PCOS - A Holistic Approach
Ramya Sommasundaram had PCOS. It started when she was 14. Irregular cycles, tendency to gain weight, and as she grew older, the crippling fear that she might never get pregnant.
Today, she celebrated her child’s first birthday. A healthy, lively, beautiful girl. 18 years of a tailored routine with extensive exercise, healthy food and conscious living has finally paid off as she now never has to deal with hormonal imbalance and irregular cycles again.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or Polycystic ovary disorder (PCOD) or Stein-Leventhal syndrome or Hyperandrogenic anovulation, are all names for the same one condition. Over time the scientific community has experimented with names to give it a right identity (Link to our name article). Here in the article we will refer to it as PCOS.
Fast Facts First
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is not a disease. It is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age leading to imbalance of hormones (chemical messengers) in the brain and the ovaries. Specifically, PCOS happens when a hormone called LH (from the pituitary gland located in the brain) or levels of insulin (from the pancreas) are too high, which then causes the ovaries to make higher than normal amounts of androgen (male hormones).
Since the ovaries don’t get the right hormonal signals from the brain, they don't ovulare (make eggs) every month. Periods become irregular. Ovaries develop numerous small collections of fluid (follicles) and fail to regularly release eggs.
Symptoms include irregular/abnormal menstrual cycles, acne, obesity, infertility and facial hair growth. PCOS is also linked to the development of other medical conditions, such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease at later stages in life.
Let’s dive into the Symptoms:
Acne and Excess hair:
Acne and extra hair on your face and body can happen if your ovaries are making too much androgen. All women make androgen, but if you have PCOS, your ovaries make a little bit more testosterone than they are supposed to. Skin cells and hair follicles can be extremely sensitive to the small increases in testosterone found in young women with PCOS.
Many women with PCOS have higher levels of insulin in their blood. Higher levels of insulin can sometimes cause patches of darkened skin on the back of your neck, under your arms, and in your groin area (inside upper thighs).
PCOS makes it more difficult for the body to use the hormone insulin, which normally helps convert sugars and starches from food into energy. This condition, called insulin resistance, can cause insulin and sugar, glucose, to build up in the bloodstream. High insulin levels increase the production of male hormones called androgens in the ovaries. High androgen levels again leads to weight gain. Because the weight gain is triggered by male androgen hormones, it is typically in the abdomen, where men tend to carry weight. So, instead of having a pear shape, women with PCOS have more of an apple shape.
So what’s the answer?
Balance the hormones (Eat right and workout to provide the right nutrition to the hormones, active them so that they can effectively transfer the required chemical messages)
Work harder than usual to take corrective actions on symptoms (i.e. exercise harder to lose weight)
While chemical pills help in stimulating the ovaries or provide artificial hormones, they are not long term sustainable solution. Even if you are on pills, make corrective lifestyle shifts to achieve hormonal balance. Its possible!
However, unfortunately, Lack of time, the rush to balance family, work, life and to be good at everything has made it difficult for women to take out the time for good food, exercise, restful sleep and emotional stability. Jugging between family & work responsibilities, they often tend to skip workouts, miss out on the nutritional breakfast, and spend a lot of time planning for & stressing over things that may or may not be in their control.
Make well balanced, conscious lifestyle choices with healthy food, exercise, sufficient sleep & mindfulness.
1. A Balanced Diet
You could cut out carbs or fat or any of the fad diets that are doing the rounds and hope for things to change. But there’s nothing like a healthy well balanced diet.
Here’s what a balanced diet looks like on your plate.
Include different food groups. Mix health carbs with proteins, fats and a huge portion of fruits & vegetables.
Instead of cutting out the whites altogether. Reduce the whites and color your place with green leafy vegetables, red fruits, yellow lentils. You automatically won’t feel like eating more rice or bread. Each color provides a set of nutrients that your body needs to function smoothly. Choose your colors from the chart below and take your nutrition game up a level.
