What causes PCOS?

what causes pcos

Countless women who have long suffered from unwanted facial hair, outbreaks of acne, and futility in their frequent attempts to get pregnant have endeavored to answer the question, “what causes PCOS?”. Long misunderstood by experts in the medical field, this mysterious disease has been the subject of intense study over the past decade.

This has unearthed a wide slate of potential causes, which will take some time to unknot.  In the mean time, it’s best to assume that any one of the following underlying stressors could be the factor that is causing your PCOS, so follow up with your doctor after reading this so you can begin to hash out a plan that will help you alleviate your PCOS symptoms.

1) Type II Diabetes

When a person begins to develop type II diabetes, the cells in their body become increasingly intolerant to insulin. In a desperate attempt to get glucose to where it belongs, the body cranks out more insulin in response to this resistance, flooding the system with this hormone.

As a result of this, it is thought that increased levels of exposure to insulin during the course of the development type II diabetes, or as a result of the presence of type I diabetes, cause the ovaries to pump out elevated levels of androgen and estrogen in response, which are by and large responsible for many of symptoms associated with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.

While there are women that do not have diabetes that also have PCOS, it is possible that the hormone levels in a diabetic woman’s body could trigger PCOS conditions within them (1).

2) Genetics

One curiosity that has long intrigued scientists when searching out the reasons behind what causes PCOS is the fact that women that have suffered from disorder have had sisters, aunts, or even their own mother that have been in the same predicament as them.

In studies conducted by the NIH and other agencies that came before them, it has been found that many crucial genes surrounding hormone regulation, metabolism and fertility have aspects of their structure have had been compromised by this condition, leading to altered outcomes when it comes to the production of certain hormones and enzymes (2). Genes don’t tell the whole story though, as the same agency came out with a paper afterward attributing the development of PCOS to a mixture of heredity and external causes (3).

3) Metabolic Sydrome

Others have posited that the shadowy Metabolic Syndrome may be behind the symptoms that define PCOS in many women. Poorly understood, this disease is still in the process of being studied, and with its characteristics including insulin resistance and obesity in those that suffer from it, it may explain the emergence of PCOS symptoms in some women later in life, as it often doesn’t make itself known until one progresses further on into adulthood (4).

4) Hypothyroidism

The thyroid gland plays a central role in regulating hormone levels in the body, particularly those that cause all the nasty symptoms that lead sufferers to find out what causes PCOS. Thyroid hormones boosts levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which in turn sucks up excess androgens from the bloodstreams of females.

However, when the thyroid malfunctions (as it does when attacked by autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), levels of thyroid hormones drop off dramatically, allowing androgens to run rampant, causing symptoms like thinning hair and hirsutism (5). It can also cause insulin resistance in the body, leading to PCOS directly or indirectly (e.g. via the development of Metabolic Syndrome)(6).

5) Gluten intolerance/poor diet

The body state that produces the adverse hormones that make PCOS may be none other than inflammation.  Excess insulin inflicts damage on the ovaries, and as a response to this, androgens are released, interfering with periods and causing the other undesirable symptoms for which this disorder is known.

The over-consumption of gluten might have a central role in this, as one in three women suffer from gluten intolerance, with many not realizing it, as the high carbohydrate diet has been an accepted way of eating for over a generation at this point. Given the inflammatory nature of these compounds, it shouldn’t be surprising that the PCOS symptoms of many sufferers might be triggered by the long unquestioned consumption of simple carbs (7).

As a corollary to this, even women that aren’t gluten intolerant may be triggering the development of PCOS through the excessive consumption of white carbs, as this simple act will still cause insulin levels to spike.

Even if diabetes doesn’t develop from this continuous desensitizing of your body to high levels of glucose, the resultant insulin surges will still wreak havoc on your ovaries, leading to the possible emergence of PCOS (8).

6) Environmental stressors

The search to find what causes PCOS has led epidemiologists to consider the increasing impact of environmental pollution on our society, as the effluent we put out into the world has drastically increased over the past century. Xenoesterogens and phtytoesterogens are prevalent in many plastics that we have produced over the years without thoughts to the possible consequences, and inevitably, some of these have found a way to bio-accumulate in our fat cells, being released every time glycogen is retrieved from fat cells for energy purposes.

This pushes the background level of estrogen into a dominant state, which leads to an increase of androgens to compensate, thereby manifesting many PCOS symptoms (9). The only question surrounding this possible reason: is it the underlying cause of PCOS in 10% of women, or is it merely an aggravating factor?

7) Androgen/testosterone exposure during pregnancy

Some scientists have looked well back into our evolutionary past in search of an explanation for what causes PCOS. In studies involving pregnant female primates, a spike in androgen was observed in most subjects, a fact that led to the development of PCOS like symptoms in their offspring as they approached maturity.

Similarly, a small number of pregnant females in a recent released study have been shown to have similar high levels of androgen in their uterus during their terms, leading to researchers hypothesizing that this occurrence points to the genetic programming of this tendency into their offspring, which show signs of PCOS as they enter adolescence (10).


  1. Medscape.com
  2. NIH
  3. NIH
  4. Diabetesjournals.org
  5. NIH
  6. NIH
  7. Endocrine.org
  8. NHS
  9. NIH
  10. Endocrine.org
Fertility Chef

Fertility Chef provides online PCOS diet & nutrition resources for women. Learn what a PCOS diet is & how it works.

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