Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): How To Treat It Naturally!5 minute
This article discusses everything you need to know about PCOS, how to treat it naturally, and the common myths surrounding it.
There’s so much conversation about PCOS (Short for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) today that it’s becoming quite a challenge to decipher what the facts of this condition really are. There are so many symptoms of the syndrome that are not easily identifiable or may seem unsurprising and knotted with symptoms of other conditions like PMS, menstruation, or various mental disorders.
Many women who have PCOS aren’t even aware of it. In a study conducted, 70 percent of women with PCOS hadn’t been diagnosed. This is primarily why a fact check on the topic is the need of the hour and we’re here to do it for you.
Read along as this article discusses everything you need to know about PCOS, how to treat it naturally, and the common myths surrounding it.
Doctors have been trying to fully uncover the symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) in women since the 1700s. Yet, here we are hundreds of years later with the underlying reasons for this common women’s health issue - has remained a mystery.
Although the subject still remains vastly researched, there is new evidence found by experts in endocrinology that help discern the causes of this condition and offer a great deal of direction to achieve a rather advanced cure.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, popularly known as PCOS is a common hormonal condition (affecting as many as 1 in 10 women in their childbearing ages) that causes females to produce higher-than-usual amounts of male hormones. An imbalance in reproductive hormones causes problems in a woman’s ovaries - the organs that (almost) solely regulate a healthy period cycle. As a result, women who have PCOS tend to have irregular/missed periods and find it difficult to get pregnant. Irregular periods, besides being the leading cause of infertility, are also responsible for the development of small fluid-filled sacs called cysts in the ovaries.
Symptoms of PCOS
Earlier in this article, we spoke of how PCOS symptoms are a wee bit tricky to discern. So while some women start to notice symptoms around the time of their first period, some only discover they have PCOS after gaining a whole lot of weight or have a hard time getting pregnant. If you happen to notice any or most of these symptoms, it’s best that you get yourself checked as a precautionary measure.
Common Symptoms of PCOS include:
Heavy bleeding at the time of menstruation: Since the lining of the uterus takes longer than usual to build-up, it is likely that you will have heavier bleeding than normal.
Irregular (or no) Periods: The lack of ovulation prevents the lining of the uterus from shedding every month. While some women might have fewer than 8 periods a year, some don’t get their period at all.
Excess (Body) Hair Growth: Fueled by male hormones, females with PCOS tend to have excess hair growth on their face and body - a condition known as hirsutism.
Hormonal Acne: Male hormones result in the secretion of excess oil that is likely to surface as acne on your face and upper back.
Weight Gain: This is one of the most common symptoms of PCOS. Over 80% of women who have PCOS are overweight/obese.
Hair Loss/Thinning: While body hair grows in excess, the hair on your scalp starts to get thinner - again, as a result of all the male hormones.
Headaches: There are many hormonal changes that happen to women who suffer from PCOS which can trigger headaches.
Skin Darkening: It is not uncommon to find dark patches of skin in women who have PCOS - especially on the neck, groin, and under the breasts.
Who is likely to get PCOS?
Given how common PCOS is, it still remains undiagnosed and unmanaged in many women who have it. Of those who have it, about 7 in 10 may go undiagnosed - a soaring cause of concern.
PCOS affects around 5-20% of women (often) between the age of 15 to 44, i.e, women of child-bearing age. It can happen at any age after puberty. Although PCOS doesn’t target particular ethnicities or racial groups, obesity can increase one’s chances of developing the same.
While the causes of PCOS are still sort of vague, there is enough evidence to prove that certain factors do play a significant role in contracting the syndrome.
PCOS sometimes also runs in families. A woman with a family history of PCOS is often more likely to be at risk of developing the condition.
This suggests there may be a genetic link to PCOS, although genes associated with this condition have been identified.
- Insulin Resistance
Insulin is produced by the pancreas in order to control the amount of sugar in the blood. It’s the hormone that helps in moving glucose from the blood into our cells, where it's then broken down to produce energy.
Insulin resistance, as the name suggests, means that the body's tissues are resistant to the effects of insulin. In such a situation, the body would have to produce excess insulin in order to compensate. Higher levels of insulin lead to the production of excess testosterone which in turn tows with the development of follicles - preventing normal ovulation in women.
