PCOS may not be common knowledge but as many as 10% of women of childbearing age are quietly enduring this condition.
Everyone has their share of aches and pains, and more so with women who have come to expect their monthly periods to arrive with the usual discomforts. Cramps, spasms, malaise, irritability—all of which come and go in a few days, leaving nothing to worry about. But some ladies are dealt with a worse hand: symptoms few talk about but leave more than a nagging doubt if these portend something more serious. And for those who plan to have kids, it can be gravely disheartening. This is the reality of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
September is PCOS Awareness Month. It was organised to increase the consciousness of, and education about PCOS for the general public, women, young girls, and healthcare authorities. The manifestation of symptoms varies widely. And because knowledge of it isn’t as common as it should be, some opt to forego the doctor and endure in silence.
The syndrome is triggered by the imbalance of the reproductive hormones, which then creates complications in the ovaries. Normally, a healthy menstrual cycle happens when the ovaries release eggs once a month. With PCOS, the eggs might not be released during the ovulation period and might not develop as well. This results to missed or irregular menstrual cycle. Irregular periods then lead to: (1) inability to get pregnant (infertility), or (2) development of cysts in the ovaries (small fluid-filled sacs). According to studies, between 5% and 10% of women within the ages of 15 to 44 have PCOS. Most women in their 20s and 30s only find this out when they have difficulties in getting pregnant. Women of all races and ethnicities are at risk of PCOS. The risk may be higher if a woman is obese, or has a relative (mother, sister, or aunt) with PCOS.
The syndrome is genetically based and is linked to other metabolic and physiologic abnormalities like Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, hypercholesterolemia, and heart disease. This condition has a lot of symptoms, but you may not have all of them, with the most common ones listed here:
- Acne or oily skin – Though these skin problems can be acquired without PCOS, hormonal changes due to PCOS causes oily skin and pimples.
- Heavy periods – PCOS can cause heavy bleeding and frequent periods.
- Irregular Periods – You might not have a period or skip a few months.
- Fertility problems – PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility as not having periods make it difficult to get pregnant.
- Weight gain – PCOS can make you gain weight, which adds to other health concerns.
- Hair growth in unwanted areas – Unwanted hairs might appear on your face, chin, breasts, stomach, or thumbs and toes.
- Hair loss – Thinning of hair in the head may worsen in middle age.
- Headaches – Hormones that cause PCOS can trigger headaches.
As studies advise that there is no known cure for PCOS, there are still various ways to manage the aforementioned symptoms, and in the process minimise the risk of other health issues. To help you or someone you know with PCOS, the following recommendations might be helpful.
Normally, the pancreas produces insulin, which is a hormone that converts the sugar in our cells into energy. Being unable to produce enough insulin will make our blood sugar level rise. With PCOS, women have higher than normal insulin levels, making them insulin resistant. This means the body isn’t able to properly use the insulin that it has. Adding to the complication is a diet high in refined carbohydrates such as starchy and sugary foods. This insulin resistance can cause the ovaries to produce more androgens (male hormones) such as testosterone, triggering further hormonal imbalance and weight gain.
High-fiber food slows down digestion and reduces the impact of sugar on blood, which benefits women with PCOS. These include natural and unprocessed food like cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts), greens (like red leaf lettuce and arugula), beans and lentils, almonds, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin. Other food that can be included in your diet are tomatoes, kale, spinach, walnuts, olive oil, fruits like blueberries and strawberries, and fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and sardines, which help reduce inflammation.
On top of these, healthy diet plans were found to make a difference. In particular, a low-carbohydrate diet resulted in improved insulin metabolism and lower cholesterol levels a more regular period cycle. And so it’s advisable to avoid refined carbohydrates from highly processed food like white bread, muffins, sugary desserts, or anything made with white flour. Look out for sugar’s various names like sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, or dextrose when reading food labels.
Just like other disorders, PCOS responds positively to proactive lifestyle choices. Regular physical activity and exercise is vital as it helps not only with weight management and the improvement of moods, but also with fertility and lower the disease risk along other health benefits. It will also help in reducing androgens, improving insulin resistance, regulating the menstrual cycle, increasing energy levels, improving self-esteem, and reducing anxiety and depression.
Various exercises are good to sustain your drive and concentration. Moving and enjoying is by far more important than the type of exercise one should do. As a general goal, aim for a 30-minute exercise a day, but there’s no need to go for strenuous activities immediately! Your activities should preferably range from aerobic activity at a moderate to high intensity range for the best outcome.
