Prevalence of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is growing in scary numbers in the last few years; which draws attention to the management, prevention and awareness aspects of this female endocrine disorder.
Though PCOS cannot be completely cured; lifestyle changes and a holistic approach can help in treating this condition. This would mean looking into all the four pillars to lead a healthy life; namely diet, exercise, sleep and stress management. To be clear, none of the above are negotiable factors. So, let’s dwell further into the actual steps to be considered.
Losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can help regulate menstrual cycle and alleviate PCOS symptoms.
Women with PCOS normally have to deal with insulin resistance and high levels of androgens and testosterone levels. Insulin resistance can make weight loss a bit challenging for females with PCOS.
Here are some do’s and don’ts
- Timely meals are extremely crucial including a proper breakfast and an early dinner; at least three hours prior to bedtime. Unless this is aligned to the circadian rhythm of the body; your efforts are unlikely to bear complete outcome.
- A well-balanced nutritious meal plan considering complex carbohydrates, high fibre, moderate protein and good fats is a must. Any extreme approach of completely eliminating one or the other macros (carbohydrates/ protein/ fats) is not recommended.
- Whole grains like brown or hand pounded rice, millets, quinoa have low glycaemic index and help in slow release of sugars thereby reducing insulin resistance.
- Complete proteins in all meals and snacks helps in satiety levels as well as improves insulin resistance. Organic meat produce, fish, organic eggs, pure A2 milk and milk products, lentils and legumes can be incorporated in meals. There are various theories on avoiding dairy and non-vegetarian foods to control PCOS; it always advisable to consult a dietician/ nutritionist for the same as the food suitability of each body type can vary.
- Eating foods rich in fibre leads to a slower, consistent and controlled rise in blood sugar and insulin levels. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, greens like spinach, peppers, beans, sprouts, sweet potatoes, pumpkin are fine examples.
- Include healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocados, cold pressed oils for cooking, coconut instead of refined oils.
- Not to be forgotten the anti-inflammatory foods like most fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, kale, spinach, berries, nuts, fatty fish which help reduce inflammatory symptoms like fatigue.
- Spices like turmeric and cinnamon are highly beneficial thanks to their anti-inflammatory and cholesterol lowering properties.
- Daily intake of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables in raw or cooked forms should be included. At least 3-5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit is recommended.
- The most miraculous but often forgotten magical drink is plain simple regular drinking water. This is the step towards detoxification rejuvenation and recovery of the body. Stay well hydrated through the day.
Tip: Drink a glass of water first if there is a feeling of hunger in between meals; it’s often a sign of thirst, which gets confused with hunger pangs.
The don’ts in foods
Packaged, processed and refined foods are a strict ‘NO’ as these foods increase inflammation and insulin resistance. These include:
- Refined carbohydrates like white breads, cookies, pastries, biscuits.
- Anything sugary which include refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup, sugar syrups, carbonated drinks, sodas and artificial sweeteners.
- Fried foods, fast foods like burgers, pizzas with unhealthy dressings of mayonnaise, etc.
- Processed meats like sausages, hot dogs, etc.
- Any foods which use shortening agents, hydrogenated fats, preservatives, artificial colours and flavouring agents.
- Excessive intake of beverages like tea, coffee. Switch to herbal teas, green tea. Inclusion of spearmint tea seem to be of benefit in symptoms like excessive facial hair symptoms.
Other lifestyle recommendations
As mentioned above, it is extremely critical for a woman suffering from PCOS to look into reasons that could aggravate the situation. Below are some lifestyle recommendations that help in controlling PCOS.
A balanced approach of proper cardio-vascular and strength training exercises goes a long way in not just losing weight, improving insulin sensitivity, lowering cholesterol but also creating a hormonal harmony. Exercise should become a way of worshiping one’s body on a daily basis and not a job to be ticked off. Just 150 minutes of cardio exercise every week will go a long way in controlling PCOS.
One should ensure to get vitamin D supplements and keeping it at an optimal level. Vitamin D helps in insulin sensitivity, weight loss, regulation of periods, lowering inflammation, lower cholesterol, and keeping a check on hormonal function.
Women with PCOS should also look into their sleep pattern. Discipline of sleep at the same time every night will help in improving the quality of sleep. This would take care of the unexplained hunger pangs or overeating the next day. Sleep requirements vary from 6-8 hours depending on individual needs.
Stress increases insulin resistance and can cause diabetes. Apart from this it may also trigger unhealthy and over-eating habits. Practicing pranayama/ breathing exercises, meditation, cultivating hobbies, joining support groups are a few practical solutions to combat the stressful lives.
Some More Interventions
- Avoid smoking, alcohol, hukkah or any other form of addiction.
- Avoid usage of containers especially plastics which have harmful chemicals like BPA.
- Some chemicals like bisulphates, parabens etc. are similar in chemical structure as the female hormone estrogen. They are called xenoestrogens; once they enter the body it mimics and performs functions in a similar manner when estrogen is released in the body naturally. This causes further imbalance in these sex hormones. Wondering where these chemicals are found? Well, they are present in most of the beauty products like shampoos, soaps, deodorants, lipsticks and even nail polishes etc. Switch to natural and certified herbal formulations instead.
Since PCOS also has cosmetic implications on a girl or a lady suffering from the same, developing self-confidence and having a positive body image and sense of self-worth is extremely important. By following the above-mentioned measures one can observe a sea of change in the physical appearance too and can actually stay PCOS free.
“Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Also read the earlier post in this series for symptoms and diagnosis of PCOS.
The above article is for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. Please consult a qualified medical doctor for accurate diagnosis and treatment for any symptoms/ailments.