Is PCOS Disrupting Your Natural Menstrual Cycle?
Does the unpredictability of your periods complicate your life, making you feel trapped? Do you cope with heavy or painful periods? Perhaps you aren’t menstruating at all and worry what this means for your fertility and overall health? Women with PCOS report a variety of different menstrual symptoms, including absent or infrequent periods, irregular menstrual flow (either very heavy or very light), extreme cramping, bloating, or even nausea.1,2 Menstrual problems can be frustrating and painful and can disrupt your daily activities. But even worse, irregular menstruation can be a warning sign of more serious health concerns, such as infertility.
Just how does PCOS cause menstrual difficulties? Often, women with PCOS are failing to ovulate, or release an egg, also known as anovulation. When the egg is not released, it can form a small cyst in the ovary. Over time, many of these cysts can develop. The term ‘polycystic ovaries’ is used to describe this and is what gives this disorder its name. Ovulatory failure can lead to all of the menstrual symptoms described by women with PCOS and is why birth control pills are often prescribed to women with PCOS. The hormones in birth control pills mimic normal hormonal levels in your body and encourage menstruation.
What can you do to restore your natural menstrual cycle? The solution is to correct the underlying hormonal imbalance that is disrupting ovulation in the first place. Elevated levels of male sex hormones, or androgens, are the usual culprit in PCOS symptoms. High androgen levels can be, in turn, caused by Insulin Resistance. You can battle Insulin Resistance naturally by making lifestyle changes, such as better diet and more exercise and by taking targeted nutritional supplements that support your healthy lifestyle goals.3
Insulite Health is dedicated to the goal of empowering women to truly transform their health. Good health is not a destination so much as it is a journey. Let Insulite Health accompany you on your journey to good health. If you have time, click through the tabs above to discover in-depth information regarding menstrual symptoms and PCOS.
But we know you’re busy! If you’re ready to find out more about natural remedies for PCOS, discover how the five elements of the Insulite PCOS System work together to support your health goals.
Why Does PCOS Cause Menstrual Problems?
Menstrual complaints are high on the overall list of PCOS symptoms for most women. If you’re struggling with PCOS, you might be facing one or more of the following: absent period, infrequent period, extremely painful period, prolonged period, very light flow, or abnormally heavy flow.1, 2 So how exactly does PCOS cause this range of menstrual problems?
First, here’s a quick word about ‘normal’ or ‘regular’ menstrual cycles. Ovulation occurs when one of the ovaries releases an oocyte (egg) for possible fertilization. In a normal menstrual cycle, ovulation occurs every month or so. When the oocyte is released, changes in hormones prepare your uterus for possible pregnancy, such as building up the lining of the uterus. If the egg isn’t fertilized, the uterine lining sheds, and a menstrual period begins.5 The cycle repeats again next month.
When it comes to periods, “regular” is relative, as each woman is unique, but broadly speaking, your menstrual flows should occur every 21 to 35 days, and last from two to seven days. Your periods may be almost the same every month (and therefore regular), or you may notice differences from month to month when it comes to duration, pain, and the amount of discharge.5
While there are normal variations in menstruation among women, some irregularities are true anomalies, and may be a sign of PCOS or another health condition. Speak to your health-care provider about your menstrual problems to rule out other conditions. If you are having fewer than nine menstrual cycles per year, or none at all, you are likely experiencing anovulation (failure to ovulate). Anovulation disrupts the remainder of the menstrual cycle, and the various menstrual symptoms reported by women with PCOS can result.
Why does PCOS cause anovulation? Women with PCOS have an imbalance between their male and female sex hormone levels. Small amounts of male sex hormones (also called androgens) are normal in women and only become a problem when their levels are too high. High levels of androgens disrupt normal ovulation by preventing the release of the egg by the ovary. Instead of releasing the egg, the ovary forms a small cyst. Additional cysts grow as other eggs develop but are not released. Multiple cysts cause the ovaries to enlarge, creating the polycystic ovaries that give this disorder its name. The remainder of the menstrual cycle cannot proceed normally. Difficult menstrual symptoms, from absent to irregular to extremely painful periods, frequently result.
What gives rise to the hormonal imbalances of PCOS? One possible answer is Insulin Resistance. Insulin is a powerful hormone, and is responsible for regulating metabolism, a critical bodily function. If your body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin, the condition of Insulin Resistance can develop. In response, your body ups its production of insulin. Chronically high levels of insulin can take a toll on many bodily systems and organs. PCOS is the disorder that results when high insulin levels disrupt your endocrine system, especially the ovaries.The key to improving your health is recognizing the likely underlying cause of PCOS, Insulin Resistance, and taking action to manage this condition and improve your overall health and wellbeing.
Coping with Difficult Menstrual Problems?
Some women struggle with abnormal periods for years. If your periods are unpredictable, each month can feel like a roller coaster ride. Many of us with PCOS experience a variety of menstrual issues. Below is a description of the most common period symptoms reported by women with PCOS. Click the links to find even more detailed information about each of these symptoms.
