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Treating polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) with diet and exercise

January 16, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
It's not always easily diagnosed and the treatment can be frustrating as well. But polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the number-one endocrine disorder in the U.S., and the leading cause of infertility.

While the number of women who have PCOS has doubled, many don't even know they have it. Here are some ways women can fight back and feel better.

"I was tired all the time and just didn't feel good," said Amber Proctor.

Wife and mother Amber Proctor thought these feelings were normal, but then was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, known as PCOS. According to nutritionist Monika Woolsey, it has grown from 1 in 10 women to 1 in 5.

"It starts to chip away at the integrity of the nervous system, which controls hormones, and because everything starts in the brain and trickles down, it starts to kind of fall apart," said Woolsey, a registered dietitian specializing in PCOS.

PCOS isn't considered a one-size-fits-all disease. Physicians treat specific symptoms. Woolsey formulates diets to combat the host of negative side effects of this condition: acne, menstrual irregularities, fatigue, infertility, depression, hair loss and localized weight gain.

"It tends to be weight that grows around the belly," said Woolsey.

Suggested dietary help?

  • Avoid high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Decrease omega-6 fats found in many processed foods.
  • Increase whole grains and real fruit.
  • Boost omega-3 fats.

"When we can rebuild the omega-3 system and get the brain working again, it seems to be the foundation for all the other steps falling into place," said Woolsey.

Keeping regular schedules for sleep, meals and exercise also seem to help.

Some women have a tough enough time embracing exercise, but the medication for this program can really upset their stomach and cause nausea. A trainer has specifically designed a program especially for these challenges.

"Women with PCOS are very intimidated to go into the gym, of course they are," said Craig Ramsay, a celebrity personal trainer. "So my encouragement is for them to execute a workout program that is going to be in the comforts of their own home."

Ramsay, created an exercise routine for Proctor.

"I'm down two pant sizes and I feel a lot better," said Proctor. "I have more energy."

"I encourage women with PCOS with a family: activity," said Ramsay. "Once you're feeling secure and ready, go for a walk with the family."

That, in turn, helped all the Proctors.

"My relationship has gotten a lot better because we're all communicating when we walk," said Proctor.

According to Woolsey, the primary features distinguishing PCOS from simple weight gain:

  1. Facial hair

  2. Male pattern baldness

  3. Acne

  4. Acanthosis nigricans

These changes can create poor self-esteem and even social anxiety, making it hard to go to the gym or go out in public.

Lesser-known PCOS-related issues with genuine physiological bases:

  1. Poor memory, focus, concentration. Can make it hard to establish new, healthy habits.

  2. Very poor sleep. In a survey of 1,000 women with PCOS, 85 percent of them reported disrupted sleep.

PCOS contributes to low energy, living off of sugar and caffeine, exacerbating cravings and weight.

Proctor has lost twenty more pounds and is doing very well with her nutrition changes as well as taking up yoga.