Many women suffer from both Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and related PCOS mental health issues. This syndrome can be a vicious cycle of physical health concerns and complaints along with the wear and tear it takes on a woman’s self-esteem and ability to cope.
However, the adverse affects this syndrome has on a sufferers mental health reach far further than a reaction to a life-changing diagnosis.
There are hormonal underpinnings.
The PCOS Mental Health Link
PCOS is not simply a reproductive disorder but rather an endocrine system dysfunction caused, in part, by hyperandrogenism (an overproduction of testosterone).
Behavioural and emotional changes have been found in women with high testosterone, with an established relationship between high levels of testosterone and mood disorders, including:
– Seasonal Affective Disorder, and
Women with PCOS are already more frequently diagnosed with depressive disorders, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders, and although coping with the many physical health issues that accompany PCOS is a factor, hyperandrogenism plays a significant role.
Irregular menstrual cycles
Irregular menstrual cycles are common in women with PCOS, forming part of the diagnostic criteria.
And a study performed at Columbia University (1) found that…
Irregular menstrual cycles are the strongest predictor of mental health issues in women.
Irregular menstrual cycles may be caused by high testosterone levels…
Those who reported unwanted body hair as their primary PCOS symptom were also most likely to struggle with anxiety, while women who reported weight gain suffered the most with hostility and outbursts of anger.
Both weight gain and unwanted body hair, particularly facial hair, can symptoms of hyperandrogenism, so when we add these things together, high testosterone levels in women are a significant reason for mental health issues that women with PCOS experience.
Beyond irregular periods, weight gain, excessive hair and mood swings, those with PCOS experience other serious symptoms.
But more than one hormone is out of sync in PCOS mental health…
The blood work of women with PCOS often shows elevated levels of inflammation, with PCOS sufferers having a lower antioxidant status and higher than normal levels of oxidative stress. (2)
This, too, may tie into mental health disorders.
As we look further into psychological well-being, discoveries are being made the reveal factors like inflammation and the altered gut microbiota (gut ‘bugs’) that can cause it, may be key. (3) And in my many years of helping women with PCOS, the one absolute constant regardless of the presenting complaints, body size or severity is gut issues.
I am sure this plays a big role in PCOS, and it’s why I have dedicated a full chapter to it in my Amazon bestselling book, Conquer Your PCOS Naturally, and a module in Conquer Your PCOS – The 12 Week Intensive. I truly believe you are unlikely to conquer your PCOS if you do not address your digestive wellbeing.
The Cardiovascular Disease Link
When one thinks of inflammatory disease, arthritis comes to mind as well as other body aches and pains.
But cardiovascular disease (CVD)?
Inflammation is a serious contributor to CVD and could be part of the reasons why women with PCOS are at a higher risk for this disease.
Cardiac disease is presently the #1 killer of women (4)
And, while women with PCOS have many markers reported to increase this risk, including the development of hypertension, impaired glucose tolerance, and obesity, there are other important links…
1) Cardiovascular disease and depression (5)
2) In the study, Assessment of Cardiovascular Risk and Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in Women with the Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Consensus Statement by the Androgen Excess and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (AE-PCOS) Society, they noted that mood disorder assessment is suggested in all PCOS patients (6)
3) The possible connection between mental health behaviours and the development of CVD (7)
Our Future Generations
We now know that epigenetic changes can be passed from one generation to the next (8) and that the development of an illness in both the Mum and Dad can impact of the mental health of future generations.
For example, a study out of Cardiff University in the UK has found that babies born to mothers with PCOS show a significantly higher risk of developing ADHD and autism spectrum disorders. (9)
And while this may sound scary, as we better understand the triggers and reasons for children to be affected by this disorders, we will be able to work backward to discover why, allowing for early detection of, and PCOS mental health screening for, women with PCOS.
What can we do?
We as a community need to become better able to identify and diagnose women with PCOS. The current lag time is unacceptable, and women are often only diagnosed when they try to become Mum’s… and fail.
This leaves a large lag time when signs and symptoms worsen and frustration increases.
We specifically need to understand mental health and reduce – even better, eliminate – remaining stigma.
If you are a woman with PCOS also facing mental health challenges, it’s important to seek professional health whether that be through a psychologist, your medical doctor, referral to a psychiatrist, or through a natural health professional who specialises in this field.
If you have the energy and ability… Research, research, research! Read about PCOS and its related health issues. Seek out information that is both credible and current.
Rest when needed and take good care of your health.
In my article and video, 6 Simple Steps To Address Your PCOS Depression, I share simple steps and insightful research that can help you feel and find the road toward recovery.
From PCOS to perfect health, with love,
Dr. Rebecca Harwin
The PCOS Expert
Chiropractor & Multi-book Author
P.S. Want downloadable access to The PCOS Mental Health Link article? Click on the cover below to get your PDF copy now.