Anovulation — Also known as an anovulatory cycle, occurs when you bleed, but your ovaries do not release an egg. Such cycles are a warning sign of infertility. If you experience these cycles regularly, you may have difficulty conceiving.1 The most common symptom is no menstruation. But anovulatory cycles can still include a light period.
Amenorrhea — Amenorrhea means the absence of menstruation. When a woman does not begin menstruating by age 16, it is called primary amenorrhea. This is a well-known symptom of PCOS in adolescents.2 Secondary amenorrhea occurs when a woman, who originally had periods on her own, has no menstruation for six months or more and is not pregnant.6 This is also common in women with PCOS.
Oligomenorrhea — This is characterized by infrequent, unpredictable menstruation. Cycles may be widely and irregularly spaced. Periods may range from very light to very heavy. This might or might not be accompanied by excessive pain, cramping, bloating, and discomfort. Irregular menstruation is also a classic symptom of PCOS.2 Nine or fewer menstrual cycles per year is a common diagnostic criterion for PCOS.
Dysmenorrhea — Severe menstrual cramps/pain/bloating is referred to as dysmenorrhea. If your period pain is debilitating, medical treatment might be necessary.2 Pain medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, can help ease this symptom.
Abnormal menstrual bleeding — This means any events such as an extremely heavy flow, a prolonged period lasting longer than ten days, and bleeding between cycles, all of which can be signs of PCOS.
What Complications Could You Experience?
Menstrual difficulties are a frustrating symptom of PCOS and can interfere with daily life for women suffering from them. Unpredictable cycles, heavy menstrual flows, and excruciating pain can make it hard for women to engage in life and can make them feel trapped. Left untreated, women can later face problems with fertility or experience other problems during pregnancy.
What Are the Treatment Options?
If you are struggling to cope with menstrual problems related to your PCOS, you are probably searching for a way to manage your menstrual cycle. Finding an effective treatment approach for your menstrual issues not only benefits your health, but can truly change your life by restoring normalcy and predictability. Medical researchers agree that the first, best treatment for PCOS symptoms is choosing a healthy lifestyle, complete with nutritious diet and regular exercise.
Other treatment options for menstrual issues and PCOS include prescription medications, most commonly birth control pills. Are they right for you?
Birth control pills, or oral contraceptives, are a commonly prescribed drug for women with PCOS who are experiencing infrequent menstruation. The combination of hormones contained in birth control pills is similar to those occurring naturally in the body. The synthetic hormones in birth control pills regulate your menstrual cycle for you, although they do not induce ovulation. Birth control pills can also help with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), heavy menstrual flow, anemia related to menstrual bleeding, and can reduce your chances of developing endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, and ovarian cysts.4 Many women report less severe cramps while taking birth control pills.3
Additionally, the hormones in birth control pills can reduce your production of male sex hormones, known also as androgens. If you are also struggling with hirsutism or acne, ask your health-care provider about anti-androgenic birth control pills. While there isn’t a single birth control pill that’s better than another for treating PCOS, an oral contraceptive without androgenic properties might be better for you if you have symptoms like hirsutism.7
When are birth control pills a poor choice for management of menstrual problems in PCOS? Obviously, birth control pills are not a good choice for restoring your periods if you are trying to become pregnant. Most manufacturers of birth control pills do not recommend them for women over 35 or women who smoke. Birth control pills do carry the risk of various side effects, ranging from mild to severe.3
You might have questions about the side effects of birth control pills, also called oral contraceptives. The side effects of birth control pills include spotting, nausea, headaches, mood changes, breakouts, sore or enlarged breasts, and weight changes. However, these side effects are usually manageable.4
Spotting, or very light bleeding, normally happens in the first three weeks as your body adjusts to the pill. It is not serious, although if it becomes heavy for longer than a few days, contact your health-care provider. Nausea can be avoided when the pill is taken with food; headaches and mood changes are often related to other factors; and acne breakouts can happen to some women if they take a certain kind of birth control pill. Sore or enlarged breasts are also a possibility, but the tenderness should go away on its own. Weight gain or weight loss are also possible side effects; however, most women stay the same weight. According to youngwomenshealth.org, most women think they’ve gained 5-10 pounds, but there is usually no change in weight.
Always speak to your health-care provider regarding any questions you have about how to take your prescription medications, or how to treat your side effects. Side effects often go away in the first three or four months. If they persist beyond that or are too uncomfortable to tolerate, your health-care provider can alter your prescription.
Some side effects of oral contraceptives can be serious. If you develop severe abdominal or stomach pain, chest pain, leg pain in the calf or thigh, vision or speech problems, dizziness, weakness, numbness, shortness of breath, or a severe cough, do not wait to get medical assistance.