2. Try Ayurveda
- Lodhra has anti-androgenic effect and prevents ovarian cell dysfunction in PCOS and improved the fertility.
- Garcinia Cambogia helps reduce PCOS related Weight Gain.
- Ashwagandha helps balance cortisol levels, which could improve stress and symptoms of PCOS.
- Holy basil, also called tulsi, addresses chemical and metabolic stress. It helps reduce blood sugar, prevent weight gain, and lower your cortisol levels.
- Licorice root contains an anti-inflammatory agent. It works to help metabolize sugar and balance hormones.
3. Remember Nutrition
Research suggests that Vitamin D & Calcium supplements in women with PCOS could result in beneficial effects on menstrual regularity and ovulation.
Low magnesium levels are often associated with diabetes, and research indicates that a dietary supplement of the mineral may improve insulin sensitivity, a factor in the development of type 2 diabetes and PCOS.
Chromium is an essential mineral that helps the body regulate insulin and blood sugar levels.
Omega 3 helps decrease androgen levels in women with PCOS
Let’s for once agree that this isn’t easy. Especially if you have a sedentary lifestyle, it is going to take gargantuan effort to wake up an hour earlier in the morning, put on your shoes and go for a run.
2. Start Slow
Let’s start slow on this. How about a walk in the evening. Maybe after dinner. Just before sleeping. A 30 min brisk walk around the block would do your ovaries so much good than the netflix series you’re addicted to.
You could climb up stairs at home and work, take a leisurely walk with a colleague after lunch, walk down to your local grocery store to get daily essentials instead of stocking up from bigbasket. Play a sport with a friend once a week. Take your dog for a walk yourself. Take your calls walking.
The added benefit is that, you will get tired and want to sleep earlier. That means more rest, Which inturn will help manage stress and one thing leads to another and who knows maybe one day you will be motivated enough for that early morning jog or a yoga session. Till that time, let’s just take one healthy step at a time and commit to it till you see a change.
3. Go a little extra with Yoga
Yoga that brings focus to the pelvic region and increases blood flow to the ovaries is especially beneficial for PCOS. 5 key asanas that we recommend:
[Beginner] Chakki Chalanasana (Moving the Grinding Wheel) is a simple exercise with several benefits. It massages the liver, kidneys, pancreas, uterus, and the reproductive organs.
[Beginner] Baddha Konasana (Butterfly pose) act as a preventive measure to PCOS. It eliminates stress by relaxing the pelvic region.
[Beginner] Malasana yoga pose strengthens your pelvic floor and greatly helps in eliminating PCOS.
[Intermediate] Prasarita Asana helps increasing blood flow in the ovaries and releases stress from hips and lower back.
[Intermediate] Naukasana (boat pose) is one of the most effective PCOS poses that helps to retrieve the normal hormonal imbalance in women of all ages.
[Intermediate] Bhujangasana (Cobra pose) is greatly beneficial for PCOS control in women of every age. This yoga pose ensures better functionality of ovaries.
[Intermediate] Bharadvajasana (Bharadvaja’s Twist) is seated spinal twist that helps with PCOS symptoms.
[Advanced] Dhanurasana (Bow pose) relieves your menstrual discomfort with this PCOS yoga pose.
Finally, Shavasana (Corpse Pose) is another useful posture to try. With PCOS, the more you relax, the better you feel, and this posture will help you completely unwind at the end of your yoga session.
(C) Conscious Living
It might sound like a complex subject but it is basically broken into two simple steps
Awareness - becoming fully aware of the complete effect that all things consumed by your senses have on your well-being and on the world around you.
Consumption - eliminating, reducing and avoiding those things which don't serve you and the world around you and adding and promoting those things which do.
It includes everything from what we eat, drink, do to what we watch, read & listen to.
You don't have to approach PCOS with just one solution. Try everything from exercise to diet and general lifestyle changes. All have to come into play while trying to find a routine to cure PCOS. Sometimes we need medical intervention and it’s not all that bad. It’s best to combine everything and take a holistic approach towards PCOS.