At the age of 16, Sneha Anand, now 35, noticed that she was rapidly gaining weight which, despite all her efforts, seemed impossible for her to lose. Coupled with an irregular menstrual cycle and early signs of excess hair growth on her face, she went to a local GP who diagnosed her with Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS. It is a health problem that affects one in every 10 women of the childbearing age. “I didn’t realise my symptoms–ovulation pain and painful period–weren’t normal until after I was diagnosed. I used to feel like a hairy, ugly and moody defect. There’s nothing more unwomanly than having to shave your face every day,” says Sneha. Though the exact cause and cure for this condition is a bit difficult, there are specialists who agree that diet and lifestyle play a major role in managing it. As the world observes PCOS awareness month, let us know more about the condition and how to fight it with the right diet.
What is PCOS?
“PCOS can be defined as a health condition which causes hormonal imbalance and metabolism problems in a woman that may affect their overall health and appearance. It causes irregular periods as ovaries do not release eggs or ovulate regularly. The condition also releases high levels of male hormones in the body, which may result in excess facial or body hair. It also makes them harder to get pregnant,” says Dr Mira, gynaecologist.
She adds, “One of the most common and saddest scenarios I often encounter is where a young woman often comes in and says ‘I’ve been told I’ve got PCOS and I won’t be able to have children’. However, a right diet can treat the symptoms.”
Symptoms of PCOS and how does it affect you?
Dietician Reena Arora says, “Symptoms of PCOS may begin shortly after puberty, but can also develop during the later teen years and early adulthood. People with PCOS typically have irregular periods as a result of irregular ovulation. Although some people may develop cysts on their ovaries, many people do not.” Adding to that, Esther John, dietician says, “Irregular ovulation makes it difficult to get pregnant. It also results in excessive hair growth (Hirsutism) – usually on the face, chest, back or buttocks, weight gain, thinning hair and hair loss from the head and oily skin or acne.” According to her, PCOS patients are at a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, acidity, insomnia, high blood pressure, heart problems, and endometrial cancer.
- A proper diet and nutrition can help PCOS patients. Arora says, “Nutrition plays an important role in managing PCOS. About 67% to 85% of women with PCOS were observed to have vitamin D deficiency. Supplementing with vitamin D is thus important to improve menstrual regularity and insulin resistance. Vitamin C-rich food like amla, lemon, and hibiscus also helps to produce oestrogen.”
Types of food
Dietician Nisha Bareja, lists out following food groups to help your body produce all the hormones in a balanced way.
Wholesome cereals: Try to include all the cereals in their whole form because whole grains like whole wheat, parboiled rice, and whole oats provide B complex vitamins and carbohydrates as a source of energy.
Quality proteins: Try to add foods in your diet which contain amino acids – essential and non- essential so that your body can use them to produce hormones. For example – non-pasteurised dairy, eggs, meat, legumes, soaked nuts and seeds.
Good quality fats: Try to consume good quality fats like virgin oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and desi ghee to help your brain regulate the endocrine functioning in a perfect way.
Vitamins and minerals: Add all the essential vitamins and minerals like selenium, zinc and chromium to improve your body’s insulin sensitivity.
High fibre and low fat: Include tomatoes, kale, spinach, almonds and walnuts, olive oil, fruits, such as blueberries and strawberries.
- Esther mentions the list of food you should avoid if you have PCOS.
- Sweetened juice, canned fruit in heavy syrup, or sweetened applesauce.
- Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas.
- Refined grains made with white flour such as white bread and pasta, bagels, or white rice.
- Lifestyle changes to consider
Dr Mickey Mehta, holistic health guru and corporate life coach, adds that food should be very alkaline in nature. “Eat as many vegetables, fruits, dry fruits, sprouts, seeds and natural food as you can. Chewing well is important. In PCOS, the timings of eating are also important. Avoid big portion meals and finish your dinner preferably by 7pm.”
PCOS, like many disorders, responds positively to proactive lifestyle choices. Arora and Mehta give some tips for that.
1. Fix PCOS by regular breathing coupled with regulated breath. It helps to reduce insulin resistance, especially when coupled with a limited intake of unhealthy carbohydrates.
2. Many experts agree that at least 150 minutes per week of exercise with an inclusion of long walks is ideal.
3. The symptoms associated with PCOS can cause stress. Stress reduction techniques, which help calm the mind and let you connect with your body, can help. These include yoga and meditation.
4. Lots of sleep, alkaline diet, regular massages, swimming, dancing, and regular bowel movements is also helpful.
5. Speaking with a therapist or other medical professional may also be beneficial.