By Holly Barry (@HJBarry)
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a rather misleading name as it implies that the condition just affects the ovaries. In fact it affects many areas of your body with a collection of symptoms to match.
This common condition causes hormones to rule your world, as the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone become imbalanced. Your periods can become rare or irregular, creating a high level of androgen which is responsible for polycystic ovaries.
If you have PCOS, you are in good company – around 1 in every 5 women in the UK suffer from the condition according to the NHS. PCOS can make it harder to get pregnant, so it’s comforting to hear inspirational stories from celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and Jools Oliver who share their experiences of living with PCOS – especially as they’ve gone on to have large families.
PCOS unfortunately doesn’t go away and you either have it or you don’t. There is no definitive test to find out if you have got it, instead there are a collection of symptoms which if you have PCOS will be very familiar:
- Irregular or missing periods
- Excessive hair growth (in a male pattern)
- Struggling to get pregnant
- Weight gain
- In an image obsessed world, many women with PCOS struggle with these symptoms as they can often affect your appearance – and impact on your confidence.
Untreated PCOS can be dangerous, so if you get any of the symptoms collectively, you need to go to your GP.
PCOS can make you more susceptible to:
- Breast and uterine cancer
- Heart conditions
You get the idea – PCOS is no fun. It certainly looks rather daunting when you read through the symptoms.
But here is the thing – research has shown that adopting a positive lifestyle can overcome many of these symptoms of PCOS and tame those wild hormones. If you need support, check out all the blogs and social media groups with women talking about how they are grabbing PCOS by the horns and managing their symptoms effectively.
Keeping a positive mind-set
It’s hard to deal with the insensitive comments that come from people who don’t understand what living with PCOS is like, but you can learn to defend yourself with a positive mind-set. You can take a PCOS diagnosis as an even stronger incentive to live a healthy lifestyle.
Take a holistic approach
So we know that having a healthy lifestyle can help with PCOS, but that all sounds rather vague.
You need to be making changes to your diet, exercising, getting enough sleep, decreasing stress levels and making sure you are relaxed. No pressure, right?
Don’t worry – this will be an ongoing process, and every little change is a step in the right direction.
Here is some inspiration to motivate you to take control and feel the benefits:
Add natural supplements to your diet
One initial positive step is to make sure you are taking the right supplements to help your symptoms. Don’t be swayed by the latest celeb endorsements – make sure you check out the research. Even if you have a healthy diet there are gaps here and there to fill to help your extra dietary needs as a result of PCOS.
Supplements can help you to balance those unruly hormones, promote healthy blood flow and support your immune system.
Check out these respected supplements backed by continued research:
- Inofolic – combines myo-inositol and folic acid. The University of Perugia found the combination of folic acid and inositol worked better than folic acid alone to relieve PCOS symptoms
- Vitamin D – a Yale PCOS Program states that vitamin D is given as part of their lifestyle management program to treat PCOS, because many of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency also affect women with PCOS
- Fish oil – medical evidence indicates that fish oil may help with a number of PCOS-related issues
- Inositol or vitamin B-8, inositol – reduced insulin resistance and improved symptoms in women with PCOS in a study by Virginia Commonwealth University
Lose weight – if needed
One of the symptoms of PCOS is weight gain, especially around the middle. The key is to prevent weight gain in the first place as it isn’t easy to shift. Check with your GP to see if you need to lose some weight to aid your symptoms.
It only takes a weight loss of five to ten percent of your initial body weight to:
- Reduce insulin resistance
- Regulate periods
- Improve skin
- Improve fertility
- Reduce depression
- Reduce chance of heart disease and diabetes
Make easy changes to your diet
It helps to understand what you need to eat to help your body manage the symptoms. Simple food choices can help to increase your energy, reduce insulin levels, improve your mood and balance your hormone levels.
Increased protein is thought to aid weight loss as it reduces hunger levels so makes you less tempted to grab an unhealthy snack.
Iron-deficiency can be common if your periods are exceptionally heavy as a result of PCOS. Red meat is obviously iron-rich, but make sure you include those ingredients that don’t automatically come to mind like spinach, kale, lentils, dried apricots and chickpeas. Dark chocolate also includes iron and the odd square as a treat won’t add on the pounds – chocolate will also improve your mood!
Vitamin C helps you to absorb iron, so add some citrus fruits.
Low GI foods
Carbohydrates with a low GI produce lower glucose levels and insulin levels in the blood after they are eaten compared with carbohydrates with a high GI. You can make simple swaps such as having porridge in the morning instead of cornflakes as rolled oats have a lower GI.
Organic live natural yoghurt contains good bacteria beneficial for PCOS sufferers. The latest research is showing that PCOS sufferers lack gut bacteria and this will help.
Grass-fed meat contains fewer hormones and the animals are less likely to have been fed genetically modified foods which contain pesticides.
Eat foods which reduce inflammation
Inflammation contributes to the hormone imbalance in PCOS, so eating foods that help reduce inflammation can help to minimise symptoms. Eat foods such as spinach, kale, tomatoes and oranges to reduce inflammation.
To combat the symptoms of PCOS and reduce insulin levels it is important to follow a high fibre diet and processed foods have little fibre.
Flaxseed oil contains omega-6 fatty acids and is packed with lignans – which are said to balance hormones. Try two tablespoons of flaxseed oil per day in salad dressing, or mixed into porridge and smoothies.
Take regular exercise
Regular exercise improves insulin resistance and this is crucial because this is the cause of many PCOS symptoms. Exercise will also improve your self-esteem and may reduce symptoms of depression. It has also been found to improve your fertility.
If you are too self-conscious for the gym, try a fun activity that you will enjoy. There are so many entertaining exercise classes around such as trampoline workout classes, or you could try a new physical hobby like fencing, rowing or horse-riding.
Seek medical treatment
It is vital to see your GP if you have any symptoms of PCOS. Alongside the changes in lifestyle that you make they may recommend some medical treatment such as:
- Taking the contraceptive pill to help regulate periods
- A course of Clomid or gonadotropins injections to encourage ovulation
- Laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD) to destroy the tissue which produces male hormones
It’s not always easy to remain positive when battling PCOS, but by taking control of your lifestyle you can really help yourself physically and mentally. Self-care is vital and aromatherapy, massages and holidays can all help. You may have a lifestyle that causes you to feel you don’t have the time to fit these things in, but self-care starts with things as simple as an early night.