Do you or someone you know have been experiencing extreme moodiness, missed periods, acne, depression and sudden weight gain? If yes, then maybe it’s time for you to visit your OB/GYN and get a thorough examination of your body’s hormones. Fluctuations in our body’s hormones result in various health conditions, one of them being Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS. What is PCOS? It is a hormonal condition that affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. The PCOS symptoms become evident when a women’s body produces more androgens (male hormones) than the average levels seen in any healthy woman. The prevalence of PCOS in the world is on the rise, and according to a study conducted by WHO, over 3% or 116 million women suffer from this condition worldwide. Also read Ayurvedic Difference Between PCOS and PCOD
We know that the immediate cause of PCOS symptoms is the imbalance of hormones in a women’s body due to the excess production of androgens. But exactly what triggers this hormone imbalance is still unknown.
Obesity and Insulin resistance: Recent studies correlate PCOS incidence with insulin resistance. This means that women whose bodies do not utilise insulin available in the body can’t metabolise the glucose in the blood properly. Also, people who are obese due to poor lifestyles and diets can show insulin resistance behaviour. This leads to further weight gain, high insulin levels, pre-diabetes and eventually, PCOS.
Genetic: In some cases, PCOS symptoms can also be genetic, which means an under-expression or over-expression of a particular gene in our bodies can cause PCOS symptoms. This is why it is common for many women who are otherwise healthy to suffer from PCOS symptoms.
Inflammation: Scientists have observed that women with PCOS have increased body inflammation. This inflammation can also be caused by being overweight. This inflammation has been reported to be proportional to excess androgen levels in the body.
PCOS manifests itself in a wide range of PCOS symptoms. Those women suffering from PCOS may experience some or all of these PCOS symptoms. The main PCOS symptoms are:
- Irregular periods: This is usually the first symptom women suffer from PCOS experience. They experience several months of missed periods, some only getting periods only 8 times or lesser in a year. This happens because women with PCOS may not ovulate, which prevents the endometrial lining from shedding.
- Infertility: Infertility is among the main PCOS symptoms, and treatment is necessary to overcome it. Since PCOS sufferers have difficulty ovulating due to disturbed hormonal levels, they are not able to conceive easily. Therefore, they may require medication to induce ovulation so that their ovaries release eggs normally.
- Heavy bleeding: Since PCOS causes an irregular menstrual cycle in women, they experience heavy bleeding when they get their periods. This is because when periods are irregular, the uterine lining keeps getting thicker every month and results in heavier bleeding for a longer duration when menstruation occurs.
- Large ovaries or ovaries with many cysts: Because of the imbalance in hormones, the ovaries in women with PCOS do not ovulate properly. Before the follicle reaches maturation and becomes an egg, they rupture and become cysts or small fluid-filled sacs in the ovaries, hence the name polycystic ovarian syndrome.
- Hirsutism: About 70% of women suffering from PCOS have excess hair growth on the face, back, belly and chest, which damages their idea of body image and has a huge psychological impact. Hirsutism is attributed to the presence of excess androgen levels in their bodies.
- Acne: Another symptom that is a cause of psychological issues amongst women with PCOS is the onset of acne. Excess male hormones cause oily skin and mild to severe breakouts on the face, back, and chest.
- Baldness: Women with PCOS suffer from male pattern baldness and lose hair on the scalp.
- Skin tags or pieces of excess skin can form on the neck or armpits. Darkening of areas in patches in areas such as folds of skin under the breast, back of the neck and armpits.
- Quite often, hormonal imbalances are also associated with the onset of headaches.
Consequences of Untreated PCOS
- Metabolic syndrome: PCOS treatment, when ignored, can further aggravate existing PCOS symptoms and also pave the way for the onset of other metabolic disorders, especially if the woman is obese. Both obesity and PCOS can cause high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, low HDL or good cholesterol, and high LDL or bad cholesterol. These factors are called metabolic syndrome and are high-risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
- Depression: Long-term effect of PCOS is depression. Failure to conceive, body image issues because of acne, hirsutism and obesity and unpredictable mood swings can result in depression and anxiety amongst women suffering from PCOS.
- Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is characterised by sleep interrupted by pauses in breathing throughout the night. This pattern is more evident amongst women who are overweight and have PCOS.
