If you're someone who has irregular periods, no period, weight gain around the belly, hair loss from the scalp, unwanted hair growth on your chin/abdomen, trouble conceiving, an excess of testosterone, chances are you might have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. PCOS affects 5 to 10% of the women worldwide - these are huge numbers. Symptoms may vary from women to women - some may not have any symptoms and yet be wondering why they are unable to conceive. PCOS is essentially caused due to a huge shift in the hormonal balance of the human body.
PCOS is considered as a gynaecological problem when often it is a dietary problem. However, it needs to be reviewed and treated on an individual basis since no 2 bodies are the same. Often women will be placed on birth control pills to regulate their period, hormonal medicine and be given Metformin as it improves insulin sensitivity. These traditional treatments however treat the condition symptomatically, leaving out the root cause - this is where functional medicine plays a role in finding out the 'why'
Common drivers or root causes of PCOS are:
- POOR DIET - I coach a large number of women who want to lose weight and when you go deep into their history - their eating habits, daily practices and lifestyles it is surprising to see that there is a large population that is eating too many ultra processed carbohydrates, refined oils, packet foods, refined flour, preservative laden foods, pastas and muffins. Sugar is often the sweet devil that wreaks havoc so all your sweetened coffees, teas, sodas, juices, syrups contribute to the condition. For some people these choices can completely throw-off their whole system in their body.
- INSULIN RESISTANCE AND PRE-DIABETES- For a large number of women, weight gain around their belly is evident because of the huge amounts of insulin floating in their body. Insulin is made in the pancreas and it is responsible for balancing the blood sugar in your body, so you eat a meal, the body makes insulin - that insulin tells your body to take your food and get it into your muscles so that it can be used for energy. What happens with insulin resistance is that the body is not listening or registering that insulin so there is a high level of insulin that is floating around the body that causes people to gain weight around their belly. With PCOS there is typically a high level of insulin in the body leading to insulin resistance.
- Environmental Toxins - Excessive use of plastics, BPA, heavy metals, over consumption of metals through incorrect packaging of food can all lead to toxicity in the human body and can begin a huge shift in the hormonal balance. Genetics also have role to play, what you eat as a fetus can also have an impact on your hormones and metabolism later in life, so if your mum had a lot of sugary coffees and donuts and cans of coke, you will carry those genes in you, it can throw off the baby's metabolism - its called epigenetics where your genes get 'tagged' and pick up on those exposures when you grow.
What can you do:
Dealing and treating PCOS should be looked at on an individual basis, however there are some ground rules that one can follow to start seeing changes and improve their condition.
- FIX YOUR EATING HABITS
Have some form of an eating pattern established where you stay away or minimise the processed food, sugars and adopt a lifestyle where you are conscious about what you put on your plate. Daily portions of fresh vegetables and fruits must make up at least 60% of your plate. Majority of us don't do well by consuming a lot of starch and sugar. So ditch the bad stuff, eliminate white sugar and take charge of your eating habits. Until you clean up your act, your body will not get the message, so stop taking short-cuts by popping pills and start working on nourishing your body the right way.
- GUT HEALTH
Our body is full of trillions of bacteria that form a part of our microbiome. Our gut gets into action the minute we are conceived. When we dont eat the right kind of foods, we create too many unhealthy microbes that can lead to disease and dysbiosis. This can lead to weight gain around the belly making it harder for women to conceive. A healthy gut contains healthy bacteria and immune cells that help ward of infections, pathogens and viruses. A healthy gut also communicates with the brain through nerves and hormones which help maintain our well-being. Our body needs probiotics and prebiotics to maintain a healthy gut balance. Inflammation is the root cause of most disease and often starts in the gut. Adding supplements your diet can sometimes help- omega-3s, pure cow ghee, zinc, pure coconut oil are all gut superstars. Please consult your doctor before starting any medication and make an informed decision.
Human beings are not meant to be sedentary. Our bodies are not designed to sit on the sofa for hours at a stretch stuffing our faces with junk food. Making exercise part of the daily habit is now a necessity even more as we get comfortable in front of our giant screens. With the world facing a lockdown, some of us are restricted in our apartments or houses. This is not an excuse to not work on yourself. There are plenty of workouts that one can do without any equipment - yoga, body weight exercises, simple stretches, pranayama are some workouts that can easily be done even in small spaces. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 45 minutes or even 5 minutes - do what you can to move your body everyday.
- STRESS MANAGEMENT
Active relaxation should be part of the daily routine. Stress can often bog us down and create a lot of negativity. It can throw off yours bodys balance completely including nutrient absorption, inflammation levels, digestion and can cause food cravings. The brain and the gut are connected to each other via the Enteric Nervous System and thus are in constant communication. It's therefore very important that we establish daily practices such as restorative yoga, guided meditation or simply even sitting down in nature and reading a book to help us relax and stay calm.
Sleeping well is the most crucial practice that you can do to balance your hormones. It's when all the magic happens. When we sleep we allow all our major organs to rest and recover. There is a lot of detoxification, healing, re-building, re-balancing and repair work that takes place whilst we sleep. Sleep is healing to the brain. We skimp on sleep over the week thinking we will make up for it over the weekend. However that is not how it works. You cannot put sleep on the back burner. We need to clock in daily hours of sleep. Immune systems have to be regenerated, hormones have to be balanced, muscles need to be repaired, body needs to detoxify and all this can only happen when we sleep. If you learn to manage yourself and manage your time, sleep can work wonders for you. Hence it's really important to get 6-8 hours of good quality deep sleep each night. Don't count the hours, it's the quality of sleep that matters. Even if you sleep for 5 hours those should be your golden hours where you are into deep sleep. Do what it takes to create an environment that promotes sleep.
For more information of Health & Lifestyle coaching, you can find me on @nutritioncoachkay