Insulin resistance may also lead to excess weight gain, which makes the symptoms of PCOS much worse because excess fat causes the body to produce even more insulin.
- Higher levels of androgens
Androgens, also known as "male hormones," are produced in some quantity in all women. They control the development of male traits, such as body hair growth, male-pattern baldness and back and chest acne. Women with PCOS have higher levels of androgens than what is considered to be normal. Higher than normal androgen levels in women can prevent ovaries from releasing an egg during each menstrual cycle and is a common cause for infertility in women.
PCOS and Infertility
Women who have PCOS often find it difficult to get pregnant. This is an obvious result of the condition since high levels of male hormones curb with the monthly ovulation process. But even though PCOS causes infertility, you can get treated for the same by eradicating a few of its symptoms.
With a combination of the following, you can aim to naturally increase your chances of getting pregnant:
- A change in diet that aims to decrease fat percentage in your body - even a mere 5% weight loss has shown significant results in women
- Healthy Eating
- Regular Exercise
- Monitoring ovulation timings to pre-plan sexual intercourse
If you’re unable to get pregnant by simply making these lifestyle changes, you can either get treated with medication, surgery (which includes removal of a small amount of tissue producing the excess male hormone) or Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). Although, in most cases of PCOS, lifestyle changes are sufficient to get pregnant.
PCOS and Pregnancy
While getting pregnant might seem like an easier battle to overcome for someone who as PCOS, pregnancy itself can involve a risk of complications that include:
- High Blood Pressure
- Premature Birth
PCOS is also shown to increase the likelihood of needing a cesarean delivery because the baby might be larger than normal for their gestational age.
Babies born to women with PCOS would also have a greater risk of dying at the time of delivery or being admitted to a NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit)
All of this suggests that you must talk to your doctor before considering pregnancy with PCOS to be aware of the risks associated and discuss ways to better manage complications as well.
Diet Do’s and Don’ts for PCOS
There are plenty of meal plans available online for women with PCOS today. Although, some basic do’s and don’ts as part of a PCOS diet are as follows:
Foods that are high in fiber help with insulin resistance by slowing down the process of digestion. This could be highly beneficial to women with PCOS.
High-fiber foods to incorporate in a PCOS diet include:
- Fruits like apples and berries
- Green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, Brussel sprouts, lettuce and kale
- Sweet potatoes
- Bell peppers
- Beans and lentils
A good protein source is also important as part of a healthy dietary option. Aim to include lean protein sources such as:
Another category of foods that are underestimated are ones that possess anti-inflammatory properties to help women with PCOS. These include:
- Blueberries and Strawberries
- Nuts including almonds and walnuts
- Olive oil
- Fatty fish like salmon and sardines
What to Avoid:
Foods that cause inflammation and worsen insulin resistance best be avoided or completely cut-off if you have PCOS. Refined Carbohydrates not only cause inflammation but also exacerbate insulin resistance. These include:
- White bread or anything made with white flour
- Wheat pasta ( a good alternative is pasta made from bean or lentil)
- Sugary Desserts (Sugar, in general, is high in carbs and must be avoided)
- Breakfast Pastries like muffins or croissants
- Pasta noodles that are made of durum flour or semolina
- Sugary sodas or juices
Food labels to look out for: (To be avoided)
- High fructose corn syrup
Inflammation-causing foods to avoid:
- Fried food
- Processed meat or red meat
PCOS and Thyroid - Are the two connected?
There's a growing consensus in the medical research industry that hypothyroidism and PCOS might be closely linked - although this is not yet proven to be true. A popular research paper was published discussing the emerging relationship between PCOS and Thyroid disorders.
There are many overlapping characteristics of the two most common endocrine disorders. The issue with PCOS/PCOD and a thyroid disorder is that both of them often display symptoms that are very similar and many times, one may look like the other. After all, both are changes in hormones that result in common symptoms including weight gain, irregular periods, infertility and hair loss.
Often, a doctor will first carry out necessary thyroid disorder diagnostic checks to rule out any thyroid disorder while diagnosing you for PCOS. This also helps to find out if there is any sort of link between the two and assess the kind of treatment plans that are best suitable for you.
In case you happen to be tested positive for both, your doctor may suggest a treatment plan that includes lifestyle changes, such as following a proper sleep routine, choosing foods with a low glycemic index (GI) score, reducing stress, adding some form of exercise to your daily routine and prescribe supplements (or medication) if necessary.
