continuous procedure and bariatric surgery isn’t a magic wand that would take all the fat away in one go. A proper lifestyle must be followed even after the surgery.
If you are women who are pregnant or trying to conceive and have undergone bariatric surgery previously, then you must inform your doctor. He will recommend a proper diet and supplements to make sure your body doesn’t lack any vital nutrients. It is safe for women trying to get pregnant and has even had a positive impact on their fertility, the doctor explained.
Weight management is crucial for a healthy life. However, Dr. Singhal recommends against any crash diets as it strips your body of vital nutrients. Also, it isn’t sustainable and all that weight that you lost tends to rebound. Hence, adopt a sustainable approach by building a healthy lifestyle with good food, enough exercise stress management, and enough sleep.
(With inputs from Dr. Singhal is a GI Surgeon, Oncology & Bariatric Surgeon at Medanta Hospital, Gurugram)
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