Polycystic Ovary Syndrome/Disease (PCOS/PCOD) – The facts
A Macrobiotic practitioner who considers all the events that caused a particular health im-balance also understands that only food can get you where you are and then help you out of the situation. For all those of you dealing with PCOS/PCOD you know your hormones are out of balance, but ask yourself what got you there in the first place? I feel if I answer this question, then maybe you will be able to reverse your PCOS/PCOD, which I have done successfully with many of my clients. Also, why is it that more and more teens, girls in their 20’s and 30’s are afflicted with this syndrome?
What are the possible causes, and how to treat them holistically?
Most women who have PCOS have high androgens (male hormones) and high insulin. In most cases, there is a strong link between ovarian cysts and the consumption of excess sugar and refined carbohydrates in the diet. These foods cause insulin levels to spike, which stimulate the production of androgens that are the male hormones from the ovary, which leads to ovarian cysts. I get at least 2 calls a week for issues of PCOS and usually among young women aged anywhere between the ages of 16 going up to their early 40s. They come because of their skin and hair growth sometimes even on the face, and almost all of them have insulin resistance. I have worked with many to clear this issue up, by simply teaching them how to swap their bad carbs for good ones; and putting a diet in place that helps them to stay healthy and bring the sugar response under control. There are reasons!
Your ovaries and the foods you eat
The ovaries in shape look like eggs, in Macrobiotic parlance, they are round to oval, compact and concentrated ‘yang’ energy. They get hurt by the foods that carry the same energy, so naturally, eggs will hurt them, as will animal foods, anything that brings in the same energy; by this, I mean contracted energy, both eggs and meat have this contracted energy (yang).Then, why would dairy foods also be a culprit? Dairy is ‘yin’ in its energy not ‘yang.’ Here I bring in how women with PCOS/PCOD are hurting themselves even before this condition has happened to them. The common thread that runs between all PCOS/PCOD cases, is women have erratic food habits and they swing between ‘yang’ and ‘yin’ foods over a long period. So on one hand they are eating eggs, meats, junk (absolutely dense:yang) foods; and on the other, they are consuming dairy foods, coffee, tea, alcohol and sugar (yin). Over some time, with the pressure of their lifestyles, they develop a condition which hurts their endocrine system, the sex and stress hormones lose their ability to sync themselves together and then the hormones are thrown out of whack and lo! you land up with PCOS/PCOD.
What goes off in PCOS/PCOD
- Insulin sensitivity begins i.e., blood sugar imbalances start
- Your estrogen and progesterone get out of balance; causing more free estrogen to float around in the body (not good estrogen, but toxic estrogen)
- There is a surge of male hormones (androgens) testosterone and prolactin
- The cortisol levels in the body also get pushed into an overdrive mode
What I do for PCOS/PCOD
With all my clients I have seen adopting a ‘middle path’ as I call it; wherein we bring in whole grains, legumes, vegetables, some fruit, sea vegetables, good quality enzymes via fermentation we normalize this erratic eating of foods and patterns, and over four months the condition starts receding and hormones normalize. You can start by keeping of the dairy, eggs and meats and not yo-yo between these and the simple sugars (which includes refined carbohydrates), alcohol, coffee and tea (which would keep insulin levels under check as well).
Healthy women should have normal menstrual cycles, anything that interferes with this is a sign of imbalance. This is the first reaction from your body saying ‘hey pay attention to me, you are doing something wrong.’ You are not meant to have acne, facial hair, pelvic pain, weight gain and anxiety. So if you are there at the moment, then you put yourself there and only you can get yourself out with the right foods. I feel understanding what put you there in the first place is a good start.
The first step in understanding an ailment is isolating its triggers, and asking ourselves why did this happen to us in the first place? Polycystic ovary syndrome or commonly referred to as PCOS or PCOD usually happens to women leading erratic lifestyles viz-a-viz their relationship to food and how they consume them.