- Endometrial cancer: When the uterine lining fails to shed every month, the lining may get thicker and increase the risk of endometrial cancer.
Now that we know the PCOS causes and PCOS symptoms, now let us understand the various methods using which PCOS is treated.
Although PCOS can be a genetic disorder, scientists have discovered that women with poor lifestyle choices are more likely to develop the disease. Therefore, PCOS is a lifestyle disorder, and the first step taken toward its treatment is to develop a healthy lifestyle. It is observed that in overweight women with PCOS, losing about 5%-10% of body fat does wonder in improving their menstrual cycles and other PCOS related symptoms.
Once a woman is diagnosed with PCOS using methods like ultrasound to scan for cysts and blood tests to monitor hormone and insulin levels, a doctor decides on the best PCOS treatment suitable for that woman. In most cases, the woman is advised to consult a nutritionist and get a PCOS treatment diet.
What is a PCOS Treatment Diet?
A PCOS treatment diet is a customised diet plan for women with PCOS, aimed at reducing body fat and reducing inflammation by improving the body’s metabolism. A PCOS diet is usually a low-carbohydrate, low-GI diet that eliminates foods high in carbs and has a high glycemic index, such as white bread, sugar, soft drinks, pasta, potatoes and white rice. These starchy and sugary foods further aggravate insulin resistance, making it difficult to lose weight.
A PCOS treatment diet focuses instead on consuming food that is rich in fibre, fats and protein, such as eggs, meat, green vegetables, fruits, lentils and whole grains. Unlike low-calorie diets, which eliminate fats from the diet, a PCOS treatment diet emphasises the use of healthy fats such as ghee and butter, to kick start the body’s slow metabolism. It is also advised to add anti-inflammatory foods and spices to the diet to reduce inflammation in the body.
Foods that are rich in fibre also help in combating insulin resistance by slowing down digestion and reducing the effect of blood sugar. Examples of high fibre foods to be included in a PCOS treatment diet are:
- Green vegetables like lettuce, ladyfinger, capsicum
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and sprouts
- Beans and lentils
- Nuts like almonds
- Sweet potatoes
Foods that reduce inflammation are a must in a PCOS treatment diet, like consuming an Ayurvedic drink that regulates periods and balances body cycles can help a great deal. Some examples are:
- Kale, Spinach, Moringa, Manjistha
- Walnuts and almonds
- Peach, Tender Coconut Water
- Fatty fish, high in Omega-3 fatty acids
- Olive oil
- Spices like cinnamon, turmeric
In a PCOS treatment diet, dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are consumed in limited quantities. This is because frequent consumption of dairy products is linked to increased androgen and insulin levels.
A PCOS treatment diet also stresses consuming healthy fats in moderate quantities. Examples of sources of healthy fatty acids are eggs, olive oil, butter, ghee and avocado. These fatty acids help maintain the cell wall to absorb nutrients, maintain hormone levels, manage weight and boost fertility.
Besides following a healthy PCOS diet, patients are also advised to exercise moderately for at least 30 minutes a day, 3 times a week. Combining a diet and exercise regime helps lose weight, balance hormones, and induce ovulation.
Medications for Managing PCOS
Besides diet and exercise, certain medications are also used to target PCOS symptoms and treat each accordingly.
To combat high insulin levels and insulin resistance, a doctor can prescribe metformin, which is usually used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
To treat acne and unwanted hair growth, many patients are prescribed birth control pills which are basically progesterone. They help regulate ovulation, restore hormonal balance, and relieve PCOS symptoms of acne and hirsutism.
For those trying to get pregnant, clomiphene, beta-HCG injections, metformin or a combination of these drugs are administered to induce ovulation and achieve a successful conception and implantation of the fetus.
What is PCOS? It is a lifestyle disorder with no cure. But with proper management of one’s diet, exercise, sleep and medication, any woman can relieve the PCOS symptoms they experience. It can be a long and frustrating journey, but it is very rewarding if you are committed and motivated to end your misery. As they say, there is no gain without pain.
Authored By: Divya Shankar
About Author: Divya Shankar is a multifaceted content writer with 7+ years of experience. She has exclusive writing expertise in ayurveda.