Polycystic-ovarian syndrome is a common hormonal disorder affecting women of reproductive age. The stigma around women’s reproductive health creates a need for dialogue and awareness. In this article the author looks at how simple changes in diet and home remedies can help manage PCOS symptoms and shares her own experience.
Here’s how lifestyle changes and home remedies help manage PCOS.
Khushi Agarwal is a student of English literature at Miranda House. She is an intersectional feminist, writing being her chosen mode of expression and activism. She has also volunteered with different organizations working on women and child development.
Polycystic-ovarian syndrome is a health condition affecting one in 5 women in India. The symptoms include (but are not limited to) irregular periods, weight gain, unwanted hair growth, fatigue, thinning hair on the head, acne, mood changes and pelvic pain.While the exact cause is unknown, it is a hormonal problem which develops due to both genetic and environmental factors. It is a leading cause of female infertility. PCOS requires diagnosis by a doctor, usually a gynecologist or a fertility specialist.
If you know you have PCOS, you are on the right track, because with the lack of awareness about PCOS and its symptoms, realising you need to consult a doctor is itself a task. My own symptoms (irregular menses, hair loss and weight gain) went unnoticed by those around me, until I decided to see my school counselor about tension headaches, who immediately asked me about my menstrual cycle and finally recommended I see a gynaecologist.
Once you do get diagnosed- the larger question is, what do you do about it?
There is no cure for PCOS yet, only multiple ways to reduce symptoms.The treatment prescribed varies from case to case, doctors often recommend weight loss through regular exercise and a healthy diet. If you are trying to maintain a healthy weight, everyday food choices become very important. Those with PCOS may also suffer from insulin resistance leading to high insulin levels and risk of type-2 diabetes. So, one should limit their intake of refined carbohydrates (such as refined flour or white rice) and foods and beverages with a high sugar content. Many times things that do not taste sweet might have sugar too, so you should make checking labels at the supermarket a habit.
Eating high-fiber foods like legumes (lentils, beans, etc.) and whole grains (brown rice, whole oats, quinoa,etc.) lowers insulin levels. Whole grains are also rich in antioxidants as are fruits, vegetables and unsaturated fats. Antioxidants fight inflammation and reduce insulin levels. Eating food high in lean protein like fish, skinless chicken, beans and tofu aids weight loss. When I told people that my periods are irregular, most did not take it seriously, a few however recommended home-remedies that could help. I was reluctant to trust them, and rightly so. Living with PCOS is difficult, there is no miracle cure, but there are home remedies that have proven to be helpful in managing symptoms. Research is usually done by studying a group of patients, half of whom are given the supplement being studied while the other half are given a placebo.
According to one such study conducted on women with PCOS, consuming cinnamon extract as a supplement improved menstrual cycles over a period of 6 months. Another study has shown that consumption of cinnamon extract can reduce insulin resistance. Cinnamon can be included in your diet in many ways. I like to add cinnamon powder to my bowl of yogurt or cereal. You can also sprinkle it on fruit. Another research has shown that when PCOS patients took 15g of apple cider vinegar daily for 90-110 days it resulted in restored ovulatory function and improved insulin sensitivity. Apple cider vinegar has a very strong taste, make sure you mix it in a glass of water before drinking. This remedy is not that easy on the tongue and may not be for everyone.
It has also been found that 6-gingerol (a chemical found in fresh ginger) and ginger extract may be a useful treatment for improving the PCOS through reduction of testosterone and improvement of ovulation. Ginger components also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties because of which they can help with PCOS. You can add ginger juice to warm water and drink it in the morning. If you want to try supplements, take cod liver oil capsules which are a source of omega-3 as well as vitamins D and A. A study done on patients with PCOS in Iran evaluated the effects of taking omega-3 with a dosage of 2g/day, for 6 months. There was an observed decrease in waist circumference and interval between periods in the group that took the supplement.
Research has shown that subjects who consumed a dose of 15g flax seeds in milk every morning had a significant reduction in ovarian volume and number of follicles in polycystic ovaries. (Not everyone with PCOS has polycystic ovaries, despite the name. Consult your doctor to find out if you have polycystic ovaries.) You can eat roasted flax seeds as a snack or add it to your bowl of cereal. However, if you are willing to put in the extra effort, the internet is full of recipes from flax seed raita, crackers, smoothies to even South-indian flax seed podi. You can have your pick!
When I was diagnosed with PCOS, my doctor was reluctant to give me any medication because I was only sixteen. I took to trying these home remedies over the past 5 years, at my own convenience. And I can tell you this, I am doing a lot better now and I definitely think each of these is worth a try. Lifestyle changes require a lot of motivation and patience, and I believe opening up to people and talking about my condition really helped me find support and suggestions from many. I was surprised at how genuinely supportive people were of the efforts I was making. A little appreciation from my friends has gone a long way in sustaining my own efforts.
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