In an article in The Vaccine Reaction titled “Why are Americans So Sick?” journalist Rishma Parpia noted that the United States is experiencing an epidemic of autoimmune diseases. She listed several autoimmune diseases associated with chronic inflammation in the body that have become so “common” that they have come to be seen as normal, including celiac disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS), and type 1 diabetes.1
There is another serious chronic health condition becoming more prevalent in the U.S. and other countries defined as an endocrine (hormonal) disorder, which some scientists suspect may also be an autoimmune disease. It is called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).2 3 4 The U.S. Office on Women’s Health estimates that one in 10 women between ages 15 and 44 in the U.S. have PCOS.5
It is estimated that 8-20 percent of women of reproductive age in the world are affected by PCOS,6 which involves under or over-production of certain hormones among women of reproductive age that can cause enlarged ovaries and small cysts on their outer edges.7 8
In PCOS there is a low level of progesterone, one of the two main female sex hormones. This low progesterone level has the effect of overstimulating the immune system, which then produces more of the other of the two main female sex hormones, estrogen, and leads to the production of autoantibodies that can mistakenly attack and damage the body’s healthy cells and organs.4
Millions of Women in U.S. Have PCOS
“Polycystic ovarian syndrome [is an endocrine disorder that] affects over 7 million women. That’s more than the number of people diagnosed with breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and lupus combined,” says Louise Chang, MD, professor of medicine at Emory University and physician at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, GA.9 10 According to Christine Dezarn, founder of the PCOS Association (PCOSA), among young girls and women suffering with PCOS “less than half know they have the syndrome.”11
Reproductive endocrinologist Ricardo Azziz, MD, who serves as chief officer of academic health and hospital affairs at State University of New York (SUNY), calls PCOS the “single most common hormonal disorder of women” and notes that it affects “one in at least 14 women.”12 13 According to Christine Dezarn, founder of the PCOS Association (PCOSA), among young girls and women suffering with PCOS “less than half know they have the syndrome.”
The epidemic of PCOS in the U.S. appears to be growing. A few years ago, the number of American women affected by PCOS was estimated at 5 million.14 15 In 2016, some estimates placed number at 5-6 million.16 Now, the estimate is up to 7 million.
In 2006, the annual cost of evaluating and providing health care to women with PCOS in the U.S. was estimated at $6 billion17—up from approximately $4 billion in 2004.18 That range of $4-6 billion in costs for PCOS each year is still being cited,19 20 but these figures are likely out of date, given the continuing rise in the number of American adolescents, teenagers and adult women being diagnosed with the disease.
Toxins, Genetics, Epigenetics and PCOS
So, what causes PCOS? It’s unclear but environmental toxin exposures, genetics, epigenetics and lifestyle may all play a role.
It has long been observed that women with PCOS have a family history and there is evidence for genetic susceptibility to developing PCOS.21 However, there are also indications that environmental exposures and epigenetic influences interact with genetic predisposition.22 Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which are found in pesticides, plastics, some foods, disinfectants and other products, can interfere with normal hormone production and metabolism and have been associated with PCOS and a wide range of other chronic disease, including thyroid disorders, obesity, diabetes, endometriosis, infertility and cancer.23
A significant association has been found between PCOS and endometriosis, which is a painful condition in which the tissue lining the uterus grows outside the uterus on ovaries and other organs, and it can lead to infertility and cancer.24 Like the PCOS epidemic, there is also a growing epidemic of endometriosis that now affects more than 10 percent of young girls and women in the U.S.25 26 There is a higher prevalence of autoimmune and other inflammatory disorders in women diagnosed with endometriosis, including hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, allergies and asthma.27
Obesity, Diabetes and PCOS
Since PCOS was first recognized in 1935, obesity has been a recognized feature of women with the ovarian disorder, although not all girls and woman with PCOS are overweight or obese.28 In an article on PCOS in The Atlantic, Sydney Parker wrote:
The definitive cause of PCOS is unknown, but researchers have found a strong link to insulin resistance, a genetic condition often associated with diabetes, in which the muscle, fat, and liver cells do not respond properly to insulin and thus cannot easily absorb glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream. As a result, the body produces higher and higher levels of insulin to help glucose enter the cells.29
Endocrinologist John Nestler, MD, chair of the department of internal medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), believes PCOS and obesity are related.
We are seeing an explosion in polycystic ovary syndrome in adolescent girls, and I think it’s due to the fact that we are also seeing an explosion in obesity in adolescent girls. It’s quite possible that if those girls had remained a healthy weight, that they would still carry the genes that predispose them, but they wouldn’t be expressing the disorder.29
Interestingly, one of the most common symptoms of PCOS is weight gain—which leads to speculation about whether this symptom may actually be a contributing factor to the disorder. Others symptoms of PCOS include fatigue, unwanted hair growth (hirsutism), thinning hair on the head, infertility, acne, mood changes, pelvic pain (especially when ovulating or menstruating), headaches, and sleep problems.30
In fact, although many doctors prescribe the drug metformin for PCOS patients to help regulate the amount of glucose in their blood, most doctors first recommend improved diet and exercise as a “first line of intervention.”29
Research shows that a 5 to 7 percent reduction of body weight over a six-month period can lower insulin and androgen levels, restoring ovulation and fertility in more than 75 percent of patients.20
In a recent article focusing on the rise of PCOS among women in India, gynecologist Sunitha Shekokar, MD concurred. She wrote, “Exercise and a healthy diet are the best bet for women with PCOS as this will help to regulate their menstrual cycle and lower blood glucose levels.”31
Dr. Shekokar recommends a diet of high-fiber foods that can “help combat insulin resistance by slowing down digestion and reducing the impact of sugar on the blood.” She specifically recommends broccoli, cauliflower and sprouts, red leaf lettuce, green and red peppers, beans and lentils, tomatoes, spinach, almonds and walnuts, olive oil, fruits, such as blueberries and strawberries, and fatty fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon. She also recommends “lean protein sources” such as tofu, chicken, and fish, noting that while they do not provide fiber, they are a “filling and a healthy dietary option for women with PCOS.”31
Lastly, Dr. Shekokar recommends that women with PCOS eat five small meals a day instead of three big meals. This change alone will help better metabolize food and maintain weight.31
An Epidemic of Diseased Ovaries: Where is the Research?
