Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine disorder that affects a significant proportion of women of childbearing age in the United States, with estimates suggesting that it affects between six to 12 percent of women in this age group. Because PCOS is a multifaceted condition, its symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, making it possible for some women with the condition to be misdiagnosed.
One of the most common symptoms of PCOS is excess fat gain, particularly in the abdominal region, which is often referred to as “PCOS belly.” This type of weight gain is different from other types of weight gain and can be difficult to lose.
In this article, we will explore the causes of PCOS belly, the ways in which it can affect the body, and some evidence-based strategies for reducing abdominal fat in women with PCOS. We will also discuss the potential risks associated with PCOS and the importance of seeking medical attention if you are experiencing symptoms.
What Is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects many women of reproductive age. It is characterized by an imbalance of hormones, particularly an excess of male hormones, which can lead to a range of symptoms such as irregular periods, acne, and excess hair growth.
PCOS is also associated with the development of cysts on the ovaries, which can occur when the hormonal imbalance prevents the maturation of eggs, resulting in a failure to ovulate. Other common symptoms of PCOS include skin tags, thinning hair, scalp hair loss, weight gain, and sleep problems. It is important for women with PCOS to seek medical attention in order to manage their symptoms and reduce the risks associated with this condition.
What Is A PCOS Belly?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that can cause a variety of symptoms in affected individuals. One of the more common symptoms is abdominal weight gain.
In order to understand what this looks like, it is important to be aware of the two types of fat that can be present in the body: subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat is located under the skin and can be felt when touched, while visceral fat is located deeper inside the abdomen and surrounds the organs.
While subcutaneous fat is less harmful, it can be difficult to lose, while excess visceral fat is associated with an increased risk of health problems such as heart disease, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. In women with PCOS, it is believed that higher-than-normal levels of male hormones may contribute to fat storage in the abdominal area.
The “PCOS belly” is a term used to describe the abdominal weight gain that often occurs in individuals with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This type of weight gain is characterized by an increase in abdominal visceral fat and is often accompanied by inflammation in the fat tissue.
Studies have shown that the fat tissue in the abdomen of women with PCOS contains inflammatory molecules, which can increase oxidative stress in the body and contribute to glucose dysfunction and insulin resistance. This pattern of weight gain is thought to be caused by a variety of factors and may have significant impacts on overall health.
What Does a PCOS Belly Look Like?
Individuals with PCOS often have more abdominal visceral fat compared to subcutaneous fat, which can give the appearance of a “muffin top” or “pregnant belly” appearance. In other words, the accumulation of visceral fat can give the abdomen a hard, firm feeling to the touch and is typically characterized by a high waist-to-hip ratio, giving the appearance of an “apple-shaped” body. This type of fat distribution is thought to be related to the effects of higher-than-normal levels of male hormones, such as testosterone, on fat storage in the body.
However, it is important to note that the appearance of a PCOS belly may vary from person to person and can be influenced by genetics. It is also possible for individuals with PCOS to have a normal weight but still have excess abdominal fat. Other common symptoms of PCOS may include increased hair growth on the belly, bloating, and abdominal discomfort. It is important for individuals with PCOS to be aware of these symptoms and seek medical attention if they are experiencing them.
What Are The Other Symptoms Of PCOS?
Here are some common symptoms of PCOS: irregular periods, painful periods, PMS, excessive hair growth, fertility issues, bloating, digestive problems, changes in mood or anxiety, and food sensitivities. If you have been experiencing these symptoms for a prolonged period of time, it is recommended to speak with a healthcare professional to determine if PCOS could be the cause.
How Do I Know If I Have PCOS Belly?
There are several ways to diagnose PCOS:
- Physical examination: Your healthcare provider will look for physical signs of PCOS, such as excess hair growth and acne.
- Blood tests: Your healthcare provider may order blood tests to check your hormone levels, including testosterone and luteinizing hormone (LH). Elevated levels of these hormones may indicate PCOS.
- Ultrasound: An ultrasound can help your healthcare provider see if you have cysts on your ovaries, which is a common feature of PCOS.
- Reproductive health history: Your healthcare provider will ask about your menstrual cycle and any fertility issues you may have experienced.
It is important to see a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis as PCOS can have similar symptoms to other conditions and it is important to rule out other potential causes.
What Causes PCOS Belly?
Abdominal obesity, or excess fat around the stomach, is often associated with insulin resistance and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. People with PCOS may also have abdominal obesity, which can lead to insulin resistance and affect the body’s insulin processing and storage.
To help reduce abdominal fat and improve PCOS symptoms, it may be helpful to focus on increasing metabolism and reducing low-grade inflammation in the body. These strategies may not completely eliminate abdominal fat, but they can be part of a larger treatment plan for managing PCOS.
Some factors that influence the development of a PCOS belly include:
Insulin resistance occurs when the cells in the body, including muscle, fat, and liver cells, do not respond properly to insulin which is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps regulate blood sugar levels. Women with PCOS often have insulin resistance, which means their bodies can produce insulin but are unable to use it effectively. This can increase their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
In addition, excess insulin that is not used by the body can promote fat storage, increase hunger, and lead to higher insulin levels, which can contribute to weight gain and a “PCOS belly.”
Hormonal imbalances and fluctuations can affect the distribution of fat in the body. In women with PCOS, high levels of male hormones, such as testosterone, may contribute to increased fat accumulation around the stomach. The severity of hormonal imbalances and fluctuations can influence the amount of fat that is stored in the body.
How To Reduce PCOS Belly Fat
Here are some suggestions for managing excess abdominal fat related to PCOS:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet: Focus on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Avoid processed and sugary foods.
- Exercise regularly: Engaging in regular physical activity, such as cardio and strength training, can help reduce abdominal fat and improve insulin sensitivity.
- Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can disrupt hormone levels and contribute to weight gain, so aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
- Manage stress: Chronic stress can affect hormone levels and contribute to weight gain, so try to find healthy ways to manage stress, such as through meditation, yoga, or exercise.
- Take medications as prescribed: If you are taking medications for PCOS, be sure to take them as prescribed and follow up with your healthcare provider regularly.
- Try natural remedies: Some natural remedies, such as herbal supplements and acupuncture, may help manage PCOS symptoms. However, it is important to speak with a healthcare professional before trying any new treatment.
- Avoid or limit alcohol and tobacco use: Alcohol and tobacco use can disrupt hormone levels and may worsen PCOS symptoms. Limiting or avoiding these substances may be helpful in managing PCOS.
PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a common hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age and can cause irregular menstrual cycles, fertility issues, and excess hair growth on the face and body. Losing weight, especially excess abdominal fat, can be a helpful step in managing PCOS.
This can be challenging for some people with PCOS, but with changes to diet and lifestyle, it is possible to achieve a flatter stomach and improve overall health.