Control Your PCOS Through Natural Means
There are various nutritional supplements that can be helpful in managing the menstrual symptoms stemming from PCOS. Vitex Agnus Castus, commonly known as Chaste Tree Berry, has been used by European women for menstrual problems for centuries. Chaste Tree Berry helps to improve menstrual regularity by normalizing levels of hormones associated with the luteal phase (or last half) of the menstrual cycle. Chaste Tree Berry is also helpful to women with PCOS because it also addresses hyperprolactinemia (high levels of the hormone prolactin), a suspected culprit in many PCOS symptoms.
Another useful botanical remedy for PCOS is Urtica Dioica, or Stinging Nettle. The root of the Stinging Nettle plant helps the body maintain healthy levels of sex hormones by increasing SHBG (sex hormone-binding globulin). SHBG is not a hormone itself, but affects the bioavailability of sex hormones in the bloodstream. SHBG levels are often low in women with PCOS, and can be a factor in the intensity of PCOS symptoms, especially symptoms relating to the imbalance of sex hormones, like menstrual problems.
Flax Seed is another commonly used botanical for PCOS. Flax Seed supports the metabolism of estrogen by the body. This has a beneficial effect on the production of protective estrogen metabolites and helps the body increase SHBG (sex hormone-binding globulin) levels, which can be chronically low in women with PCOS.
Finally, PCOS sufferers should consider adding Serenoa Repens (Saw Palmetto) to their supplementation regimen. The berries of the Saw Palmetto plant contain a natural 5-alpha reductase inhibitor. Reductase inhibitors work by impeding testosterone conversion in the body. This can help your body stabilize its levels of male sex hormones (androgens).
Often, the best nutritional supplementation strategy is one that combines a variety of beneficial and complementary vitamins, minerals, and botanicals in order to maximize your results. Talk to a qualified nutritionist, herbalist, or a naturopathic doctor for help in choosing the best ingredients for your PCOS. Alternatively, targeted blends designed specifically for PCOS can remove all the guesswork, and streamline the process of finding the right nutritional supplements for you, such as those that are part of the Insulite PCOS system.
Dietary Changes and Exercise
Even if you choose to take birth control pills to resolve your menstrual symptoms,lifestyle modifications help with PCOS symptoms. Eating a lower calorie diet, losing weight, and becoming more physically active can minimize many issues involved with PCOS. Weight loss alone can help with a number of symptoms. Ovulation can be restored, pregnancy rates improved, and blood pressure and androgen levels lowered — without medication or other means.7 For best results, limit processed foods and added sugars and add more fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole-grains. Doing so will lower blood glucose (sugar) levels, improve the body’s use of insulin, and normalize hormone levels in your body. Even just losing 10 percent of your body weight can have positive effects such as restoration of normal menstrual cycles.3
In addition to improving diet and exercise, the Insulite PCOS System goes a step further by supporting women struggling with difficult food cravings. A core element of our system is an awareness of the addictive power of food and the biology of thought that underpins it. Insulite’s nutritional supplements are designed to correct the underlying body chemistry imbalances that trigger food cravings. Another core element of the Insulite PCOS system is that Insulite Laboratories provides direct support to women struggling with PCOS by providing free consultations with our skilled team, weekly health tips by email, and by connecting you with other women suffering from this condition online.
- “What is an Anovulatory Cycle, What Causes It and How to Prevent It?” BabyHopes.com, 2011, , (27 March 2012).
- “Menstrual Irregularities”, National Institutes of Health, , (25 March 2012).
- “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) fact sheet”, 17 March 2012, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, , (25 March 2012)
- “Medical Uses of the Birth Control”, Center for Young Women’s Health, 18 October 2011, , (25 March 2012).
- “Menstrual Cycle: What’s normal, what’s not”, Mayo Clinic, , (25 March 2012).
- “Secondary amenorrhea”, MedlinePlus, 16 June 2010, , (27 March 2012).
- “Beyond Infertility: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)”, National Institutes of Health, April 2008, (25 March 2012).
The Insulite PCOS System is not intended to be medical treatment, nor is information on this website intended to be a substitute for the advice or care of a health-care practitioner. The Insulite PCOS System is a combination of nutritional supplementation and lifestyle programs intended to help individuals better manage their health and wellbeing. Consult a health-care practitioner before beginning the Insulite PCOS System. Because of ongoing research, clinical experience, and the rapid accumulation of information relating to the subject matter discussed on this website, the website’s users are advised to carefully review and evaluate the information on this website and continue to expand and broaden their knowledge of new information as it becomes available on this website and elsewhere. The use or application of the information contained on this website is at the sole discretion and risk of the user.
Since June 2008, Insulite Laboratories and Insulite Health has supported more than 2.4 million women through the Insulite PCOS System, through this website, through emails providing information and support, through consultations with our Consulting & Advisory Team, through telephone conference calls, through online webinars, through published articles, and most recently, through social media community building and support efforts. Insulite Laboratories and Insulite Health are singularly dedicated to improving the lives of women with PCOS and conditions resulting from Insulin Resistance.