Symptoms of PCOS/PCOD
- Excessive hair on the chin, upper lip, breasts
- Difficulty in losing weight due to high insulin levels
- Hair fall due to excess androgens
- Anovulatory cycles
Medications that may be recommended by your doctor
- To regulate your menstrual cycle, your doctor may recommend birth control pills
- To regulate your menstrual cycle your doctor may also recommend progestin therapy
- To help you ovulate your doctor may recommend oral anti-estrogen medication in the first part of your menstrual cycle
- A popular medication is a metformin which is for type 2 diabetic patients to improve insulin resistance.
PCOS will show up in different symptoms across ages e.g., in prepuberty it could show up as early periods, early pubic hair, acne, insulin sensitivity or weight gain. In adolescence, it could show up as irregular periods, weight gain, excessive facial hair. It does affect fertility in women, so conception may be difficult; infertility amongst women with PCOS is very common. If women do get pregnant then preeclampsia and gestational diabetes are common. While going through perimenopause, weight gain, inflammation, diabetes, thyroid, heart disease is also commonly faced in women who have PCOS. PCOS is also associated with hormone-dependent cancers like endometrial, breast or even ovarian cancer.
Lifestyle triggers to PCOS/PCOD
- Consuming pro-inflammatory foods such as sugars, dairy, white refined flour, too much animal protein which is not being balanced out by alkaline foods (since animal protein is acid-forming)
- Eating processed foods with high fructose corn syrup or other such sweeteners
- Use of artificial sweeteners
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Late-night eating
- Skipping breakfast
- Stress/emotional eating
- Failure to balance protein, carbohydrates and fat
- Cooking on high-heat
- Insufficient calories – so most women who are on diets all the time fall in this category
- Consuming stimulants in excess – coffee, tea, etc
- Minimize exposure to xenoestrogens: especially plastic (BPA-bisphenol A, an industrial chemical used to make plastic) and other environmental toxins.
How to manage PCOS/PCOD: Food, supplements and lifestyle
SWAP the bad stuff for the good stuff – it’s just that simple. Everything that messes up your insulin response must go, and include the following foods –
Here is what you can do on a more holistic level –
- Dairy and dairy products
- Refined white flour
- Coffee and Indian tea
- Colas, sodas, sugary beverages
- Processed foods
- Refined oil
- Fibrous carbs, by this I mean whole grains (like brown rice and millets), vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, zucchini, snake gourd, ridge gourd, leafy greens are some of them). Make healthier food choices including high fibre foods via vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds lentils, legumes and lean protein (if non-vegetarian). Staying plant-based always helps with PCOS
- Bring in the right FATS – include cold-pressed sesame, olive oil, or coconut oil, ghee and coconuts, avocado, nuts and seeds.
- Include omega 3 and 9 via chia, flax, oily fish.
- Include a bone broth that is rich in glycine an amino acid that not only helps with the condition but also seals a leaky gut.
- Healthy fats via cold-pressed oils and foods (avocado, nuts and seeds).
- Include Vitamin D
- Include Magnesium
- Omega -3 fatty acids out of cod liver oil or chia and flax seeds will improve irregular periods.
- Evening primrose oil will help with cholesterol and period pain and irregular menstruation decreasing oxidative stress.
- Turmeric has been shown to improve immunity, is anti-inflammatory and help with insulin resistance.
- Cinnamon has been proved to have a positive effect on insulin, you can make water infused with cinnamon and sip it throughout the day.
Movement, exercise and managing stress
- Do not over-train as this will push cortisol
- Manage your stress via meditation, pranayama, deep breathing, and laughter
- Be consistent in your food and sleep habits
- Remember you need to focus on clearing up the toxic estrogen build-up in your body, do this by focusing on broccoli, cauliflower and kale as they have a compound (DIM=Diindolylmethane) that will do this for you; flax binds to estrogen in the digestive tract; lysine in sesame seeds helps with clearing out estrogen as well.
- Keep your gut healthy by supporting it with probiotics, by this I mean homemade pressed salads (with salt), sauerkrauts (see recipe section in my books and blog), kanji (beetroot or carrots). Bad bacteria tend to uncouple estrogen from its chained partner (for elimination), sending it back into the system, so you need a plethora of good bacteria in your gut at all times.
- Focus on bitter foods, like arugula, mustard, fenugreek (seeds or leaves) and radish as the liver is supported and loves bitter to help it cleanse itself.