Adrenal PCOS and Its Impact on Women's Health

Adrenal PCOS and Its Impact on Women's Health

Women are often told that it's normal to experience fatigue, mood swings, and other "symptoms of life" during their monthly cycle. But, if you've ever felt something deeper could be going on, you may be suffering from adrenal PCOS – a condition linked with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) that can affect hormones, metabolism, and overall women's health. 

What Is Adrenal PCOS?

Adrenal PCOS is characterized by high levels of DHEA, an androgen hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Interestingly, it's estimated that up to 30% of PCOS patients have elevated DHEA, which can wreak havoc on the body's hormonal balance.

What are Androgens? 

Androgens refer to a group of male hormones that women also produce in smaller amounts. DHEA is the most abundant androgen in the body, helping produce other hormones, including testosterone and estrogen. High levels can cause irregular menstrual cycles, weight gain, and other PCOS symptoms that can leave you feeling like you're stuck on a ride you can't get off.

How Adrenal PCOS is Different from Other Types 

While many of the symptoms of adrenal PCOS may seem similar to traditional PCOS, some key differences set it apart. One of the most notable differences is that women with adrenal PCOS often have higher levels of androgens compared to other types. Symptoms that are more commonly associated with adrenal PCOS may include high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and a tendency to store fat in the abdominal area.

Diagnosing adrenal PCOS can be tricky because it's often overlooked altogether. Women may not always exhibit the usual signs of PCOS. Instead, doctors usually rely on a combination of symptoms and tests to make a diagnosis. This may include measuring hormone levels through blood tests, checking for ovarian cysts with ultrasounds, and performing adrenal function tests.

Adrenal PCOS and Women's Health

There are a few common symptoms that tend to show up in women with adrenal PCOS:

  • Weight gain
  • Irregular periods
  • Excessive hair growth or loss
  • Oily skin
  • Acne breakouts
  • Insulin resistance

Irregular periods

Women with adrenal PCOS may skip periods or have them less often than usual, which can make it more difficult to track ovulation and plan for pregnancy. Cycles may also be longer or shorter than normal (more than 35 days or less than 21 days).


The overproduction of androgens can trigger acne and oily skin. This can be especially frustrating for women who have already struggled with it in the past.

Weight gain

For those with adrenal dysfunction, cravings for sweets and high-carb foods can result in fluid retention and weight gain.


Women with adrenal PCOS may struggle to stick to a regular sleep schedule because of the hormonal imbalances associated with this condition.

Impact on Fertility

One of the most significant ways adrenal PCOS can impact women’s health is by affecting fertility. Women with this condition may struggle to conceive due to irregular periods or anovulation (lack of ovulation). In some cases, fertility treatments such as ovulation induction or in vitro fertilization (IVF) have been used to help women with adrenal PCOS conceive.

However, it’s important to note that not everyone with adrenal PCOS will struggle with fertility. Some women can conceive naturally, especially with the help of lifestyle changes and supplementation.

Impact on Metabolic Health

Those with adrenal PCOS may be at a higher risk for insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. This is because high levels of androgens can interfere with the body’s ability to process glucose properly. With lifestyle changes like eating well, exercising regularly, managing stress, and maintaining a healthy weight, you can reduce your risk of these complications. It's all about taking small steps to prioritize your health.

Causes and Risk Factors 

But what causes adrenal PCOS in the first place? Unfortunately, there's no single answer to that question. Adrenal PCOS is a complex condition that can be caused by a variety of possible factors including:

Insulin Resistance

Insulin is a hormone that processes glucose (sugar) from the food we eat. Over time, consuming sugary and processed foods can lead to insulin resistance, a condition in which our bodies can no longer respond to the hormone. Keeping blood sugar levels stable requires our pancreas to release even more insulin, which can lead to the overproduction of androgens.


Like many other hormonal conditions, adrenal PCOS can be influenced by genetics. If you have a family history of PCOS, you may be more likely to develop it as well. However, genes alone don't determine whether you'll get adrenal PCOS or not. Other factors, such as lifestyle choices, can also play a major role.

Chronic Stress

More stress equals higher levels of adrenal hormones, which leads to more PCOS symptoms! 

For women with this condition, high levels of androgens released during the stress response are converted to testosterone. While high levels of androgens in males have little effect, they can cause symptoms like irregular or skipped periods, acne, hair loss or gain, and fertility issues in women. 


Adrenal PCOS is most commonly diagnosed in women who are in their 20s or 30s. However, it can affect women of any age.


