What is PCOS?
PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is basically a disorder affecting the hormones which causes insulin levels to rise beyond healthy levels. This altered hormone state causes over-production of male sex hormones (androgens), which in turn may affect every other hormone including the ones that control ovulation and weight gain. Statics have proposed that around 50% of women affected with PCOS are obese or overweight. Women with a family member affected with PCOS are usually at a higher risk of developing the syndrome too.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
Women living with PCOS will often find themselves subject to some or all of these symptoms;
- Irregular menstrual cycles.
- Absent menstrual periods.
- Aggressive acne.
- Excessive hair growth (on the chest, face and back).
- Cysts on the ovaries.
- Excessive and heavy bleeding.
- Significant and sudden weight gain.
- Hair loss on the head.
- Mood disorders.
- Dark spots (in the armpits, back of neck or groin).
- Mid-cycle spotting or bleeding.
Often women with PCOS may be exposed to greater health problems especially when the symptoms are not treated early on. Heart disease, diabetes, miscarriages, endometrial and breast cancer, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure are some of the other health problems the syndrome could lead to. However, women suffering from PCOS are usually able to live with and manage their symptoms (even though there is currently no stated and known cure) by embarking on a healthy path, eating the right kind of foods, eliminating unhealthy foods and making positive lifestyle choices.
Can PCOS be managed naturally?
Absolutely. With a healthy diet, the symptoms of PCOS can be managed well. Here are the foods which help to do this:
- Lean Protein.
Chicken, tofu and fish are all sources of lean protein. These foods do not provide fibre and make an ideal, healthy meal for women dealing with PCOS.
- Anti-inflammatory foods.
Tomatoes, olive oil, kale, spinach, walnuts and fruits are just some of the foods that help in reducing inflammation.
- Omega-3 foods.
Fatty fish such as sardines and salmon are especially high in omega-3 acids.
- High Fibre Foods.
Foods high in fibre, such as vegetables, can fight insulin resistance and reduce the effects of sugar on the blood which can be quite beneficial in the management of PCOS. Foods rich in high fiber include;
- Cruciferous vegetables like brussel sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower.
- Green or red peppers.
- Lentils and beans.
- Greens (arugula, red leaf lettuce etc.)
- Sweet potatoes
Foods to avoid when dealing with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Good quality, organic foods are what should be included in your meal and you can avoid these listed below.
- Refined Carbohydrates
White bread, muffins and pasta are low in fibre and high in carbohydrates. They should be eliminated from your diet and replaced with foods made from lentil or bean flour, a healthier alternative.
- Inflammatory Foods.
Foods like processed or red meat, margarine and French fries only increase inflammation and it is best to cut them out of your diet or reduce intake.
- High sugar Foods.
Sugar should be avoided whenever possible, even in people not suffering from PCOS. Sugar may be masked in canned or packaged products under the names, dextrose, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup. Ensure to properly and carefully read ingredients on food label. Soda, juice and pastries are some other high-sugar foods to avoid.
Diet and healthy eating isn’t the only way to manage PCOS. PCOS is one of those disorders whereby a healthy lifestyle plays a vital role in its management. A healthy diet ensures the proper and rightful intake of essential nutrients but, when exercising is included too, energy levels, and proper metabolism are increased. You should include at least 40 minutes in your daily activities for exercise and physical activities. Ensure to include cardiovascular exercises as they support the balancing of blood sugar levels and over-all cardiovascular health. Exercise also helps deal with the weight gain, which is a symptom of PCOS, and ensures proper health and improved fertility. Also, activities like yoga and meditation can serve as stress reduction techniques.
Managing PCOS With Natural /Medical Therapies
There are medical and holistic treatments available for the management and treatment of PCOS.
Medical therapies include:
- Anti-anxiety drugs.
- Weight loss drugs.
- Birth control pills (Oral contraceptives).
- Metformin (insulin sensitising drug)
- Hormone balancing and testosterone lowering drugs.
Natural therapies like herbal supplements, homeopathy, and Chinese medicine have been shown to have positive effects on the reproductive system and ovulation rates.
Herbal supplements that may combat PCOS include,
- Saw Palmetto: Saw palmetto may reduce excessive hair growth or improve hair loss, acne and balding.
- Ashwagandha: The herb is a popular and commonly used anxiety reducer. It regulates the immune system and helps deal with the symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.
- Omega-3 supplements: An excess of androgen levels is what usually leads to PCOS. Fish oil (like cod liver oil) has been said to reduce androgen levels in women, thereby decreasing symptoms of PCOS.
- Holy basil: The herb may be effective in regulating blood sugar and hormone levels and boosting the immune system. It can also aid in fighting stress and exhaustion.
- Maca Root: This herb balances the progesterone and oestrogen levels in the body and may stimulate healthy ovulation and menstrual cycle.
- Liquorice root: Liquorice root ensures liver health and healthy insulin levels in women suffering from PCOS. Also, the herb aids in controlling hormone production and release.
- Tribulus: This herb is extremely useful for women with irregular menstrual cycles and ovulation problems. It improves the timing of the menstrual cycles to encourage fertility and nourishes the entire female reproductive system.
The Bottom Line Of Managing PCOS.
PCOS has no known specific cure and is not very likely to completely go away. However, hundreds of women live with this syndrome and are effectively managing it, and although infertility is listed as a symptom of PCOS, many women have overcome the odds and had healthy children. Taking small, proactive steps towards improving your health will be beneficial to not just reducing your symptoms but, improving your general mood. Do not forget that almost every food that could worsen your condition has a more beneficial, healthier alternative. Stick to the healthy options and discipline yourself in exercising and engaging in physical activities.
PCOS should not be self-diagnosed and if you do suspect that you have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome speak with your doctor and get professional advice and prescription.