Did you know that PCOS and Cholesterol are closely linked? And by cholesterol, I mean the bad cholesterol.
You see, we are prone to high insulin levels (or insulin resistance), cardiovascular disease, hormonal imbalances and, of course, high cholesterol.
If you have PCOS like I do, you’ll know a lot about the unpleasant symptoms. It’s no walk in the park.
And when I was first diagnosed with PCOS, my main concerns were infertility and hirsutism. Cholesterol levels didn’t even cross my mind.
And you may be feeling a little bit the same. We tend to focus on those symptoms that are most visible or cause us the most amount of pain or discomfort. And cholesterol levels are more silent, lurking in the background.
But it is important to think about our cholesterol levels as high cholesterol can have some serious implications. Cholesterol can build up in the arteries and can put you at risk of cardiovascular disease, possibly leading to a heart attack.
So, in this article, I’m going to tell you all you need to know about PCOS and Cholesterol.
Before we get onto how PCOS and Cholesterol are linked, it is important to have a basic understanding of Cholesterol and how it works.
Firstly, cholesterol is not all bad. We actually need some cholesterol to make sex hormones, protect your nerves and it is also found in the all of the cells of your body. Your body is also able to make all of the cholesterol it needs but you can also get it from foods such as eggs, cheese and meats (1).
Now, you may also have heard of good and bad cholesterol. That’s because there are different types of cholesterol, some that promote heart health and one that increases your risk of coronary heart disease.
Cholesterol can’t be transported around the body on its own. It needs to be attached to a transported which is a protein molecule. Once it is attached to a protein, it is called a lipoprotein.
So, let’s have a look at the different kinds of cholesterol and what they might mean for you.
HDL or High density lipoprotein
HDL is considered good cholesterol. It picks up cholesterol from different parts of the body and transports it to the liver where it is dealt with. That is why it is considered a heart healthy cholesterol.
Higher levels of HDL are thought to be a good thing.
If you have a cholesterol test, you would want your HDL readings to be at 60 or more. (2)
LDL or Low Density Lipoprotein
This is the cholesterol that is considered bad cholesterol. If your levels of LDL are high (more than 160), you will be at increased risk of heart disease. So, we are aiming for LDL levels of 100 or less.
LDL can build up on the walls of your arteries and that is obviously something that we would really like to avoid.
Triglycerides is the last measurement of cholesterol. Fats from food and in the blood are mostly in the form of triglycerides and they are usually transported as very low density lipoprotein, or VLDL.
Too many triglycerides in the bloodstream can also increase your risk of heart disease, so we should be aiming for a triglyceride value of less than 100.
How Cholesterol is Measured
Each of the above cholesterols are tested by blood tests. It is important that blood tests are taken after fasting for at least 14 hours. You should not drink any alcohol for at least 48 hours before the blood tests (3).
Okay, now that we have a basic understanding of cholesterol, we need to have a look at the link between PCOS and Cholesterol.
PCOS and Cholesterol
Cholesterol issues are well-researched in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). In fact, one article suggests that up to 70% of us will have some form of dyslipidemia (4). That is huge!
In particular, we are at risk of low levels of HDL and higher levels of LDL. Now, if you are thinking that this is linked with high levels of insulin or insulin resistance, you would be on the right track.
But, here is the thing, these cholesterol abnormalities are also found in women with PCOS who are not insulin resistant. Just by virtue of the fact that you have PCOS, you are also at risk of having cholesterol issues.
Now, there are a couple of other factors that come into play that we need to consider.
PCOS, BMI and Waist Circumference
There was a study that looked at waist circumference and BMI and how it impacted on the lipid profile of women with PCOS. (5)
The first thing that the study found was that 80% of women with PCOS involved in the study had above normal waist circumferences and waist to hip ratio. This makes sense when you think about how so many of us carry extra weight around our waists and bellies as a result of higher than normal insulin levels.
But they also found that women who had a higher BMI and waist to hip ratio also had worse cholesterol levels. That means that if your weight impacts on your cholesterol and ultimately, on your heart health.
Insulin and Cholesterol
It seems that no discussion about PCOS is ever complete without considering the role of insulin. Why, you may ask. Well, insulin levels play a huge role in a lot of the symptoms of PCOS and can influence how much male hormone you have floating around your body.
And higher levels of insulin can lead to insulin resistance and eventually, type 2 diabetes (you can read more about that here).
So, we know that insulin and PCOS go hand in hand. This is where the next piece of the puzzle comes in. Research has shown that when someone is insulin resistant, their body’s make more of the unhealthy cholesterol but is also does not absorb as much of the bad cholesterol. (6).
So, insulin resistance is a risk factor for dyslipidemia or bad cholesterol readings.
I hope that by this point I have thoroughly convinced you that if you have PCOS like me, you need to be thinking about your cholesterol and how you can be the healthiest version of you.
Now, I know that it all sounds like doom and gloom but I promise you that its not. There are lots of things that you can do to help lower those cholesterol levels and improve your overall health and PCOS.
Lowering Cholesterol with PCOS
CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant. This is helpful for women with PCOS as we tend to have higher levels of oxidative stress. CoQ10 can combat that. There are also a whole list of other benefits of CoQ10 (7).
- Helping treat high blood pressure and heart failure
- Enhancing immune system function in people with HIV or AIDS
- Improving symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome
- Reducing high cholesterol levels in the blood
- Assisting in the treatment of cancer or the protection of organs from toxic chemotherapy drugs
- Treating gum disease
- Treating age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition that causes vision loss in older adults
- Helping patients with Alzheimer’s disease
- Treating Parkinson’s disease
- Increasing sperm count and motility
- Preventing or treating migraine headaches
Now this is where things get interesting. CoQ10 has also been shown to lower LDL levels (remember, this is the bad cholesterol we were talking about). And it helps with glucose metabolism.
Your next question is naturally going to be, “Where can I get it from and how much should I take?”
If you are not able to get the Theralogix NeoQ10, this is a good alternative and is readily available on Amazon.
The research also suggests that you should be taking 100mg per day, with food as food aids the absorption. (8)
Probiotics for Cholesterol
More and more research is being done on the gut microbiome and how it impacts on our general health as well as our PCOS.
So, it may not surprise you that taking a probiotic will also help to lower your total serum cholesterol (9)
When looking for a probiotic, make sure that you have one that includes L acidophilus and B lactis as strains in particular have been shown to lower cholesterol.
Metagenics is a very good brand and although it is not cheap, it is very effective and highly recommended.
Follow a PCOS Diet
Remember, insulin has a role to play in cholesterol. If you are insulin resistant or struggling with high insulin levels, your cholesterol levels are likely to be high too.
So, it is important to manage your insulin and one of the best ways of doing that is by following a good PCOS diet. If you’re not sure of the do’s and don’ts of a PCOS diet, you can read more about it here.
Well, I hope you have a better understanding of PCOS and Cholesterol and why it is so important that you have those levels checked, even if you feel like you have no specific symptoms.
If you have struggled with high cholesterol and have found something that helps that I haven’t mentioned, feel free to leave me a comment below. I would love to hear from you!