Are Rising PCOS Rates Responsible for Obesity Surges among Women?

In a study on the Endocrine Center, evidence suggests that women with PCOS burned less fat than women without the condition. Moving on from physical issues, PCOS is also known to increase stress.

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Obesity is a silent epidemic ravaging the country, with Forbes sharing that 2 in 5 adults qualify as obese. This is a worrying development, given that obesity is a chronic condition associated with various issues ranging from serious physical health concerns to financial strain, depressive ideation, and socioeconomic prejudice. According to experts, the exact cause of obesity is hard to pinpoint since the condition is influenced by a myriad of factors outside of diet and exercise.

That said, one possible reason why women, in particular, are becoming more obese may be easier to identify. In the last few years, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) cases have been increasing, too. A hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age, PCOS manifests in many ways, but most commonly as excess weight. Given that nearly 30% of adult women are obese, and up to 6% of all reproductive-age women have PCOS, it’s not a stretch to think these incidences may be connected.

PCOS and weight gain

According to research, an estimated 88% of PCOS patients are overweight or obese. This is believed to be because both obesity and PCOS can encourage the development and progression of each other. For starters, most PCOS patients are insulin-resistant. This means that the cells are less responsive to insulin and instead take glucose from the bloodstream. Over time, this causes the body to turn this stored excess blood sugar into fat.

Another reason why PCOS is said to influence weight gain is due to energy expenditure. In a study on the Endocrine Center, evidence suggests that women with PCOS burned less fat than women without the condition. Moving on from physical issues, PCOS is also known to increase stress. This can cause the stress hormone cortisol to spike. Apart from causing inflammation, spikes in cortisol levels can cause depression and anxiety. This may create a negative mindset that encourages a sedentary lifestyle and binge eating. Now, it must be said that specialists have yet to determine what causes PCOS definitely, but PCOS inarguably makes it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it.

How to combat PCOS weight gain

As of writing, PCOS is incurable. However, there are a number of proven methods to treat it. Mostly, these solutions target PCOS manifestations, including extreme weight gain. Chief among these is proper nutrition. This is considered the first intervention for many PCOS symptoms like obesity. As such, most patients are taught how to lose weight with PCOS using balanced diets. Although there is no singular PCOS diet plan, most experts recommend incorporating foods that heighten satiety, regulate blood sugar, and fight inflammation. These include complex carbs like legumes, lean proteins like chicken, and heart-healthy fats like chia seeds. Not only does such a diet create a caloric deficit, but it also helps control hormonal levels and insulin resistance, thereby making the body more amenable to weight loss.

That said, some women need more aggressive interventions. This is usually the case for women who have other comorbidities, such as diabetes, which makes it genetically harder to lose weight. In these cases, patients are typically prescribed PCOS medications for weight loss. For example, doctors may prescribe off-label use of semaglutides as these can improve insulin sensitivity. Aside from this, some women may be given birth control pills to keep their fluctuating hormones in check.

All in all, PCOS patients who are able to lose even just 5% of their total body weight can see an improvement in other symptoms like acne, excess hair growth, and stubborn weight gain. Thus, while PCOS is likely increasing the number of obese women, it’s a manageable condition that doesn’t need to cause lifelong excess weight.

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