While there are no studies to confirm a link between PCOS and certain drugs or vaccines, questions have been raised about girls who have received human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil and developed symptoms of PCOS.
Gardasil, as well as many other childhood vaccines contains the neurotoxin aluminum. Aluminum is an adjuvant added to vaccines to stimulate a strong immune response in the body and production of artificial immunity. Aluminum is also known to disrupt the endocrine system, which secretes the hormones that regulate metabolism.2 33
The epidemic of diseased ovaries among young girls and women in the U.S, and around the world raises questions about why there has not been more targeted research by public health agencies into genetic, epigenetic and environmental causes of major endocrine disruptors, including exposures to BPA (Bisphenol A), dioxin, Atrazine, phthalates, perchlorate, fire retardants, lead, mercury, aluminum, arsenic, PFCs, organophosphate pesticides, glycol ethers and other toxins.34
All the research money is focused on developing new vaccines for infectious diseases that cause complications in a small minority of people, while millions of young girls and women suffer silently with no end in sight.
1 Parpia R. Why are Americans so Sick? The Vaccine Reaction July 6, 2017.
2 Botha LC. PCOS Becoming Global Epidemic Due to Endocrine Disruptors Like Gardasil & Synthetic Hormones. Holy Hormones Journal May 24, 2014.
3 Barial Z. PCOS on the rise among teenage girls. The Times of India Mar. 25, 2014.
4 Mobeen H, Afzal N, Kashif M. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome May Be an Autoimmune Disorder. Scientifica 2016.
5 DDHS. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Office on Women’s Health June 9, 2017.
6 Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. How many people are affected or at risk for PCOS? NICHD.NIH.gov.
7 PCOS is Related to Your Hormonal Balance. Insulite Health PCOS.
8 Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) – Topic Overview. WebMD.
9 PCOS Awareness Association. Welcome to PCOS Awareness Association (PCOSAA). PCOSAA.org.
10 PCOSAA. Q&A With Lousie Chang, MD. PCOSAA.org.
11 Dezarn C. September is PCOS Awareness Month. PCOS.com.
12 Enersen J. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Most Common Hormonal Disorder in Women. PCOS.com
13 The State University of New York. Chief Officer, Academic Health & Hospital Affairs. SUNY.edu.
14 Jana P. Polycistic Ovary Syndrome and Autoimmunity. Revista Societatii de Medicina Interna 2011.
15 Anadu Ndefo U, Eaton A, Robinson Green M. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Pharmacy and Therapeutics June 2013; 38(6): 336-338, 348, 355.
16 Monaco K. Resveratrol Lowers Total T in PCOS. Medpage Today Oct. 24, 2016.
17 Manandhar AJ, Upadhyay N, Gautam S, Ghimire S. Polycistic Ovary Syndrome: Psycho-Social, Reproductive and Metabolic Manifestations and its Management. World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. 5(40):1167-1205; 2016.
18 Azziz R, Carmina E, Chen Z, Dunaif A, Laven JSE, Legro RS, Lizneva D, Natterson-Horowtiz B, Teede HJ, Yildiz BO. Polycystic ovary syndrome. Nature Reviews Disease Primers Aug. 11, 2016.
19 Grassi A. 30 Interesting Facts About PCOS. PCOS Nutrition Center Aug. 21, 2016.
20 Parker S. When Missed Periods Are a Metabolic Problem. The Atlantic June 26, 2015.
21 Prapas H, Karkanaki A et al. Genetics of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Hippokratia 2009; 13(4): 216-223.
22 Segars JH, DeCherney AH. Is There a Genetic Basis for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome? J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2010; 95(5): 2058-2060.
23 Diamanti-Kandarakis E, Bourguignon JP et al. Endocrine-Disprupting Chemicals: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement. Endocr Rev 2009; 30(4): 293-342.
24 Holoch KI, Savaris RF et al. Co-existance of polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis in women with infertility. J Endometr Pelvis Pain Disorder 2014; 6(2): 79-83.
25 DHHS. Endometriosis. Office on Women’s Health July 10, 2017.
26 Endometriosis and Dioxins. Endometriosis Association 2009
27 Barclay, L. Endometriosis Linked to Autoimmunity, Other Chronic Diseases. Medscape Sept. 30, 2002.
28 Sam S. Obesity and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Obes Manag 2007; 3(2): 69-73.
29 Parker S. When Missed Periods Are a Metabolic Problem. The Atlantic June 26, 2015.
30 PCOSSA. PCOS Symptoms. PCOSAA.org.
31 Shekokar S. Why PCOS is on the rise among Indian women. DailyO Apr. 21, 2017.
32 Botha LC. PCOS–Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome and Gardasil. SaneVax Apr. 15, 2011.
33 England C. Study: Aluminum Exposure During Puberty Disrupts Hormonal Development. Health Impact News 2016.
34 Mercola J. Worst Endocrine Disruptors Revealed, and They Could Be Raising Your Family’s Cancer Risk. Mercola.com Nov. 13, 2013.