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PCOS and Obesity: is There a Link Between the Two?

Obesity can have a big impact on many different aspects of your health, so it’s not surprising that it can affect your menstrual cycle. In fact, menstrual symptoms such as period pain can often be worse when you are overweight. The effects are particularly strong if you have a gynaecological condition such as PCOS.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS is a common gynaecological condition that happens when lots of harmless follicles accumulate in your ovaries. A follicle is an immature egg. Usually, one or more follicles would mature every month and be released from the ovary. When you have PCOS, some of the follicles pause in their development and get stuck in the ovaries. Although these follicles are usually harmless, they can cause problems when they build up. PCOS is also associated with hormonal imbalances that can cause other problems. Your testosterone and insulin levels can be affected.

Common symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Irregular periods
  • Fertility problems
  • Thinning hair on your head
  • Excess hair growth on your face and body
  • Spots and oily skin
  • Weight gain
  • Increased risk of high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes

How is PCOS Linked to Your Weight?

One of the symptoms of PCOS is weight gain, but there are other links between PCOS and obesity too. It is important to be aware of these if you are affected by this condition, especially if you need to lose weight.

  • Women with PCOS often struggle with their weight or have different patterns of weight gain. Since their testosterone levels are higher, there is a tendency to put on weight around the abdomen (to be apple-shaped rather than pear-shaped). Abdominal fat is actually the most damaging to our health and most likely to cause issues such as heart disease.
  • Many women with PCOS are more resistant to insulin, which can encourage weight gain and increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It’s therefore very important to watch what you eat and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Losing weight can often help to ease the symptoms of PCOS. It is often one of the first steps that your doctor will suggest if you are diagnosed with PCOS and you’re carrying excess weight. Maintaining a healthy weight can even help to improve your fertility when you have PCOS.
  • Getting rid of your excess weight can be harder when you have PCOS. This is largely because of insulin resistance, which makes it harder for your body to manage sugar correctly. You may need extra help to reach a healthy weight, which could mean seeing a dietician or having weight loss surgery.

Maintaining a healthy weight is always good for your health, but it is particularly important if you have PCOS. You are at higher risk of obesity-linked health problems and your PCOS symptoms may also be worse because you’re carrying extra weight. Although it can be tougher to reach your weight loss goal when you have PCOS, you could experience even greater benefits when you do so.