As some women with PCOS struggles to workout due to low body image, self-consciousness about their weight, and negative past experiences, it would be helpful to join an exercise group where you can be relaxed. Working with a specialist also would help you to be confident with your exercise routines.
It is necessary to maximise your nutrition through healthy and PCOS-friendly foods. But on the other hand, with the proper guidance from a physician, supplements can play a key role in managing symptoms. We’ve listed several that have been suggested to help with hormone regulation, insulin resistance, inflammation, and other symptoms that are associated with PCOS.
It is a group of nine naturally occurring vitamin-like compounds which can be found (in varying degrees) in many foods. In terms of structure, they are somewhat similar with glucose, which can positively affect several PCOS related symptoms. Myo-inositol, a type of inositol, is said to be effective in increasing the egg quality and reduce the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation. It can also be great for those who experiences anxiety as it can reduce panic attacks. Taking supplements like Now Foods Inositol Capsules can also help with fertility in some PCOS cases.
- Curcumin (Turmeric)
Inflammation is one of the characteristics of PCOS diagnosis and is responsible for many unwanted symptoms like weight gain, cardiovascular disease risks, infertility, hirsutism (excessive hair growth), and acne. Curcumin, a yellow pigment found in turmeric has anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant effect. Curcumin supplements like Now Foods CurcuFresh Curcumin can fight inflammation and insulin resistance.
- Fish Oil
Fish oil supplements like Now Foods CoQ10 with Omega 3 Fish Oils are worth considering as it helps in balancing the essential fatty acids in the body. As PCOS can signal a DHA deficiency with its inflammatory symptoms, having these beneficial fatty acids can lessen its flare-ups.
- Ashwagandha (Winter Cherry)
It is an Indian ginseng (Withania somnifera) from the world of Ayurvedic medicine. Ashwagandha has been studied as effective in balancing cholesterol levels and in weight loss, but its real value is in helping women with PCOS with their anxiety and stress because of higher cortisol levels. Consider taking this herb in the form of Now Foods Standardised Extract Ashwagandha.
According to studies, supplementing with sleep-regulating melatonin can improve one’s sleep quality. For this disorder, getting 7 to 8 ½ hours of sleep is important. Women experiencing PCOS most likely experience insomnia as a related symptom, which lessens the body’s ability to heal and cope with pain. If you are one of them, fixing your diet and supplementing with Now Foods Extra Strength Melatonin may be one of the better options.
These live cultures of healthy bacteria prove to be one of the most promising fields in modern medicine when it comes to treating chronic illnesses like PCOS. New research suggests that PCOS largely stems from the imbalances in the gut, wherein the addition of beneficial bacteria through probiotics supplements alters the gut health. Consider eating probiotic food like kimchi and yogurt, and supplementing with Now Foods Probiotic-10 100 Billion to aid in health management.
Along with seeking professional medical advice, a holistic approach is a promising way to manage the symptoms and get the most out of your current lifestyle.
Supporting Someone with PCOS
There are a lot of things that one can do to support someone with PCOS. Whether it’s your mom, wife, sister, aunt, or a friend, the following steps below will surely help.
- Research about PCOS – Whether it’s the symptoms or treatments, make sure to be acquainted with the details about it. Having enough knowledge will help you understand someone that is experiencing PCOS better.
- Encourage lifestyle change – Instead of the usual dining out or movie watching, try other activities like hiking or riding a bicycle. Make sure to also check on someone’s eating habits, as balancing the diet will be of great help to women with PCOS.
- Exercise patience – Dealing with someone that has a chronic illness is difficult, that’s why practicing extra patience is a must. Women with PCOS often experience hormonal imbalance, leading to anxiety and frustrations. Be supportive and understanding of what she feels, and try your best to at least “read between the lines”.
- Seek professional help – If they are seeking it, a counselor’s or a psychologist’s assistance is very helpful, especially when dealing with anxiety and frustrations. This will help to fully understand the situation that she is in.
Coping with this kind of illness is challenging. But this should lead into an open communication, so that those who do not fully understand PCOS will be aware of what it can do to a woman’s body. Having understood these things, make sure to look after those with PCOS. Your support can range from physical to emotional help. With the appropriate treatment, managing PCOS and its symptoms will be easier.