Women who are overweight or obese may be more likely to develop adrenal PCOS. This is because excess body fat can lead to insulin resistance, which can contribute to the overproduction of androgens.

Other risk factors for adrenal PCOS include lack of physical activity and certain medical conditions, such as Cushing's Syndrome, which is a rare disorder that causes the adrenal glands to produce too much cortisol.

Diagnosing Adrenal PCOS

There are a few different tests that can help to identify adrenal PCOS, including:

Blood tests: The most common method. A blood test can be used to measure the levels of androgens and other hormones in the body. This can be done at your doctor’s office or a lab. Your doctor will order a specific blood test called the 17-OHP test. This measures the level of androgens in your blood. If your androgen levels are high, it may be an indication that you have adrenal PCOS.

Imaging tests: Other tests that may be ordered include an ultrasound of your ovaries and a CT scan or MRI of your adrenal glands. These imaging tests can help rule out other possible causes of your symptoms, such as ovarian cysts or tumors.

If you have any of the signs or symptoms associated with adrenal PCOS, it is important to see a healthcare professional so that they can accurately diagnose the condition.

6 Nutrition Tips for Women With Adrenal PCOS

Do you find yourself feeling fatigued, irritable, and gaining weight despite your efforts to eat healthy and exercise? You’re not alone. Many women with adrenal PCOS face similar challenges and often feel helpless in finding the right nutritional approach to manage their symptoms. 

Let’s highlight a few tips that can help you better manage adrenal PCOS in everyday life.

Choose Whole Foods Over Processed Foods

Often, processed foods are like a wolf in sheep's clothing. They contain hidden sugars, unhealthy fats, and artificial ingredients that can trigger symptoms of adrenal PCOS. Instead, opt for whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, and healthy fats like nuts and seeds. These options are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can help improve your health and reduce inflammation.

Balance Your Macronutrients

Another essential aspect of managing adrenal PCOS is balancing your macronutrients. Macronutrients are the three main categories of nutrients that your body needs in large amounts: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Each of these plays a crucial role in your body, and balancing them can help manage your symptoms. Aim to have your meals with each macronutrient included. For example, try having a meal with grilled chicken breast (protein), brown rice (carbohydrate), and mixed vegetables sautéed with olive oil (fat).

Limit Your Caffeine Intake

Caffeine is a stimulant that can worsen adrenal PCOS symptoms by causing your adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, the stress hormone. While caffeine can give you a quick energy boost, it can also lead to increased anxiety, irritability, and disrupted sleep. Try limiting your caffeine intake to one cup of coffee or tea per day, or switch to decaf options.

More Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into your diet is an excellent way to reduce inflammation and improve your symptoms. Think of it like putting out a fire in your body - by introducing foods that have anti-inflammatory properties, you can help calm down the flames and give your body a chance to heal. Examples of anti-inflammatory foods include fatty fish like salmon, leafy greens like kale and spinach, berries, nuts and seeds, and turmeric.

Stay Hydrated with Electrolytes

Staying hydrated is a game-changer. It might sound simple, but dehydration can seriously worsen your symptoms, leaving you feeling tired, unfocused, and foggy. To figure out how much water you should drink, a good rule of thumb is to aim for at least half of your body weight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, try to drink around 75 ounces of water daily. And if you're not a big fan of plain water, you can mix things up by adding some hydrating foods to your diet, such as watermelon, cucumber, and citrus fruits. To restore essential minerals, try adding a liquid electrolyte supplement to your water. 

Protein Powder 

One of the key benefits of protein powder for managing adrenal PCOS is its ability to help regulate blood sugar levels. Here's how it works: when we eat carbs, they break down into glucose which can cause our blood sugar levels to spike. But when we add protein into the mix, it can slow down the absorption of glucose into our bloodstream, preventing those awful blood sugar crashes and spikes.

Healthy sources of protein aid in weight loss and improve insulin sensitivity, both of which are important factors in managing adrenal PCOS symptoms. Research has shown that eating more protein-rich foods not only keeps us feeling full, it also burns more calories.

Of course, it's important to remember that protein powder shouldn't replace whole foods in your diet. Rather, it should be used as a delicious way to help you meet your daily protein needs. Look for a balanced, Non-GMO formula, free of artificial ingredients.

Bottom Line

Adrenal PCOS is a complex condition that affects many women around the world. While it can be difficult to diagnose, understanding what it is and how it affects your body can help you make informed decisions. If you think you may have Adrenal PCOS, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider so they can help provide further assistance in managing the condition.