PCOS and Weight Loss - Part 2

In Part 1 of the PCOS and weight loss article, we reviewed your genetic predisposition and some of the reasons why it can be so hard for you to lose weight.

Here, we'll introduce you to some hormones you have probably never heard of, yet they have a powerful influence on how much weight you carry.

Leptin Resistance and Your Weight

You may be surprised to know that your fat cells produce hormones. This is one reason why women who have a lot of fat often have hormonal problems.

One of the hormones produced by your fat cells is "leptin".

Leptin is intimately involved in long-term management of your weight, and in regulating your appetite. It signals the hypothalamus gland in your brain when fat cells are full. Your hypothalamus uses this information to maintain energy balance in your body.

You want to keep your leptin level in a balance, not too high and not too low. Low levels can result in food cravings.

If low leptin stimulates eating, you might think that high leptin levels would inhibit eating. But this is not what happens, especially with overweight women.

If you are overweight, you're more likely to produce greater amounts of leptin because you have more fat cells and they are full of fat. In other words, your fat cells are producing leptin to try to tell your brain that you don't need to keep on eating.

The more overweight you are, the more leptin your fat cells produce. The increased amounts of leptin bombard your hypothalamus gland. At some point, your hypothalamus gets tired of all this leptin coming in, so it becomes resistant to leptin signals. This is called "leptin resistance". In other words, it takes more leptin to achieve the same result.

Suppose you walk into your living room and discover the TV is turned on as loud as possible and there was nothing you could do about it. It might be OK for a few minutes but after a while it would drive you crazy. You would become "noise resistant". Maybe you would leave the room. Or put on ear plugs. Or put a pillow over the speakers. The sound signal coming from the TV is the same but the effect on you has been reduced.

It's as if your hypothalamus gland has put in ear plugs and does not "hear" the leptin as well as it should.(7)

There are other important factors in addition to your excess weight that are contributing to a leptin imbalance. These include chronic inflammation (especially in your fat cells), chronic stress, and poor diet.

So is there anything you could do to reduce leptin resistance?

You can reduce your exposure to chronic stress.

You can also improve the quality of your diet, as explained in the PCOS diet ebook. For example, a diet high in saturated fats can worsen leptin resistance.(8)

Remember, if you have leptin resistance, your hypothalamus gland is less able to help you to regulate your weight. An improved diet is a great way to start solving this problem.

Ghrelin and Your Appetite

Ghrelin is a recently discovered "hunger hormone" that it attracting a lot of research.

It helps to regulate how much food you eat and how much weight you gain.

In normal individuals, ghrelin levels go up before meals, and down after meals. Elevated ghrelin triggers strong feelings of hunger. In addition to regulating eating behavior, ghrelin may slow your metabolism and reduce your ability to burn fat.

Some medical evidence is suggesting that PCOS women have disordered ghrelin levels, or they may have an impaired ability to regulate ghrelin.(9,10)

As an example, one research study showed that PCOS women were hungrier and less satiated after a meal than other women.(11) The ghrelin levels of the PCOS women didn't decline after a meal as much as with the women who did not have polycystic ovary syndrome.

A ghrelin disorder appears to be more prominent in those who have the most severe PCOS or who are overweight.

It may be that a better diet might help. The composition and quantity of carbohydrate and fat in your diet may influence ghrelin levels.

Cholecystokinin (CCK) and Feeling Satisfied

Cholecystokinin (CCK) is a hormone produced in your GI tract when you eat a meal. It slows down the digestive process and functions as a short-term satiety signal to inhibit food intake and thus decrease meal size. "Satiety" means a feeling of fullness or satisfaction.

However, research is suggesting that some PCOS women have reduced CCK production after a meal, and poorer regulation of appetite. It's suspected that impaired CCK production may contribute to binge eating and increased weight in women who have PCOS.(12)

The high fiber content of the polycystic ovary syndrome diet should help you to slow the breakdown of CCK and keep you feeling satisfied for longer.

CCK, ghrelin, leptin, insulin and a substantial number of other messengers in your body work in concert to manage your weight and your metabolism.

The size and composition of your meals can influence all of these hormones.


A high percentage of PCOS women have an underactive thyroid caused by an autoimmune thyroid disorder called Hashimoto's disease. This is an inflammatory disease where your immune system is attacking your thyroid and destroying thyroid tissue.

The result of a poorly functioning thyroid gland is a reduced metabolic rate and increased tendency to gain weight and be unable to take it off.

We have a couple of newsletter articles about the thyroid here:

Hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome, and
Relationship between insulin secretion, and thyroid and ovary function.

In summary, PCOS women who are overweight tend to have multiple hormone imbalances and genetic tendencies that predispose them to be overweight. Therefore, you will have to do more than the average person to control your weight.

Learn more:

Click here for article footnotes.

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