Is your teen suffering from irregular periods? Or perhaps she’s unable to lose weight and is dealing with unsightly facial hair and acne? We live in a world where lifestyle diseases are on the rise. And they’re not restricted to adults alone. Our sedentary lifestyle has started affecting our kids as well, and PCOS in teens is an example of the same.
PCOS in Teens: What’s Going On?
More and more doctors are of the opinion that the primary cause of PCOS in teens is the rise in childhood obesity. A poor diet composing mainly of refined, processed and junk foods along with testing academic schedules leaves little to no time for exercise, resulting in weight gain. And this leads to insulin dysfunction and abnormal glucose tolerance early in life — the underlying causes of PCOS.
While many adult women discover their PCOS only when they are unable to get pregnant, PCOS in teens is often diagnosed when the adolescent is displaying one or more of the following symptoms:
- Irregular Periods: It’s not uncommon for some teens with PCOS to have more than one period a month. Others could have a gap of more than 35-40 days between periods. For many teens, PCOS can also lead to heavy and prolonged periods or menorrhagia, causing heavy menstrual flow that lasts longer than 7 days.
- Excessive Period Pain – A little bit of pain and cramping is normal during periods. But, pain that makes everyday activities like going to school or playing sports difficult could be a sign of PCOS.
- Cystic Acne: Acne is rather common during teenage because of natural hormonal changes
related to puberty, but PCOS cystic acne is different. PCOS acne is a more severe form of
- Unwanted Hair Growth
- Thinning Hair
- Dark patches of skin
- Unexplained Weight Gain
6 Essential Tips For Teens With PCOS
For a teenage girl, PCOS can be embarrassing, painful and frustrating. This is why it’s very important to treat PCOS the right way. Traditional treatment for PCOS in teens is prescribing birth control pills and metformin. Sadly, these are nothing more than a Band-Aid. Medication can mask the symptoms, but they don’t address the root cause of PCOS — namely insulin dysfunction, inflammation and excess androgens. And they come with unwarranted side effects.
This is why PCOS treatment in teens requires a holistic approach. The main goals of treatment are to regulate periods, reduce androgen and insulin levels, and improve symptoms related to skin and hair. And all of this can be achieved by eating right, losing weight, staying active, and replacing lost nutrients with high-quality supplements and foods.
Eat A Balanced Diet
Insulin resistance lies at the heart of PCOS. And one of the best ways to normalize insulin levels is a healthy PCOS diet. As insulin levels are reduced, often androgen levels will drop and menses will become more regulated. You can read more about choosing the right PCOS Diet in our detailed article, but some of the principles are:
- Eliminate all refined and processed foods from your diet. That means no junk food.
- Eat more fiber-rich vegetables and fruits, along with lean proteins.
- Add healthy fats like grass-fed butter, coconut oil, ghee, extra-virgin olive oil, avocados, fatty fish, nuts and seeds to your daughter’s diet. Yup, eating fat will not make you fat!
- Cut back on dairy as it can worsen PCOS for some.
- Add gut-friendly probiotics to the diet. This is particularly important if you had given antibiotics to your kids when they were young.
When coupled with regular exercise, these dietary changes are a long-term solution for improving insulin sensitivity, helping in weight loss, and managing other PCOS symptoms like acne, excess facial hair, and hair fall. However, always talk to your pediatrician to discuss your daughter’s dietary needs. Since she is still growing child, a restrictive diet with too few calories can result in stunted growth.
Also, many teens tend to skip meals as they don’t prioritize eating over other fun activities. It’s important that doctors and parents stress the importance of eating every 3 – 4 hours. Also, you need to make sure that every meal and snack includes a healthy balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fats to help manage blood sugar levels. Go the extra step – teach your daughter examples of healthier food choices for when she eats out with friends, which is an intrinsic part of their social life.
Lead An Active Lifestyle
Staying active and moving your body can improve insulin sensitivity. However, an extensive workout or gym sessions are not advisable for teenagers. Because extreme levels of exercise with calorie restriction can interfere with growth. For PCOS in teens, we recommend an active lifestyle with lots of outdoor play time. Encourage your daughter to ditch that Xbox and get off the couch to try:
- Play sports at school
- Join a dance class
- Cycle or walk to school
- Join the swimming club
- Go hiking with friends over the weekend
The aim is to stay active throughout the day with moderate physical activity levels, suited for their age.
