PCOS and Stress: a hand-in-glove partnership

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PCOS and Stress: a hand-in-glove partnership

You, or your sister, or best friend, someone you know must definitely be suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). An increasingly common condition, PCOS affects nearly one in every 10 women between the age of 18-45 years. You may notice that apart from the internal disharmony, skin, hair, and even the psyche is disrupted by this notorious hormonal and metabolic disorder. The exact cause of PCOS is not yet known, but researchers believe that stress plays a key role in its evolution. 

Women, as compared to men, face severe stress as the body and hormones change every couple of years- at puberty, during each pregnancy, and finally, around menopause. Apart from this, everyday stresses can add to the bag of emotions that you must deal with. Never an easy job. 

The impact of PCOS in our lives is well illustrated in this diagram as it affects a woman not just physically but also emotionally.

PCOS is also known to be associated with several mental health problems, e.g., eating disorders, depression, and anxiety, body dissatisfaction and diminished sexual satisfaction. Having said that, it doesn’t imply that women with PCOS battle feeling low all the time.

An emotional battle

Your self-esteem might take a hit after being diagnose with PCOS, and you might start developing a more negative self-image. The excessive production of male hormone testosterone causes seborrhea and hair loss, cystic acne, excessive hair growth, and obesity. Those who once had spotless skin and silky hair might start noticing symptoms like dryness, flaking, hairfall as PCOS worsens. All of this adds up to feeling low about your body and self-image.

In married women, the most common symptoms adding to stress are irregular periods and infertility. Obesity and unwanted facial hair are the most common distressing symptoms among young girls with PCOS.

Research shows that stress increases hormonal imbalance, which eventually aggravates PCOS symptoms.

Pregnancy pause

PCOS increases the risk of infertility due to factors like metabolic abnormalities, hormonal imbalances, and insulin resistance. It is also seen that eggs are just not released by the ovaries sometimes, making pregnancy a distant reality. Such women have elevated levels of the luteinizing hormone, insulin, and androgens and reduced levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estrogen. These imbalances appear in the form of infrequent or absent periods. This also gets manifested as tiny cysts on the ovarian surface (polycysts) and symptoms related to hair and skin.

Is early marriage and children compulsory then?

While no evidence supports early marriage and children for women with PCOS, it is a widely known fact that fertility dramatically reduces every year post the age of 35 years. Combined with PCOS, the chances of infertility or difficulties in conception rise a notch higher. Keeping these in mind, planning a family earlier would be a wise decision for women desiring children.

How can we manage PCOS

PCOS Explained

Managing PCOS can be slightly tricky. While reversing it without medication might be difficult, here are some methods that can definitely help you get better control over the situation:

  • Yoga or meditation
  • Regular physical activity
  • Effective hair removal in women with hirsutism
  • Reducing acne via treatments
  • Weight management
  • Treating insulin resistance
  • Healthful eating plan

These help in the treatment of PCOS by increasing sex-hormone binding globulin and decreasing testosterone levels. It also improves insulin sensitivity. Weight management helps to improve lipid levels, and to lower the blood pressure. Mood and body image are improved by regular physical activity, which effectively reduces stress too. Vitamin D deficiency needs to be treated with oral supplements and improved sun exposure in the early hours of the day.

Can food also help?

 Food helps fight stress in several ways. Various components of food can boost levels of serotonin, a chemical that calms the mind. Nuts, seeds, eggs, cheese, pineapples, and tofu can help boost your serotonin levels. Similarly, chemicals in some foods help to reduce levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which are stress hormones and take a toll on the body over time. The impact of stress can be counteracted by a nutritious diet as it shores up the immune system and helps to maintain the blood pressure at a healthy level.

It has also been observed that women with PCOS-related infertility who are overweight tend to have a poor dietary intake in terms of whole grains, fiber, and iron. Inconsistent eating behavior leads to poor maintenance of body weight. Thus, correcting food habits can improve weight management, which by itself will improve your PCOS.

Although one of the most common causes of infertility, PCOS is treatable. If losing weight and medicines fail, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and surgery are the treatment options available in case of PCOS-related infertility. 

So the general perception that having PCOS will stop you from conceiving needs to change. Stick to healthy eating and indulge in regular exercising habits. Adequately treating symptoms can help you reduce stress and depression.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3719335/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17044949
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4433074/
  4. https://www.webmd.boots.com/diet/ss/slideshow-diet-for-stress-management
  5. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/polycystic-ovary-syndrome


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