Polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a disorder that affects women of reproductive age, and unfortunately the medical community really doesn’t understand much about it yet. Though doctors know the symptoms of PCOS stem from the endocrine and immune systems, they’re not sure why these systems aren’t working properly in the first place. For this reason, there’s no cure for PCOS, however, there are plenty of ways to manage it!
Symptom management becomes a big part of a Cyster’s life, but women with PCOS should also be mindful of the long-term complications and additional risk factors of having polycystic ovarian syndrome when symptoms go unmanaged. These include increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, endometrial cancer, sleep apnea, and other autoimmune diseases.
One of the autoimmune diseases that’s common with PCOS is lupus. If you’re struggling with PCOS and lupus, or think you may have this combo, I’m dedicating this post to you! I’ll explain the potential connection between PCOS and lupus and give you some tips for managing your symptoms and reversing your autoimmunity. Here’s what you need to know:
PCOS and Lupus
It’s not at all uncommon for a Cyster to have PCOS and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). In fact, 80% of people with autoimmune disease are female and usually it affects women of reproductive age disproportionately. This is a crazy statistic!
It seems to suggest a connection between a woman’s sex hormones and autoimmune disorders like lupus, Hashimotos, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Is PCOS An Autoimmune Disorder?
There is a lot of debate in the medical community about the relationship between PCOS and autoimmune disorders. As well as whether or not PCOS is itself an autoimmune disorder. After doing years of my own research, I tend to agree with the doctors that consider it an autoimmune disorder.
This is because studies have shown that the irregular menstrual cycles that come with PCOS lower a Cyster’s progesterone levels, which plays a role in the overstimulation of the immune system and adrenal system. The result is inflammation and the production of excess estrogen. Then, estrogen dominance leads to the creation of proteins called autoantibodies.
These are similar in structure to antibodies that help us fight off disease and toxins, but instead these autoantibodies mistake our own healthy cells and body tissues as foreign invaders. The autoantibodies then attack our healthy cells, which can result in more sickness, chronic pain, systemic inflammation, fatigue, and more.
Research has illustrated the potential relationship between PCOS and autoimmune disorders. Studies show that Cysters are at an increased risk of certain autoimmune disorders, including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, Grave’s diseases, type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, and, of course, lupus.
Here’s more on the link between PCOS and autoimmune disease.
Lupus and PCOS Connection
PCOS and lupus aren’t uncommon to see together since they both seem to stem from a similar root cause. Something within the body is prompting the production of autoantibodies!
But, autoantibodies aren’t the only thing that lupus, PCOS, and other autoimmune diseases have in common. Cysters and women with autoimmune disease often have a vitamin D deficiency, chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, and sex hormone imbalances. All this suggests some connection between lupus, PCOS, and other autoimmune disorders.
Tips For Living With Lupus And PCOS
Get in nature, but avoid too much sun.
Many people with lupus have photosensitivity, which is a strong negative reaction to UV rays (sunlight). Too much sun exposure can cause rashes and lupus flare-ups. These flare-ups usually involve fever, body aches, and inflammation. Of course, this means people with lupus should avoid being out in the sun too often.
However, don’t stay in all the time! Nature can have a stress-relieving effect that’s really helpful for PCOS and lupus. Spend time outside, but maybe switch out afternoon strolls for nighttime stargazing. When you do have to go out during the day, wear plenty of sunscreen and protective clothing.
Learn the signs of your flare-ups and prepare for them.
There are things that can make your PCOS and lupus symptoms worse. However, with lupus, ignoring warning signs that your body needs help could result in a flare-up that may permanently damage organs. Be mindful of your symptoms and identify when you feel new symptoms or chronic symptoms worsening.
When this happens, get rest, slow down, and try to avoid things that could make the flare-up worse. Try to also take note of the triggers that could be causing your lupus flare-up. Poor sleep, too much sun, infection, and injury are a few potential causes for flare-ups.
Improve your sleep hygiene.
Sleep is important for lupus and PCOS. Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule will help reduce stress, lower insulin resistance, regulate periods, improve cognitive functioning, and even help with anxiety and depression. All these things are important for alleviating symptoms and thriving despite PCOS and lupus!
If you’re not sure where to start, here’s how to get better sleep with an autoimmune disorder.
Consider changing your diet.
Changes in your diet can have a huge impact on the symptom severity of any autoimmune disease. This is because food can help or hurt inflammation, insulin resistance, and hormone balance, all of which contribute to the development of autoantibodies. If you can reduce the number of autoantibodies produced in your body, you can start feeling relief from lupus and PCOS. Plus, eating healthy has other benefits too!
Because gluten and dairy are both known to be inflammatory, I recommend you consider a gluten- and dairy-free anti-inflammatory diet that consists of intentional foods that fuel your body and help support your autoimmune healing journey. It may sound a little intimidating, but I make it really easy with The Cysterhood App. It’s full of recipes and meal plans specifically designed for a PCOS body. You can learn more about healing PCOS through diet here.
Ask your doctor about vitamins and supplements.
Even with the right diet, it can be hard to get all the necessary nutrients for maintaining a healthy body and mind. A few of the best supplements for people with PCOS and lupus are:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Vitamin D3
- Multivitamin with B6, D, and E
You can learn more about my top, research-backed PCOS supplements recommendations. Of course, before you try any new supplements talk with your doctor.
Like choosing the right foods for you, exercise can do more than just help you lose weight. Exercise can help reduce inflammation, regulate hormones, relieve stress, lower insulin resistance, improve sleep, and more. Since these conditions are triggers for lupus and PCOS symptoms, getting the right kind of exercise can definitely help you with symptom management.
I recommend low-intensity, meditative workouts like slow-weights, workouts, yoga, pilates, light cardio, and walking. If you download The Cysterhood App, you’ll also find unique exercises and workout plans designed for Cysters like you!
You can also learn more here about the best exercises for PCOS on the blog!
Reduce stress and practice self-care.
Stress causes a domino effect in the bodies of women with lupus and PCOS, which can result in a lupus flare-up or intense autoimmune symptoms. Keeping your stress levels low with better sleep, more exercise, time in nature, and the right diet is helpful. You can also go one step further by setting aside time to treat yourself and practice self-care with PCOS and lupus!
Here are a few ideas:
- Engage in a hobby
- Use essential oils
- Drink herbal tea
- Start a skincare routine
- Take a day off
- Practice mindfulness
Though there’s no cure for lupus or PCOS, there are plenty of treatment options for managing symptoms!
Autoimmune disease is not easy, but you can live and thrive with PCOS and lupus. With these tips, you can see significant symptom relief. Talk to your doctor before trying anything new, and make sure to search the blog for more essential PCOS information. My husband and I also have a podcast called “A Cyster and Her Mister” where we discuss PCOS, the symptoms, and the healing process. We’re here to help you achieve your goals and overcome autoimmune disease!