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PCOS and Obesity

Obesity or persistent weight gain is a common feature of polycystic ovarian syndrome. Many women find it almost impossible to lose weight, even when on a strict diet. It seems that every calorie that is eaten is stored as fat.

There are many possible reasons why you are overweight. A few of them are:

  • A genetic predisposition toward "thrifty genes"
  • A disordered biochemical signalling system affecting fat metabolism/storage, and appetite
  • Glandular disorders or diseases such as hypothyroidism
  • Excessive calorie intake in your diet. Love for junk and fried food
  • Sedentary lifestyle and lack of regular exercise
  • Poor food choices.
  • Medications
  • Over Eating
  • Sodium Retention

Most women have some combination of the above factors that are causing them to gain weight, or have difficulty losing weight.

PCOS Women More Prone to Gain Weight

We've heard lots of stories about PCOS women who are very disciplined in what they eat, yet they still gain weight or can't lose weight. Meanwhile, their family or friends can eat more and stay thin.

This is borne out by a study at the University of Pittsburgh where the diet of PCOS women was compared with non-PCOS women. The study found that although PCOS women tended to be more overweight, there was virtually no difference in their dietary intake. However, when lean PCOS women were compared to lean normal, the investigators found that the lean PCOS women consumed fewer calories than the lean non-PCOS women. In other words, the lean PCOS women eat fewer calories to maintain their weight compared to normal lean women.

This study suggests that PCOS women tend to gain more weight with the same amount of calories when compared to non-PCOS women.

Why are PCOS women so efficient at converting calories into fat? Or maintaining their weight with fewer calories than normal women? However, we'll highlight a few of the factors here.

Your Genes and Weight

Most researchers agree the polycystic ovary syndrome is at least partly caused by the set of genes you were born with. Your genetic pattern is somewhat different compared to women who don't have PCOS.

Recent genetic research suggests that PCOS is partially the result of "thrifty" genes, providing advantages in times of shortage of nutrition such as muscular strength, moderate abdominal fatness and decreased insulin sensitivity, i.e. an anabolic (body building), energy-conserving constitution. However, the era of famines and food shortages is long past. "Thrifty genes" are ill-equipped to deal with the overwhelming supply of food to which you are now exposed. If you have the "thrifty genes", then you are very adept at storing calories for a rainy day that never comes.

Disordered Biochemical Signalling

Our research suggests that a very complex biochemical signalling disorder is primarily responsible for PCOS weight problems. The cells in your body behave according the information (signals) they receive from their environment. Hormones such as insulin are messengers that tell cells what to do or not do. In addition to numerous hormones, there are dozens of other signaling proteins in your tissues and blood that communicate information to your cells.

A number of studies have shown that the complex interplay of signaling proteins in PCOS is disrupted and disordered.

On this web page, we'll simply list a few of the disorders that contribute to weight gain and obesity in polycystic ovary syndrome.

Ghrelin and Your Appetite

Ghrelin is a "hunger hormone" that was discovered in 1999. A lot of research is being done on ghrelin so you may be hearing more about it.

It helps to regulate how much food you eat and how much weight you gain. In normal individuals, ghrelin levels go up before meals, and down after meals. Elevated ghrelin triggers strong feelings of hunger. In addition to regulating eating behaviour, ghrelin may slow your metabolism and reduce your ability to burn fat.

Several studies suggest that women with PCOS have disordered ghrelin levels, or have an impaired ability to regulate ghrelin.For example, one study showed that PCOS women were less satiated and hungrier after a meal than normal women. The ghrelin levels of the PCOS women did not decline after a meal as much as the non-PCOS women.

Once again, diet is important because it appears that composition and amount of fat and carbohydrate in the diet will influence ghrelin levels. An inappropriate diet may lead to excessive ghrelin, which will lead to hunger and the desire to eat more food.