Common Myths about PCOS- Busted!
Myth 1: PCOS is Rare
It is estimated that between 5-20 percent of women of childbearing age have PCOS, which makes it one of the most common hormonal disorders among women of reproductive age.
The only problem is, less than half of these women with PCOS are actually diagnosed, meaning that millions are still unaware of their condition.
Myth 2: You can’t get pregnant if you have PCOS
As mentioned earlier in the article, this isn’t true. Most women can treat symptoms either naturally or with medication/surgery in order to get pregnant. A number of medications stimulate ovulation - tackling the main issue that women with PCOS face.
Other fertility treatments for women with PCOS include assisted reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertilization.
On the other hand, if you’re not trying to get pregnant and you have PCOS, it is unsafe to assume that you don't need contraception. It might be harder than usual to get pregnant with PCOS but it is still very possible.
Myth 3: PCOS only affects women who are overweight
Although many women who have PCOS are either overweight or obese and this can make PCOS symptoms worse, the condition can also affect women on the leaner side.
The relationship between weight gain and PCOS is attributable to the body's inability to use insulin properly, hence it is recommended to get into the habit of eating healthy and exercising as part of most treatment plans.
Myth 4: Every woman grows hair where she doesn’t want it
A common symptom of PCOS is hirsutism, which is excess hair growth in women. Due to an excess of androgens, women with PCOS can spot unwanted hair on their upper lip, chin, or chest - but not every woman will have this as a symptom.
Myth 5: You don't have to worry about PCOS if you’re not looking to get pregnant
PCOS doesn’t just tow with a woman’s fertility, it has an impact on overall wellness for the rest of her life. More than half of the women who have PCOS also suffer from diabetes or prediabetes and are more prone to high BP, poor cholesterol, stress, anxiety, depression and endometrial cancer. Irrespective of whether or not you’re looking to get pregnant, if you have PCOS, you must seek to get treatment for the same.
Myth 6: Insulin Resistance causes weight gain
While this may sound just about true, in reality, even experts aren’t sure why women with PCOS are often overweight. Many people think that it is because of insulin resistance, but while weight gain may cause insulin resistance, insulin resistance doesn’t necessarily cause weight gain.
Myth 7: Women with PCOS can lose weight like others
While it might be possible to lose a modest amount of weight, women with PCOS don’t find it easy. They often would have to exercise more and eat less than most people even to maintain their weight. Unlike other people with no hormonal imbalances (where weight loss is as simple as calories in vs calories out), it is far more complex for women with PCOS since a whole lot of factors contribute to their weight loss.
Supplements for PCOS
Supplements recommended for PCOS are often ones that help with hormone regulation, insulin resistance and inflammation that in turn considerably reduce its symptoms.
Cinnamon: Cinnamon extract is shown to have a considerable effect on insulin resistance and also helps regulate menstruation.
Chromium: Chromium supplements improve BMI (Body Mass Index), which could help with PCOS. Moreover, they might also stabilize insulin resistance by helping the body to metabolize sugar.
Turmeric: Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric that is proven to be promising to decrease insulin resistance. Besides, turmeric also happens to be a popular anti-inflammatory agent.
Inositol: Inositol is a B vitamin that is shown to reduce insulin resistance and also help with fertility in many cases of PCOS.
Zinc: Zinc is a trace element that is shown to immensely boost fertility and one’s immune system. Excess hair growth can also be treated with zinc supplements.
Foods high in zinc include beans, red meat, tree nuts and some types of seafood that can be incorporated in a PCOS diet plan.
A combination of Vitamin D and Calcium: Both of these happen to be vital to a woman’s endocrine system. Most women with PCOS are found to have a Vitamin D deficiency and supplements of the two in the right amounts are proven to improve irregular periods.
Berberine: A popular herb in Chinese medicine, berberine too helps with insulin resistance along with ramping up your metabolism.
Evening Primrose oil: Primrose oil treats many symptoms associated with PCOS including irregular periods, cholesterol levels and stress.
Cod Liver Oil: Cod liver oil supplements consist of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D and A - all of which contribute to regulating periods as well as aiding fat loss.
The mentioned supplements are proven to help women with PCOS but you must speak to your doctor before taking any, as some of them might interfere with other PCOS medications.
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