Lose Weight In A Healthy Way
Studies highlight the importance of preventing obesity when managing PCOS in teens. Even moderate weight loss of 5% to 7% of total body weight can show significant improvement in symptoms. In fact, weight management is preferable as first-line treatment in adolescents, because it targets both irregular periods and long-term risk factors associated with PCOS.
Beware Of Dieting
For a young teenage girl, being overweight can result in body-image issues. So it isn’t surprising then that many teenagers with PCOS are susceptible to eating disorders, as they attempt to manage their out-of-control weight gain, mood, and body image issues.
This is something to be extremely cautious of. Sadly, traditional methods of weight loss like dieting and calorie restriction will not work for PCOS. The only thing they do is worsen insulin resistance and set the patient up for a vicious cycle of dieting and weight cycling.
It’s very important to see food as medicine when dealing with PCOS in teens. The right kind of foods will help in normalizing hormones, insulin levels, and blood sugar levels. They will become a natural way to treat acne, hair fall, hirsutism, and period pain. See a counselor if your daughter is susceptible to binge eating in order to deal with emotions, and then feels the need to purge food to avoid getting fat.
These Supplements Can Help
Omega-3 fatty acids can be very beneficial for reducing insulin and triglyceride levels. They also aid in regulating hormone levels. Teenagers should be advised to add lots of omega-3 rich foods like fish or fish oil supplements, nuts, flaxseeds, and olive oil to their diet. Another supplement we recommend is Inositol that helps in reducing insulin resistance and improving ovulatory function.
Dietary supplements like Aloe Vera, fenugreek, flaxseed, licorice root and fish oils can also improve insulin sensitivity. These are great to naturally stabilize insulin levels, so that diet and exercise efforts can take your daughter closer to her weight-loss goals. PCOS can also make a teenager deficient in important vitamins in minerals like Vitamin D, calcium, zinc, magnesium, manganese, chromium, copper, B vitamins, Vitamin B12, and essential fatty acids. Correct these nutritional imbalances with the right foods, and don’t be afraid to resort to supplements.
Prioritize Mental Health
PCOS can be very confusing for a young girl. It can be hard to understand and digest why she’s different from her friends with different dietary needs. Sadly, in the world of social media where everyone is obsessed with their looks, a young girl with PCOS who is suffering from symptoms like acne and excessive body weight gain can easily succumb to depression. And for this reason, it is very important to create a loving and nurturing environment in your home.
Prioritize mental health. Doctors and parents must take steps to boost self-confidence in teenagers suffering from PCOS. It’s important for an adolescent to understand how positive lifestyle changes will help in the long run, so that they don’t feel self-conscious.
As a parent, you can lead by being a good example yourself. Eat a healthy diet, stay active and practice good sleep hygiene.
PCOS In Teens: The Importance of Early Detection and Treatment
PCOS is a manageable disease once it is identified and correctly treated, but early detection of PCOS in teens is crucial.
Studies have found that adolescents with PCOS are at an increased risk of developing health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and infertility, later on in life. Furthermore, a young woman’s body image can get negatively affected with many of the signs and symptoms of PCOS, such excessive facial and body hair, weight gain, acne and dark patches on the skin.
Researchers have uncovered that teenage girls with PCOS have an increased risk of metabolic syndrome and abnormalities in glucose tolerance, making timely treatment crucial. Type 2 Diabetes in women with PCOS has a substantially earlier age of onset (typically occurring in 30s -40s) than it does in the general population. A teenager with PCOS is at double the risk.
A PCOS teenager with unchecked insulin dysfunction could develop prediabetes or type 2 diabetes very early in life. And this can increase the risk of a myriad of other health problems, such as heart disease and fatty liver disease.
Surprisingly, researchers have found polycystic-appearing ovaries in young girls even before puberty. Girls as young as 6 years old can have cystic ovaries. Also, there appears to be a strong genetic component. Some theories are now suggesting that young girls may develop PCOS from being exposed to high androgen levels in the womb. If you have PCOS, there is a strong chance that your daughter could also have PCOS.
If you are a teenager dealing with PCOS, or the parent of one, we would love to hear your story. Have you tried other tricks to beat PCOS in teens and found success? Write in to us!