There is more than meets the eye when it comes to PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) as fantastic as they are; it is not just about the ovaries. Think of PCOS like a 5 legged stool (I know there is probably no such thing, but let us imagine the possibility), each leg on the stool representing a gland in the body: pituitary, pancreas, thyroid, adrenal glands and ovaries. All of these glands are involved in PCOS. It is a multiglandular endocrine (aka hormone) syndrome. Syndrome means that it is a collective of different symptoms and signs taking place, each presentation can be different from person to person.
If one of the legs on the stool (yes that 5 legged one) has a crack, starts to wobble or breaks; it affects all the other legs on the stool. The other legs try their best to keep it together, working as a team. The same goes in your body, if one of those five glands are affected (pituitary, ovaries, adrenal glands, thyroid and pancreas) it will impact how your other glands operate too. As a consequence they don’t operate as well as they should because they are responding to what that gland is doing. Your body is always trying to restore things back to ‘normal’ (the nerdy word for this is: homeostasis) as best as it can.
Let’s look at an example of another gland besides the ovaries that is involved, time to shine that spotlight on the pancreas. The organ that is responsible for blood sugar control in your body. “Come on down!” (queue cheesy music from a game show).
When you have PCOS your pancreas is shouting out defeat, insulin has become the bad guy according to other cells who don’t see eye to eye with it anymore. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas to manage glucose. Too much glucose in your blood is bad news, so the insulin security guards job is to maintain it. Normally, insulin will give glucose a piggyback to the cell door (in your muscle, liver and fat). Furthermore, insulin has a VIP ‘key’ to open the lock on the door to your cell (i.e. insulin binds to a receptor on the cell), the receptor is like the ‘lock’. So insulin uses the ‘key’ to open the ‘lock’ (insulin binds to cell receptor) to let glucose in.
But in PCOS this normal piggyback, key / lock scenario has gone bust (insulin resistance). Insulin does it’s best to control the unruly glucose, working overtime opening the lock over and over. Insulin resistance is when cells in your liver, muscle and fat don’t respond to insulin. The issue is the ‘key’ is overused, the lock becomes damaged and then the ‘key’ no longer fits. Glucose has no way of getting in (access denied).
Glucose builds up in your bloodstream and so does insulin (hyperinsulinemia), your pancreas releases more insulin security guards because it is alarmed at the amount of glucose just freely swimming around in your blood. The aim is for insulin to mop up the glucose giving it a piggyback out of the bloodstream into you cell. But this is isn’t happening (yikes!) It’s an ongoing vicious cycle.
When you have PCOS you need to look beyond just trying to balance your girly hormones, because if you don’t manage the insulin resistance this will result in hormonal chaos and imbalance anyway. You might be thinking “well I am not overweight, so I wouldn’t have insulin resistance”, but you actually can have it happening whether you are overweight or not (it’s not picky). Those pesky high insulin levels will arise in your ovaries producing too much testosterone (eep!). It is a big bad driver of PCOS. Besides the hormonal consequences of insulin resistance; it can increase the risk of diabetes which is not cool either.
Would you like to learn more about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome vs Polycystic Ovaries?
Find out: If they are the same or different and what the difference is, Is PCOS a new fandangled thing? How does it affect fertility? And the best ways to manage PCOS and PCO. Click here to view a Q & A on Tsuno’s blog where I was interviewed about PCOS and PCO.
If you would like to know more about PCOS click here
P.S. This is what the piggybacking actually looks like when insulin piggybacks glucose towards the cell’s door 😉 ha ha