Are you or someone you know experiencing extreme moodiness, missed periods, acne, depression, or sudden weight gain? If so, it may be beneficial to schedule a visit with your OB/GYN for a comprehensive examination of your hormonal profile.
Fluctuations in hormones can lead to various health conditions, including Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which affects approximately 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. PCOS manifests when a woman's body produces higher levels of androgens (male hormones) compared to the average levels found in healthy women.
The global prevalence of PCOS is increasing, with a WHO study reporting that over 3% or 116 million women worldwide are affected by this condition.
Also Read: Ayurvedic Difference Between PCOS and PCOD
The root cause of PCOS symptoms is an imbalance of hormones in women due to excessive androgen production. However, the exact triggers for this hormonal imbalance remain unknown.
Role of Obesity and Insulin Resistance: Recent studies have linked PCOS occurrence to insulin resistance, where women are unable to effectively metabolize glucose due to insulin underutilization. Additionally, individuals who are obese due to unhealthy lifestyles and diets may exhibit insulin resistance, leading to weight gain, elevated insulin levels, pre-diabetes, and eventually PCOS.
Genetic Factors: In certain instances, PCOS symptoms can also be attributed to genetic factors, wherein specific genes in our bodies are either under-expressed or over-expressed, resulting in the manifestation of PCOS symptoms. This explains why many otherwise healthy women experience PCOS.
Inflammation: Elevated body inflammation has been observed in women with PCOS, which may be linked to excess weight. This inflammation appears to be proportional to the levels of androgens present 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.
- Hormonal imbalances, quite often, 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 among women suffering from PCOS.
Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is characterized by sleep interrupted by pauses in breathing throughout the night. This pattern is more evident among 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 PCOS causes and symptoms have been identified, and now it is essential to explore the various treatment methods for the condition.
While PCOS can have a genetic component, research indicates that women with unhealthy lifestyles are more prone to its development. Hence, it is considered a lifestyle disorder, and the initial focus of treatment revolves around adopting a healthier lifestyle. Notably, weight loss of 5%-10% in overweight women with PCOS has shown significant improvements in menstrual cycles and related symptoms.
Once diagnosed using techniques such as ultrasound for cyst detection and blood tests for hormone and insulin monitoring, the appropriate PCOS treatment is determined by the attending physician. Often, patients are advised to seek guidance from a nutritionist to devise a specialized PCOS treatment diet.
What is a PCOS Treatment Diet?
A PCOS treatment diet is a personalized plan designed for women with PCOS, aiming to improve metabolic function and reduce body fat and inflammation. It typically involves a low-carbohydrate, low-GI approach by eliminating high-carb, high-GI foods like white bread, sugar, soft drinks, pasta, potatoes, and white rice, which exacerbate insulin resistance and hinder weight loss.
The PCOS treatment diet encourages the consumption of fiber-rich, high-protein, and healthy fat-containing foods such as eggs, meat, green vegetables, fruits, lentils, and whole grains. Unlike low-calorie diets that restrict fats, this approach emphasizes the use of beneficial fats like ghee and butter to stimulate the body's slow metabolism. Additionally, incorporating anti-inflammatory foods and spices into the diet helps combat inflammation.
High-fiber foods play a role in combating insulin resistance by slowing digestion and reducing blood sugar impact. Recommended fiber-rich foods for the PCOS treatment diet include:
- Green vegetables like lettuce, ladyfinger, capsicum
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and sprouts
- Beans and lentils
- Nuts like almonds
- Sweet potatoes
To address inflammation, the PCOS treatment diet advocates the inclusion of specific foods and Ayurvedic drinks, such as:
- 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
Dairy consumption (milk, cheese, yoghurt) is limited in the PCOS treatment diet due to its association with increased androgen and insulin levels.
Moderate consumption of healthy fats from sources like eggs, olive oil, butter, ghee, and avocado is encouraged in the PCOS treatment diet. These fats support nutrient absorption, hormone regulation, weight management, and fertility.
In addition to following a healthy diet, patients are advised to engage in moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week. This combination of diet and exercise facilitates weight loss, hormone balance, and ovulation induction in PCOS management.
Medications for Managing PCOS
In addition to dietary and exercise interventions, specific medications are employed to target PCOS symptoms and provide individualized treatment.
Metformin, commonly used in type 2 diabetes management, can be prescribed by a physician to address elevated insulin levels and insulin resistance.
Patients often receive birth control pills, primarily containing progesterone, to effectively treat acne and unwanted hair growth. These pills aid in ovulation regulation, hormone balance restoration, and alleviation of PCOS-related acne and hirsutism symptoms.
Fertility-seeking individuals may be administered clomiphene, beta-HCG injections, metformin, or a combination thereof to stimulate ovulation, promoting successful conception and fetal implantation.
What is PCOS? It is a lifestyle disorder with no cure. Nevertheless, effective symptom relief can be achieved through diligent management of diet, exercise, sleep, and medication. Although the journey may be protracted and challenging, dedication and motivation can lead to a gratifying resolution.
As the adage goes, no gain comes without effort.
Authored By: Divya Shankar
About the Author: Divya Shankar is a multifaceted content writer with 7+ years of experience. She has exclusive writing expertise in Ayurveda.