This piece was first published on Medium. The information has been edited for length.
If only schools taught us what a significant impact long-term chronic stress and our 21st century lifestyle would have on the female reproductive system, most women diagnosed with PCOS would have taken better care of themselves earlier.
Our lifestyle and habits — such as eating processed foods, erratic sleep patterns, binge drinking, consuming large amounts of sugar, being in toxic relationships — all play a role in leading upto PCOS. Studies show that one in five women suffer from PCOS in India, and the symptoms that come with this condition can present itself in different ways. Likewise, managing PCOS also depends on the symptoms of it that you have.
In this blog, our Habit Expert, Pooja Naik discusses PCOS — the different types of it, its causes, symptoms and ways to manage it, in depth.
Understanding PCOS better
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition that can occur in women. It’s a syndrome, and not a disease, that sometimes may continue far beyond child-bearing years.
Before you panic and think you’re doomed if you have this condition, fret not. There are proven ways that can help you manage this condition. While doctors don’t know what exactly causes PCOS, most of them believe that it’s due to high levels of the male hormone – androgen – that prevent the ovaries from producing the right hormones or eggs. Other factors include genetics, insulin resistance and inflammation.
3 things to do if you think you have PCOS
TEST, don’t guess! While there’s no single test that can diagnose PCOS, it’s crucial to find a doctor who would be able to explain and correlate your symptoms with blood tests as well as an ultrasound to confirm if you have PCOS or not.
Know your type
Although there’s an overlap of symptoms in the different types of PCOS, it’s imperative to remember that this could serve as a roadmap to begin your healing journey.
1. Insulin Resistant PCOS:
With this type of PCOS, your body is less responsive to insulin, causing blood sugar imbalances. Excess insulin signals the ovaries to produce more testosterone instead of estrogen. It’s crucial to treat insulin resistance, as unmanaged insulin levels can increase the risk of Type-2 Diabetes.
Symptoms: Abdominal obesity, fatty liver, problems losing weight, chronic fatigue, high blood pressure.
What will help: Healthy eating, regular exercise and supplements such as inositol and magnesium can help reverse insulin resistance.
2. Inflammatory PCOS:
Inflammation is the body’s immune system response to protect you from harmful bacteria and viruses. However, research has found that when the immune system thinks it is under constant threat, it impacts ovulation and hormone levels resulting in chronic inflammation. Being overweight, an unhealthy gut and over exercising can trigger inflammation.
Symptoms: Unexplained fatigue, joint pain, constant headaches, bowel issues like SIBO or IBS.
What will help: Eating an anti-inflammatory diet — fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plant-based proteins (like beans and nuts), fatty fish, fresh herbs and spices — avoiding over-exercising and eating fibre-rich foods along with other lifestyle changes, can help lower inflammation.
3. Adrenal PCOS:
Adrenal PCOS is usually triggered due to an abnormal response to stress.
Symptoms: Women with adrenal PCOS will have high levels of DHEAS — an androgen produced in the adrenal glands — and normal levels of other androgens produced in the ovaries — such as testosterone and androstenedione.
What will help: Managing stress levels, having a bedtime routine and taking supplements such as magnesium, liquorice, B-vitamins (B5, B6, B12) and other adaptogen herbs can be helpful.
What are adaptogen herbs?
Adaptogen herbs help recover from short- and long-term physical or mental stress. They can also boost immunity, combat fatigue, enhance mental performance, ease depression and anxiety and elevate overall well-being. Egs. Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Goji berries, Licorice, Tulsi and Turmeric.
4. Pill-induced PCOS:
If your menstrual cycles were regular before taking the pill and you haven’t had one for at least three months, you may have pill-induced PCOS.
Symptoms: Most women who have been on hormonal birth control pills may notice a temporary increase of androgen levels in the body after they’ve stopped taking them. Many times, this transient elevation is considered an indication for a PCOS diagnosis by doctors.
What will help: Birth control pills usually deplete your vitamin and mineral levels, especially when taken over a long period. Hence, restoring your body with the right vitamins and minerals is a crucial part in regulating the cycle.
Other hidden causes of PCOS include:
- Overeating soy
- Iodine deficiency
- Artificial sweeteners
- Low-carb diet
Now that you know the different types of PCOS, what’s next? Find the root cause of your PCOS with the help of a health professional and take necessary steps tailored to meet your needs. Through a mix of lifestyle changes, healthy diet, stress management, better sleep and the right supplements, your doctor can help you restore balance to your body.
And lastly, be kind to yourself
It may have taken a while for your hormones to go out of whack so try and be patient as you begin healing your body.
The symptoms may make you want to scream, curl up in bed and not deal with it at all. Instead of hating your body, it’s time to thank your body for giving you signs that you need to take better care of yourself.