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The PCOS Solution

How a muffin top affects your ovaries in PCOS

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Having a tubby tummy may seem pretty harmless – but that muffin top is helping tangle your hormones and impair your fertility, thanks to a particular hormone, leptin, being secreted by your fat cells.

It may seem a little odd that fat cells are secreting hormones, but they produce leptin for a very worthy reason: informing your body just how much fat you have stored.  The fuller a fat cell, the more leptin it secretes. This sends two main messages to your brain: One to let it know you don’t need more food. (to reduce your appetite). The other is to let your brain and ovaries know that there are enough energy stores to support a pregnancy. 

Your leptin secretion lifts at puberty, as shape changes from the androgyny of childhood to a female form, with more fat deposits than males. As fat stores build in early adolescence more leptin is secreted. Your hypothalamus, one of the master glands in your brain, keeps an eye on just how much leptin is being produced. When energy stores (fat stores) are high enough to support a pregnancy, the hypothalamus permits onset of the reproductive cycle. 

Your ovaries are looking out for leptin too; because they’re not going to release an egg to be fertilised unless they’re sure your body has sufficient energy reserves to support a pregnancy.

When you have too much leptin circulating (because you have too many full fat cells – the tubby tummy) your hypothalamus is flooded with leptin messages. In response, this gland and another, the pituitary, amplify their fertility messages directed at the ovaries. Your ovaries now receive an overdose of luteinizing hormone, and the tidy process of egg development and release is disrupted. The result can be polycystic ovaries and an untidy menstrual cycle. This is how a tubby tummy can affect your fertility.

Other aspects of the modern lifestyle also affect leptin production: Stress lifts leptin levels, as does sugar, partly through development of insulin resistance.  One way to help ease polycystic ovaries and boost fertility is to reduce your fat deposits; although this can be challenging when your hormones are unbalanced and if you also have insulin resistance. 

The key tools you need to reduce fat stores and get your leptin levels back to normal are exercise, especially cardiovascular and weights (resistance) training, along with a less sugar-rich diet and effective stress management.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "How exercise helps balance your hormones" here

Image credit: Maena

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