Apart from raising their voice against patriarchy and misogyny, if there is one issue that 21st Century women these days are becoming increasingly vocal about, it is that of the polycystic ovarian syndrome/disease (PCOS/PCOD).
As per the data released by the PCOS Society of India, one in five women suffers from this condition in our country. The worst part, however, is that most are unaware that they’re suffering from it. In fact, they only come to the realization when they consult with a doctor upon not being able to conceive.
Now that we know how relevant PCOD is, let’s just try to understand the problem better before we move on to look at its solution.
What is PCOD?
“PCOD is the result of a hormonal imbalance in women of child-bearing age (15 to 45 years). This condition directly affects a woman’s main reproductive organ—the ovaries—and leads to the development of cysts there,” says Delhi-based nutritionist and wellness coach Rashim Malhotra.
She further explains that a woman who isn’t suffering from PCOD typically releases eggs (from the ovaries) for fertilisation by a sperm every month in a process called ovulation. However, in case of a woman suffering from PCOD, there are fluid-filled sacks that contain immature eggs which usually the ovaries are not able to release.
Now, these sacks tend to turn into cysts inside the ovaries over time, hindering the process of ovulation in a PCOD patient. In response, the levels of the female sex hormones—estrogen and progesterone—tend to get disturbed while the production of the male sex hormone—androgen—tends to increase.
“This can result in the development of excessive facial hair, mood swings, the harshness of voice in women, baldness, depression, irregular periods, and even infertility. And if left untreated, PCOD can lead to more health complications such as insulin resistance, diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, heart-health issues, and obesity,” she warns.
So, how can PCOD be treated?
Mostly, the line of treatment prescribed by a gynaecologist for PCOD involves the use of hormonal oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) to balance out the hormonal flurry caused in the body due to this issue.
“OCPs are used as the first line of treatment for PCOD as they provide synthetic hormones (estrogen and progesterone) to the body so that the menstrual cycle can be regulated. They can also prevent the ovarian cysts from turning into carcinogenic tumours over time,” says Malhotra, who is also quick to point out the potential side-effects of them.
“OCPs can cause major mood swings, depression, inter-menstrual spotting, vaginal discharge, weight gain, fatigue, breast tenderness, migraine, and nausea in some women.”
Moreover, the OCP approach only targets the symptoms of PCOD and not the real problem. In fact, in many cases, these PCOD symptoms can bounce back once the woman is off the pills.
But, Malhotra points out that even though PCOD can be genetic, the main cause of this issue is a poor lifestyle. Hence, the better approach is to attack the main cause rather than suppressing the symptoms temporarily through the use of hormonal birth control pills.
She recommends the following ways to work on the root cause:
1. Realign yourself with your natural body clock
“These days, people sleep late, wake up late, eat late at night, skip meals due to paucity of time, and do not get adequate sleep. There is no fixed timing for these essential activities in their lives anymore. This disturbs the circadian rhythm (the natural sleep-wake cycle of your body which works according to rising and setting of the sun) of the body,” says Malhotra.
“When you’re off your body’s natural clock, it tends to get into a state of shock and consequentially, you suffer from a hormonal imbalance,” she adds and prompts at fixing this disturbance and getting back in a disciplined schedule as the first step to restoring your hormonal balance.
2. Limit your screen time
The radiations emitted from the screens of electronic devices such as laptops, phones, and televisions can also disturb the circadian rhythm of your body.
Malhotra suggests limiting your screen time along with staying off these devices before bedtime and immediately after waking up in the morning.
3. Eat mindfully
“The food that we get nowadays is anyway adulterated. Plus, most people end up eating junk on the go due to their hectic schedules. What they don’t realize is that they’re burdening their digestive systems with refined sugars and oils which can prove to be extremely harmful. This constant load on the digestive system eventually throws the body in a state of utter shock, leading to several hormonal imbalances as well as health issues,” Malhotra points out.
She suggests focussing on eating clean, home-cooked meals while making a constant effort to stay off refined sugars, oils, packaged and processed foods. She also suggests adding a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts to your diet to fix this problem.
Additionally, Malhotra appeals to people to avoid or reduce the intake of animal protein (if it doesn’t suit you) and junk food as eating these can cause inflammation in your body which can contribute to hormonal imbalances.
4. Work towards a healthier gut
According to Malhotra, an unhealthy gut is a stairway to a lot of diseases and health issues as all the processes of our body are interconnected.
In order to fix your gut, she suggests adding a lot of fibre-rich sources of food (such as whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, pulses, etc) to your diet; and avoiding foods that can cause a major hike in your blood sugar levels such as refined carbohydrates and sugary foods.
5. Reassess your stress-management strategy
“When you’re always stressed out, your body tends to throw itself into a ‘flight-and-fight’ mode and as a result, the pituitary gland (that manages all the major endocrine activities in the body) gets involved in countering your constant stress. This means that it won’t be able to focus on the other important metabolic activities of your body,” Malhotra explains.
Therefore, it is important to adopt a suitable stress-management approach, so the pituitary gland has the space to look after the other important functions of your body. Exercising, meditation, pursuing a hobby, going for a relaxing walk, etc. can really help you manage your stress better, ladies.
6. Sleep well
Malhotra stresses on the importance of adequate, good-quality sleep every night and strongly recommends meeting the 7-8-hour-sleep mark. Doing so can help your cells rejuvenate and enable your body to produce the right hormones in the right amount at the right time.
7. Stay active through the day
If you’re someone who has a sedentary lifestyle that involves no physical activity, staying on the phone all the time, and overeating, you probably already have or are on the path to inviting PCOD into your life according to Malhotra.
She strongly recommends staying active through the day, adding some weight training to your workout regime, and exercising for an hour every day, at least 4-5 times a week.
So, ladies, you need to take a call on using hormonal birth control pills to fight off PCOD but there are definitely some changes that you can make to live healthier.