Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is one of the most common endocrine disorders in females. Female reproductive organs called ovaries produce hormones like estrogen and progesterone. These hormones not only help in regulating the menstrual cycle but also produce a low amount of male hormones called androgens. In PCOS, the body produces these androgens in excess amounts, which affect the ovulation process. PCOS leads to the production of multiple cysts inside the ovaries, hence the term polycystic ovaries.
Signs and symptoms of PCOS:
PCOS can be detected by several visible signs and changes in the body. These may include irregular or scanty periods, build up of the uterine lining for a long period, causing heavier bleeding than normal, visible and stiff hair growth on the face, belly, and chest. Acne outbreaks may also occur due to the excessive production of male hormones in the body. PCOS can significantly lower the metabolic rate which can result in weight gain and difficulty in losing weight. This hormonal imbalance can also lead to hair thinning, skin darkening, headaches, irritability and mood swings.
There's no definitive test to diagnose PCOS. Your healthcare professional can check your medical history, including your menstrual periods and weight change pattern, along with some other parameters to detect the prevalence of PCOS. These could be, examining the pelvic ultrasound, checking for the presence of extra hair growth on face, belly, or chest, high Waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), high body mass index (BMI), and elevated sugar levels or insulin resistance.
Dietary and lifestyle changes to treat PCOS:
Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, plays a significant role in PCOS. High levels of hormones such as testosterone stimulate the insulin production, leading to insulin resistance which causes pre-diabetes and diabetes. Thus, the majority of women with PCOS develop diabetes or pre-diabetes before reaching the age of 40. Hence, the best way to manage PCOS is taking a nutritionally balanced diet so that the hormones can work effectively, maintaining a healthy weight, and keeping insulin levels in range.
1. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables full of fibre, like broccoli, leafy greens, apples, and plums. You can also include red berries and grapes as they help lower inflammation in the body due to the anti-inflammatory properties present in them.
2. Avoid full-fat dairy products if you have PCOS. Include controlled portions of low-fat cottage cheese or Greek yogurt in diet. However, you can also try plant-based milk like almond, rice, oats or coconut milk.
3. Avoid foods made with refined flour (maida). Opt for whole-grains, millets and products made with them like multigrain bread, whole wheat/millet pasta, oats, brown rice, and quinoa.
4. One can have a combination of plant and animal-based protein sources while on a PCOS diet. However, many people prefer plant-based sources such as nuts, nut butters, soy products, legumes, beans, etc as these are more gut-friendly and help lower inflammation in the body.
5. Avoid red meat as it can increase cholesterol levels in the body, leading to heart problems. Opt for lean protein sources such as eggs, fish, and chicken breast. Cut down the intake of processed meat foods such as hot dogs, sausages, bacon and others, as they are high in sodium, trans fats, and additives.
6. Restrict the sugar content in your diet as it can increase inflammation. Avoid bakery goods, candies, packaged snacks, and other processed items.
7. Limit the intake of coffee and tea to just two cups a day as its over-consumption can make you dehydrated and cause iron deficiency.
8. Watch your alcohol intake- avoid or consume it only occasionally as it interferes with proper hormone functioning.
9. Restrict the consumption of high-sugar beverages like soda, sweetened fruit juice, and energy drinks as they add to calories without providing any nutritional value.
10. Stay hydrated with options like fresh coconut water, buttermilk, fruit-infused water, or plain water. Have atleast 3-4 litres of water everyday.
11. Set up your biological clock, get proper sleep of 7-8 hours daily, manage stress levels through breathing exercises and meditation, and be physically active to speed up the metabolic rate and get the hormones back to normal functioning.
There is no definitive cure for PCOS, and the health effects may even persist after menopause. However, making necessary changes to diet and lifestyle can greatly help manage the condition. The healthy eating habits and physical activity routines adopted at an early stage of disease management will not only prevent it from getting worse in the short term but will also be beneficial in maintaining long term health.