Experts believe that Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) or Polycystic Ovary Disease (PCOD) is primarily caused by a poor or sedentary lifestyle. Being physically inactive, taking too much stress, not sleeping well, smoking and regularly drinking alcohol are some factors which can lead to hormonal imbalance and put one at higher risk of PCOD. The condition causes symptoms like irregular periods or no periods at all, difficulty in getting pregnant because of irregular ovulation, excessive hair growth on face, chest, back or buttocks, weight gain, thinning of hair or hair loss from head, oily skin or acne.
PCOS seems to be on the rise ever since lockdown happened, says Dr Aumrita Wadhwa, who is Senior Clinical Practitioner of Homeopathic Medicine. Stress, depression, anxiety and poor sleep quality are a few lifestyle factors that can lead to hormonal imbalance and PCOS.
Your diet, level of physical activity and exercise, sleeping habits and stress levels can also determine severity and risk of PCOS. Maintaining a balance in each of these can help in reducing symptoms and even reversing PCOS.
It’s not about following a fad diet, says Dr Wadhwa. A balanced diet with all foods groups is needed. “You need to eat healthy and in moderation. Avoid everything that comes in a packet. Processed food is a big no-no. Even when you are craving something tangy or savoury, prepare it at home with natural ingredients, nothing very exotic or fancy” she tells DoctorNDTV.
2. Avoid use of plastic in all forms
From water bottles to containers and all cutlery, get rid of all the plastic items from your kitchen. Studies have found that women with PCOS are more vulnerable to exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), which is found in multiple household items.
3. Exercise regularly
Regularity in exercise is the key here, says Dr Wadhwa. You needn’t go overboard with it and overdo it. Even half an hour of exercise every day can help you lose weight and be physically and mentally fit. Make sure you do exercise regularly, and include all forms of workouts in your routine, like cardio, weight training and even yoga. Yoga has a calming effect on the mind and is thus recommended for dealing with PCOS effectively.
4. Quit alcohol and smoking
Alcohol is nothing but empty calories. If you want to drink alcohol and enjoy, just practice moderation. Avoid mixing drinks and drinking regularly. Drink a glass of water after every drink and drink slowly. Quit smoking as it harms your body in more ways than you can imagine.
5. Get a diagnosis
“Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder which affects one in ten women. It’s the most common cause of infertility. And yet, despite its prevalence, this complex disorder remains difficult to treat. The three main features of PCOS are hyperandrogenism (meaning excess levels of testosterone, irregular periods and polycystic ovaries. If you have at least of the following features, you may be diagnosed with PCOS: irregular periods (generally meaning you aren’t ovulating regularly); polycystic ovaries (when your ovaries appear enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs, also known as follicles, that surround your immature eggs); and hyperandrogenism, the term used for high levels of male hormones. Women with these symptoms are considered to have non-insulin resistant PCOS. Some women will also have high blood sugar in addition to two or more of these symptoms, which is considered insulin resistant PCOS. Understanding the disorder can help you target your treatment.” – Emily Moreton, nurse & patient liaison at Hertility.
6. Improve your sleep
Sleep disturbances are more common in people with PCOS, and poor sleep is associated with the symptoms linked to PCOS. Aim for seven to nine hours of undisturbed sleep every night by avoiding blue light before bed, avoiding caffeine after midday, ensuring your room is cool, having comfortable bed sheets and pyjamas and doing a mind dump before bed to get distracting thoughts off your mind.
7. Cut back on caffeine
“If you are dealing with PCOS, try to reduce the amount of caffeine you drink as well as other stimulants that send your insulin rocketing up and down. Try decaffeinated versions of your favourite drinks, or swap coffee entirely for Barleycup, a coffee alternative made with barley and cereals. Adding cinnamon to your food can also help balance insulin, and you can add it to hot drinks, too. Herbs like burdock root can also help balance insulin and support the liver, which can in turn tackle hormonal breakouts.” – Natasha Richardson, medical herbalist & founder of Forage Botanicals.
8. Try to stress less
There is a proven connection between levels of cortisol (your stress hormone) and levels of progesterone, suggesting stress can impact PCOS. We refer to this as ‘the progesterone steal’. When your body makes hormones, they can either become progesterone or cortisol. But because cortisol requires progesterone to be made, we end up using our progesterone stores to be stressed. Progesterone is the hormone we use to grow and maintain the endometrial lining and low levels are one of the main reasons why you may have a shorter cycle. I’ve had so many patients who were told to lose weight to improve their PCOS but instead I found it was their stress levels that were contributing to insulin resistance and lack of ovulating rather than their diet. Taking a vitamin B supplement can help your stress response, while Forage’s Rested Resilience contains ashwagandha to support you during long-term stress.
9. Supplement with inositol
Vitamin B8, also called inositol, is a helpful supplement for treating PCOS. Inositol plays a role in androgen synthesis and glucose uptake in the ovaries, and supplementation has been shown to increase ovulation, improve insulin resistance and lower androgens. Acne and increased hair growth – both of which are common signs of PCOS – also indicate excess androgen levels, so if you are struggling with your skin or excess hair, it could be one to look in to. It could also be worth drinking spearmint tea – more research is required, but studies have suggested drinking two cups of spearmint tea daily can help lower androgen levels.
10. Be patient
It’s important to remember that PCOS is very common. Although the name stands for polycystic ovarian syndrome, we now know you don’t have to have polycystic ovaries to have PCOS and scientists have tried to have the condition renamed. Only 8% of women with polycystic ovaries will have PCOS but up to 80% of women who don’t ovulate will have PCOS. Whatever lifestyle changes you make, be consistent. PCOS can be stubborn to treat and will take a minimum of three months of dietary improvements and stress management with adaptogens and relaxants to see periods begin to be more regular and other symptoms to reduce.