The PCOS/PCOD challenge and how to overcome it?

Did you know? There are approximately 586 million women in India (Census 2011). Among those women, there are nearly 117 million women suffering with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Despite having such a massive influence, why is that awareness regarding PCOS is almost non-existent? Why are people much more concerned with diseases such as Diabetes, IBS, Hypertension and Hypotension? I am not trying to suggest that these conditions are less relevant now that you are aware of a new giant, rather my goal of writing this blog is twofold. Firstly, to inform people about the bane that is PCOS and to normalize the scenario where young girls and women can openly discuss their issues and challenges. Secondly, to share my experiences as a certified dietician and be an aid to those who are facing the PCOS challenge head-on.

People who are aware of PCOS and PCOD are mostly Doctors, Gynecologists, Dieticians, Nurses, and women who have been diagnosed with it. An article published in The Hindu on September 26, 2019, stated that an estimate of one in five, i.e. 20% of women in India suffer from PCOS. Yet the majority of the population is oblivious to the condition and challenges it brings forth. The purpose of this blog post is to inform people about the implications of PCOS/PCOD while simultaneously providing preventive measures and cures which I have gathered through years of study and experience.

PCOS and PCOD are often used interchangeably, but we must be informed about what separates one from the other. To do so, we must understand briefly what these two conditions are and how they are different from one another. PCOS is a hormonal disorder in reproductive women which can be detected at an early age, roughly around the time of puberty, sometimes during their first period. Multiple cysts (benign sacs filled with liquid) are formed on the ovaries which can be confirmed through an ultrasound, however experienced doctors, and dieticians can detect it by examining the symptoms. These cysts are indirectly responsible for irregular or absence of periods. In PCOD (Polycystic ovarian disorder) on the other hand, cysts formed on the ovaries are much smaller in number and smaller in size. Periods are irregular rather than none at all, and obesity is severe compared to PCOS. Hormonal change is the common outcome in both these conditions which, in the long run, may result in infertility.

In both the conditions, unnatural cyst growth on the ovaries results in excessive secretion of male hormones progesterone in a female’s body, resulting in the symptoms mentioned below.

·         Obesity

·         Excess facial hair

·         Baldness

·         Body Odor

·         Fatigue

·         Prone to Depression

·         Prone to Anxiety

·         Mood swings

·         Headache

·         Sleep-related problems

Both PCOS and PCOD demand lifelong commitment to a planned routine diet and healthier lifestyle choices. Unlike PCOS, PCOD is very much curable. However, in most PCOS cases the extent of its symptoms can be controlled and managed.

Now that we have a basic understanding of what the conditions are, let’s discuss why they have become so prevalent.

PCOS is born from our neglect towards our own body. Most people fail to realize that the amount of stress our body can tolerate decreases with age. Stress can manifest in physical, psychological, social, or emotional form, and may lead to hormonal imbalance in our body. Hormones usually work as a network, so if one goes up the others may go down to balance it.

Factors that may cause hormonal imbalance include:

1.       Lack of sleep

2.       Lack of nutrition

3.       Low self-esteem, stress

4.       Pollution

5.       Lack of exercise

6.       Preservatives, chemicals, coloring agents

7.       Alcohol and tobacco

8.       Obesity

9.       Overcooked and fatty fast food

10.   Certain medication

I know that all this information might have made you feel uncomfortable or even scared if you have been diagnosed with PCOS or PCOD. Nevertheless, my job as a dietician is to help people overcome their problems and give out the best possible diets and promote healthy lifestyle choices. In my 25 years of experience as a dieting consultant, I have come across over 2000 PCOS/PCOD cases and all of these women are now living a much healthier, happier life. So, how is this possible even after stating the adverse challenges brought on by these two conditions?

Yes! It is possible through a structured diet that is backed by science, a simple exercise routine to keep our body moving and a proper sleep pattern which helps us recover.

In my practice, I have come across young girls and even educated ladies who are not aware of healthy yet basic lifestyle requirements. One of my clients belonged from a strict orthodox family and had to relocate to a different city for educational purposes. While living in a hostel by herself, she took her freedom for granted and indulged herself in unhealthy eating habits such as consuming chips, Maggie, and cold drinks in abundance. Her routine was devoid of exercise, and she spent majority of her time watching Netflix or studying and her sleep cycle became distorted. Just after two months she realized her periods were delayed and she had gained a significant amount of weight. The following month she didn’t get any periods at all and became extremely concerned for her well-being. She reached out to me and we arranged a counselling session. I informed her about the importance of nutrition and provided her with simple and effective solutions so that her condition can be controlled. The real challenge was to make her follow the routine while she stays in the hostel. She demonstrated dedication into applying some basic changes in her lifestyle which included eating more fruits, curd and sprouts whenever she felt hungry so as to avoid replacing her three major meals with fast food. I also insisted that she involve herself in any sort of exercise which she finds enjoyable such as dancing or yoga. With her sincerity and a practical lifestyle improvement she now is living a healthier life with no concerns. 

If you accept the fact that your lifestyle and eating habits are currently responsible for your condition, then all you need to do is change them.

Below I have mentioned some basic changes one can do in their daily schedule to improve their health and make the challenges a lot easier to deal with. Now it’s all about taking responsibility and starting to give the care our body deserves and we can once again make our body healthier and happier. I am not asking you to relinquish things you love but if what you love is harming you, then it should be done in moderation. Eating fast food once a week has more up sides than down sides. It will help you satisfy your cravings which I feel should always be fulfilled, however the moment you start doing it every day is where things start to go wrong.

Dietary changes one should make:

1.       Drink 3-4 liters of water daily

2.       Eat small portions of any fatty fast food

3.       Eat a wholesome breakfast

4.       Eat all seasonal fruits and vegetables in every meal

5.       Eat nuts & seeds as snacks

6.       Eat all seasonal, local, natural food.

7.       Eat all types of grains, pulses, and oils.

8.       Eat raw or less cooked food as much as you can

9.       Use a variety of spices and condiments in your meals.

10.   Drink warm lemon & salt water daily.

11.   Avoid medicines as much as you can

Lifestyle changes one must make:

1.       Exercise 30-40 min (6-7 times a week)

2.       Sleep 8-9 hours daily

3.       Sunlight exposure for 15-20 min

4.       Avoid alcohol & tobacco

5.       Avoid packaged preserved food

6.       Maintain high level of hygiene

7.       Try maintaining a calm and peaceful mentality

8.       Socialize and sympathize

Try incorporating these changes in your lifestyle by going in a step by step manner. I understand it sounds too bothersome to change all your habits in one go, but slowly start moving toward these changes one by one and I’m sure one day you will reach your goal.

With this you have already taken the first step towards a healthier lifestyle. Acquiring knowledge is the first and hardest step of any task. I now believe that you have all the right tools to face the PCOS challenge. You have equipped yourself with an understanding of what PCOS and PCOD are.  All you now need is determination and a pinch of hard work to be able to overcome this challenge.

You can reach out to me through the comment section below, I am always happy to help.

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