Androgens are an important aspect of PCOS that often gets overlooked. However, if you are here, you are likely digging into how to PCOS works and what you can do to help correct it.
Androgens are defined as any natural or synthetic steroid hormone that regulates the development and maintenance of male characteristics in vertebrates by binding to androgen receptors (1)
More specifically, androgens are MALE hormones. Androgens are important in regulating female menstruation. However, hyperandrogenism (or excess male hormones) is not good for females and is actually what causes the majority of the issues women face that are associated with PCOS – especially the most embarrassing ones like excess facial hair and fat distribution. While there is no one cause, recent studies show that hyperandrogenism is one of the common similarities among females with PCOS.
Women that struggle with excess androgens will often find that the root of the issue stems from the gut microbiome. When our gut is out of balance (or it lacks a diverse number of intestinal flora) our digestive tract does not absorb and use the nutrients from our food that it should be. This can lead to inflammation in the gut, which then also leads to inflammation in other areas as well. Specifically in women with PCOS, it can lead to inflammation of the ovaries and can cause cysts to develop as well. This inflammation causes the suppression of the production and secretion of female sex hormones which tricks the body into producing more of the male hormones like DHEA and Testosterone.
When this happens, it can create a variety of issues in the female body. First, since the androgens are in an over abundance, they can be released into the body as free radicals and oxidative stress. This leads to issues like a build up of fat, excess body hair, acne on the face and body, and obesity.
You’ll notice often that women with PCOS who also struggle with their weight will often carry most of their excess fat in their abdominal region. Or as some of my friends so lovingly call it “in the fupa” area. This is because of the excess male hormones in the body! Men usually carry their weight in their stomachs and women usually carry theirs in the butt and thigh region. When there is an excess of androgens in the female body, women will hold weight in areas that men typically would because the androgens alter how the body metabolizes and stores fat.
In addition to these more obvious displays of hyperandrogenism, there are other more hidden aspects as well. This includes insulin resistance (IR), which afflicts a large number of women with PCOS. The way hyperandrogenism is related to IR is that the inflammation disrupts the way the insulin transport system works in the body. Because of the disruption, the insulin that is produced from the food consumed isn’t able to be moved to the places it needs to go in order to be used by the body. This moves insulin to build up and be stored in the body as fat, free radicals, and oxidative stress.
So anyway, what’s a girl to do about all of this? There are a few strategies you might want to consider in order to reduce your overall androgens to a more healthy level. They all sort of build upon each other, so while it is possible to “just take something” for it, all that would be doing is masking a symptom, not actually working to solve the issue. Consult with your doctor before implementing any of the suggestions below.
- Lower your intake of bad carbohydrates, bad fats, and sugar.
- Avoid/limit intake of inflammatory foods such as red meat and highly processed food like white bread, pasta, and the like. I highly recommend the Mediterranean Eating Pattern since it incorporated a diverse number of foods and flavors and isn’t highly restrictive. For me, this has been a game changer in my ability to stick with a dietary lifestyle change.
- Make sure to incorporate anti-androgenic foods such as spearmint, flaxseed, nuts, and fish. (You can try seed cycling to incorporate a lot of good nutrients for lowering androgens. You can read about that here.)
- Get on a good probiotic to help regulate the gut microbiome. I suggest this pre-probiotic.
- Supplement with Spearmint Tea or capsules. In a study of women with PCOS in Iran, it was proven to reduce the study participants overall testosterone levels within a month! Personally, I drank this spearmint tea for about two months before I started noticing a reduction in facial hair and acne. Its super worth sticking it out! I use this Spearmint Tea.
- Supplement with MI and DCI Inositol to help make use of the insulin your body produces. I love this one!
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- Sriram. “Steroids”. Medicinal Chemistry. Pearson Education India. p. 437.