Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition affecting women. It has potentially serious consequences. Medication and surgery can improve the condition, as can lifestyle changes, but can CBD help with PCOS? We examine whether this popular, natural novel food and health supplement may benefit women with PCOS.
What is PCOS?
The exact cause of polycystic ovary syndrome is still unknown. However, it is known to run in families and has strong associations with insulin production. PCOS primarily affects the reproductive system and, from there, can cause problems in other parts of the body. In PCOS, the ovaries enlarge and develop many fluid-filled sacs that surround the eggs. The name suggests ‘cysts’, but these sacs are harmless follicles, and not cysts.
How does it affect health?
PCOS is thought to affect around one in ten UK women. However, only half of these will show any symptoms. The three main physical results caused by the condition are:
- Polycystic ovaries – enlarged ovaries contain many follicles that surround the eggs and prevent their release
- Irregular periods – fewer ovulation cycles therefore fewer opportunities for pregnancy
- Excess in androgen male hormone – possibly contributing to extra body and facial hair
In later life, PCOS can lead to:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High cholesterol
What are the symptoms?
As we have said, many women will suffer from PCOS without symptoms. It’s sometimes only when they fail to get pregnant and look into fertility issues that the condition is diagnosed. Here are some of the symptoms:
- Difficulty getting pregnant
- Irregular on non-existent periods
- Excessive hair on the face, back, chest or buttocks
- Thinning head hair and/or hair loss
- Weight gain
- Oily skin or acne
How could CBD help?
There is no cure for PCOS but some medication and lifestyle changes can help to manage the symptoms.
In recent years, CBD has been recommended for a wide range of health conditions. Unfortunately, the research to validate these claims is insubstantial and more scientific investigation is eagerly awaited by the CBD-using community. However, there are some areas in which research has shown CBD to be effective and, interestingly, these connect with PCOS. So, can CBD help PCOS and relieve some of the symptoms?
Supports weight loss
PCOS is strongly associated with weight gain and obesity. It’s thought that in the US, up to 80 percent of women with the condition are obese. Weight loss can lead to a significant decrease in PCOS symptoms. It doesn’t have to be excessive, either. A 5 percent weight reduction can make a significant difference. This is why doctors often recommend changes to diet and lifestyle as a way to improve a woman’s PCOS. Weight loss is one of the many reasons people turn to CBD, so how does CBD work for weight loss?
May suppress the appetite
One of the few known side effects of CBD can be reduced appetite. But when weight loss is the aim, this can be a positive result. When the appetite is suppressed, we are usually less interested in food and therefore consume fewer calories. A number of studies have linked CBD to weight loss and a lower body mass index (BMI). It appears to have a significant effect on metabolism and therefore maintaining a healthy weight.
Regulates blood sugar
CBD may reduce insulin resistance and regulate blood sugar levels. This is closely connected to diabetes – we’ll talk more on this later.
Regulates the metabolism
The mitochondria in our cells power the body by converting sugars, fats and proteins into energy. When the balance of mitochondria is out, the metabolism can be affected and the body does not metabolise energy correctly. CBD may help to balance mitochondrial activity and therefore regulate the metabolism. It’s possible that CBD could help optimise the metabolism and play a role in weight loss.
Supports healthy sleep
Getting plenty of sleep is often spoken of as a key player in weight loss. While the connection has not yet been made, medical professionals believe getting plenty of sleep directly corresponds to achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. However, getting a good night’s sleep is not always easy. CBD is popular with people looking for better quality sleep. It may support muscle and mental relaxation, thereby potentially encouraging the brain to destress and drift more easily into sustained sleep.
Could regulate metabolic disorders, blood sugar and insulin resistance
Diabetes and high blood sugar are often linked to the excess weight and obesity so common in PCOS. Reducing weight can lower the risks of developing these conditions and also help with PCOS symptoms. But can CBD help in other ways?
Too much insulin in the bloodstream is closely related to diabetes and is potentially dangerous. It can lead to weight gain and prediabetes. A study has shown that regular marijuana users with diabetes had a 16 percent lower insulin resistance score. This means there’s a greater chance of glucose being absorbed by the cells as intended. CBD, which is produced from the cannabis plant but lacks its psychoactive properties, may play a role in lowering or stabilising blood sugar levels.
The body uses insulin to move glucose into the cells. However, in diabetes, the body has high blood sugar and becomes insulin resistant. This means there is more glucose in the blood. A 2018 study showed that CBD and other cannabinoids could improve how glucose is absorbed by cells. When compared to a widely prescribed medication for lowering blood sugar, CBD appeared to be more successful.
Obesity and diabetes, so often associated with PCOS, are also linked to poor liver health. It is thought that CBD can reduce the harmful compounds found in the liver and help repair liver damage.
CBD is known to reduce inflammation in the body. The pancreas – which is a key player in metabolic disorders – can become inflamed and damaged through a bad diet. It is possible that CBD may reduce inflammation and protect the pancreas from damage. A healthy pancreas is better placed to combat diabetes, which is a risk factor associated with PCOS. Women with PCOS can also experience acne. CBD may help to reduce the redness, scarring and soreness caused by acne by tackling the underlying inflammation.
CBD works in conjunction with the endocannabinoid system that controls and regulates the nervous system. Many women with PCOS often suffer from anxiety or depression as a direct result of their symptoms and the way they impact their everyday lives and long term plans. But anxiety can also be caused by an upset in the adrenal glands which produce stress hormones such as cortisol. Fortunately, there has been research that suggests CBD can positively reduce stress and anxiety. It also has supposed benefits for balancing emotional mood swings and to keep people ‘on an even keel’. Anyone feeling that anxiety is a direct result of their condition may feel an improvement in stress levels when using CBD for PCOS.
May alleviate pain
Although pain is not listed as a symptom of PCOS, many women with the condition report deep-seated discomfort around the ovaries or during the predicted time of ovulation. CBD is regularly used as an alternative to prescribed or over-the-counter analgesics, as it is reputed to have pain-killing properties. Whether it is used to help manage occasional pain, or every day to help support chronic pain, CBD has a growing reputation for successful, natural pain relief. CBD used regularly, or at specific times, may help relieve discomfort linked to ovulation.
Slowly build up CBD usage and dosage for PCOS
With CBD, however it’s taken, there is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’. Everybody reacts differently and this depends on factors such as weight, age, size, muscle-to-fat ratio, metabolic rate, genetics, general health, and medication use.
Newcomers to CBD are advised to take it slowly. Start with a regular daily dose of a low strength product. If there are no noticeable effects after a couple of weeks, increase the dosage. The next step is to take a higher strength product and then steadily increase the dosage. At some point, people will find the strength and dosage that works for them. It’s usual for people experienced with CBD to raise their levels at specific times in anticipation of stress or pain, then come back down to a lower level.
As PCOS is an ongoing condition, women may benefit from taking CBD daily, as they would with other health supplements or vitamins. Weight is an issue with PCOS, so it is sensible to avoid high-calorie edible CBD products like gummies, cookies and protein bars. Choose from a selection of CBD capsules, oils, tinctures or pouches instead.
There is currently no cure for PCOS but it’s possible that CBD, a natural, widely available compound, could help alleviate some symptoms of the condition and improve quality of life. There is a growing body of evidence to support its efficacy in tackling stress, weight loss and pain which could, in turn, bring some relief to women with PCOS.
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