PCOS: What Is it, And Could You Be Suffering From It?

Around 20% of women worldwide suffer from PCOS – or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome – making it the largest hormonal problem to date. Yet millions of women go undiagnosed. Dr Malikah Van der Schyff is a Cape Town gynaecologist and obstetrician. She points out: “PCOS is a complex syndrome made up of many hormonal issues, such as insulin resistance (pre-diabetes). I think it is a ‘silent epidemic’ that is often missed because its complexity prevents a blanket treatment.”

Studies have shown that approximately 40% of patients with diabetes and/or glucose intolerance between the ages of 20 and 50 have PCOS.

Excess insulin

This is the result of too much stress or starchy foods, which can cause weight gain. It can also stimulate the ovaries to produce large amounts of testosterone, which can halt ovulation. Excess testosterone is the culprit behind facial hair and male pattern baldness in women. Click here to find out more.

High insulin levels are responsible for increasing the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. This upset to a delicate hormonal balance further increases weight gain and triggers the formation of cysts in the ovaries. In excess, these hormones also bully progesterone, which is essential for ovulation, insulin balance, weight balance and energy levels. Therefore, unless support is brought in, a downward hormonal cycle begins.

Approximately 70% of women with PCOS are undiagnosed; for some it’s easy to have the condition without being aware of it. Many women find out only when they investigate why they are having difficulty conceiving. Click here to find out how you can best take care of your ovaries – at every age.

Symptoms of PCOS:

  • Weight gain around the waist and sometimes the hips;
  • Hirsutism: hair growth around the mouth and chin;
  • Acne on the face, upper back, chest and upper back;
  • Hair loss or balding;
  • Sugar craving;
  • Irregular or absence of menstruation
  • Infertility;
  • Fatigue;
  • Insomnia;
  • Mood swings, depression or anxiety;
  • Sleep difficulties; and
  • Pelvic pain


“The treatment for PCOS has to be triaged around your main problems, to try improve your quality of life and prevent infertility,” advises Van der Schyff. “For PCOS it needs to be streamlined for hormonal balance. One can look at lifestyle changes – for example, stopping smoking, and dietary changes, like a low-carb diet. We like to advise the support of a dietician.”

When it comes to supplements, chromium may be helpful, as it is an essential mineral for insulin stability. Chasteberry is a herb used for balancing estrogen and progesterone, and natural progesterone cream can help to suppress excess testosterone and estrogen.