If you don’t know what Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is, first read What is PCOS?
PCOS & autoimmunity: a current controversy
Many functional and integrative medical practitioners speculate that PCOS has an autoimmune origin or connection.
When this review of studies came out in May 2016, it confirmed our suspicions. While it’s not categorized as an autoimmune disease (yet), there is compelling evidence that PCOS and autoimmunity go hand-in-hand. Viewing PCOS through the lens of autoimmunity allows us to choose more comprehensive and effective treatment by addressing ALL aspects of the disease.
However, which comes first, autoimmunity or PCOS? All we know now is that autoimmune markers seem to be higher in women with PCOS.
Let’s take a step back and define autoimmunity
Autoimmunity is when your immune system is hyper-active. We all carry the genetics for multiple autoimmune diseases, and various triggers can flip the switch for one to express itself.
When autoimmunity rears its head, your body produces auto-antibodies, which are also known as antibodies against your own self. You can make antibodies against a specific organ, or against single or multiple tissues.
Common examples of autoantibodies include thyroid antibodies in the cases of Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease, and insulin or pancreas cell antibodies in Diabetes.
This self-attack reaction seems like a bad idea for your immune system, and it is. However, autoimmune diseases are on the rise in general, and from a Functional perspective, there is a myriad of interventions to control, stop, or manage them successfully.
But PCOS is not an organ or a tissue…
True, PCOS is a syndrome or a collection of symptoms, and you cannot have PCOS antibodies. Nonetheless, researchers continue to find different types of antibodies elevated in women with PCOS. This tells us that there could be immune hyperstimulation or dysregulation with PCOS.
In women with PCOS, this review reports these as elevated compared to non-PCOS women:
- ANA (general autoantibodies associated with a variety of systemic autoimmune diseases, including lupus and Sjogren’s Disease)
- Sperm autoantibodies
- Anti-insulin and pancreas beta cell antibodies
- Ovary autoantibodies
- Thyroid autoantibodies
Perhaps don’t have your ovaries drilled
Laparoscopic ovarian drilling uses a laser or a heated needle to drill multiple holes through your ovarian capsule if it’s too thick. Destroying the abnormal ovarian tissue can help to restore normal ovarian function and induce ovulation.
This study tested women with PCOS undergoing ovarian drilling. Compared to a group of women without PCOS, 8.6% of the PCOS women had elevated ANA antibodies. None of the non-PCOS women had these antibodies.
Then, the women with PCOS underwent ovarian drilling. Afterwards, the percentage of the PCOS women with ANA antibodies increased from 8.6% to 28.5%!
Why would this happen? Researchers believe that autoantibodies in their ovaries were released during the procedure, causing hyperstimulation of their immune systems.
More about the thyroid autoimmune connection
Hands down, the most common autoantibodies correlated with PCOS are thyroid autoantibodies. Almost all the research connecting PCOS with thyroid autoimmunity shows that women with PCOS have a higher rate of thyroid autoimmunity and thyroid hormone dysregulation.
The most common finding is high anti-TPO and Tg thyroid antibodies. These signify Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the most common thyroid autoimmune disease, and the most common reason for hypothyroidism in developed countries.
The association between PCOS and autoimmune thyroid disease is well demonstrated.
Why you should care
If PCOS IS indeed an autoimmune disease, the game changes as to how we treat! Although treatment for PCOS is still murky in conventional medicine, we functional practitioners hone in on root causes of this syndrome. If autoimmunity is present, we address it as part of your treatment plan.
If PCOS is NOT itself an autoimmune disease but is influenced by factors that create autoimmunity, managing PCOS without addressing autoimmune factors will not be successful.
As you learn more about your type of PCOS, you can find out if yours has one or more autoimmune components. You can test different autoantibodies, starting with thyroid.
If you find positive autoimmune markers, we have good news. Embarking on The PCOS SOLUTION program is the first step to reversing your PCOS. in this program, you’ll learn all the ways to best put your autoimmune markers into remission!