Like most girls in their newly pubescent years, I faced body image issues, leading to a rather socially awkward character. My confidence, despite the rather outgoing hooligan I once was, was stunted by the plethora of problems my body was producing. Excessive and abnormal hair growth, bouts of acne when I least expected it, and a shockingly husky voice that embarrassed me to no extent. It was almost as if I was morphing into a boy, I thought at the time, seeing much of the same symptoms in my male friends relative to the girls surrounding me, all of whom seemed to blossom into beautiful young ladies rapidly.
By the time I turned 14, my periods became irregular - and irregular to the point where it can't be considered a bump in the road of puberty. They would be excruciatingly painful, either too long or too short and months would go by when it would refuse to show up. When I went to the doctor at long last to address my symptoms, she was surprised to see I was far too lean for a girl with polycystic ovarian syndrome, but my blood results said otherwise. Elevated androgen levels, the hirsutism (male pattern hair growth), acne and the complicated menstrual cycle all pointed to the condition. An ultrasound revealed physical evidence - one of my ovaries was enlarged compared to the other, full of cysts. Eventually, the doctor offered hormone therapy to restore the balance in my body. My mother, a diehard naturalist, refused to head in that direction.
As I grew older, I finally embraced my condition and my confidence was restored. I met many other women, around the world like me, who suffered from PCOS, and a majority of them were morbidly obese or severely overweight, enhancing the condition to the extreme. I began to shift my focus on how to manage my condition and help other girls without consulting the pharmacy, even with my background in the medical field.
PCOS is an endocrine condition, the world's most common cause of infertility in women and the biggest culprit of hormone disbalance. Some studies claim that the dysfunctional eating habits of women of our time have led to the condition to develop, resulting in insulin resistance. There is no cure, or so they say, until now. But a decade later, I've been managing PCOS effortlessly without a single box of medication. For years I haven't missed a cycle, my BMI stands at the lowest possible healthy range, and I feel better than ever. I'm hoping that if the day comes for me to conceive my own baby, I'd be able to do so with little to no effort. Only time can tell.
While I’m well on my way to medicine, I’m not a doctor. I’ve been treating myself based on women who have advised me, both on the internet and in person. I know the tips I have shared with my sisters around the world, too, are universal. Here are a few foolproof pointers to getting you onto the road to managing your condition with little to no medical intervention:
A) Weight loss
And when I say weight loss, I mean dramatic weight loss. No matter how heavy you are, no matter how you look, you must absolutely lose at least 5% of your weight to see your period come back, especially if you're suffering from irregularities in your cycle. If you're not suffering from any up to this point, you still need to focus on maintaining your weight on the lowest possible BMI. Losing weight helps reduce menstrual cramps and PMS symptoms by two-fold. Every doctor you ever speak with will recommend this, and it's no joke. It works wonders on your PCOS.
Complementing a decent fitness regime with a solid diet will give you the best results. Ensure that this is a system that can work for you throughout the years to come, not just for a brief period of time. Focus on strength training at least 3 times a week for starters and throw in cardio or endurance once or twice a week. Sticking to a fitness plan of your own can also help. Free apps like Nike + Training are both encouraging and motivating, and other plans such as the Beach Body Guide, the Fit Girls Guide and many others are brilliant for giving you quick, decent results and making you stronger and fitter by the month. Find what works for you, mix up your workouts, and stay focused.
With that said, losing weight comprises mainly of eating clean. I can't say any one diet helped me, and what worked for me might not work for you, but as of now the modified Paleo diet with night-time fasting has done an excellent job of making me feel and look great overall. Eat complex carbs, plenty of veggies, lean meats and a bit of everything in moderation. While I recommend cutting out processed sugar, and so do most sites when it comes down to it, it's not a realistic goal for anyone, really.
PCOS particularly occurs in young women and living a restricted and rather stressful regimen can result in binge-eating and horrendous cravings. If you want that cookie, eat it – but eat in proportionate serving sizes and not more than you really need to. Another great alternative to stemming cravings are cooking low-carb treats with gluten-free or Paleo flour. Burgers, pizza, cakes, cookies and other gunk can really be made with clean, low carb and insulin friendly alternatives. Reach for treats with natural sugar replacements and a low-glycemic index – but not aspartame or Splenda, please.
Foods to abstain from as much as possible:
> Dairy – known to be a culprit in all sorts of hormone dysfunctions. While I wouldn't recommend cutting dairy off entirely, it is important to reduce our consumption dramatically. Lactose and other substances can cause allergies in many, and like gluten, dairy is responsible for plenty of inflammation. A great alternative is coconut and almond milk, both delicious, nutritious and lower in fat respectively. However, butter and ghee should remain a staple of your diet - they are considered healthy fats and do not contain the same inflammatory substances as milk and cheese, so ensure that you incorporate them into your meals normally.
> Red meats – can cause testosterone levels to spike. While an excellent source of protein, try not to overdo it during the week. Instead, choose fish or chicken as a lighter alternative.
> Soy – can cause estrogen disbalances. Not only is it genetically modified a majority of the time, but with a bizarre hormone problem as it is, you don't want to consume something that could put it off even more. While going dairy free, be sure to avoid processed soy products, however foods like tofu like stay as a genuine source of protein.
> Refined sugar – yup. We know this one well.
> Gluten - difficult to avoid, but essential. Gluten is inflammatory, and the last thing we need is excess inflammation in our bodies. Substitute with low-carb flours, like coconut, almond, tapioca, buckwheat and quinoa.
Evening primrose oil is known for its lasting benefits on the health of your integumentary system, or skin in general. While it had been used as a culinary oil in the days of old, evening primrose is now recommended to women to help manage their menopausal issues, pregnancy-related symptoms and hormone imbalances. Women with PCOS benefit greatly from the supplement as it helps with losing weight and again balancing the estrogen-progesterone ration, which lies at the core of PCOS management.
Also known as the chaste-berry, Vitex is a supplement used in past generations to prevent miscarriages, stabilize hormones and enhance fertility. It helps secrete the luteinizing hormone in the body and suppresses the release of follicle stimulating hormone. Most of all, Vitex helps regulate the estrogen-progesterone ratio. It's been known to relieve PMS symptoms, regulate the menstrual cycle and even relieve menopausal pains.
Progesterone cream, natural of course, can be a great supplement to boost progesterone levels. Also known as bioidentical progesterone cream, it works transdermally in a lotion form, and taken in at 20-40 mg a day for roughly 6 months, from day one of ovulation till the start of your cycle. Progesterone cream helps reduce the symptoms of PCOS such as acne, stubborn weight gain and hair loss.
Essential in regulating insulin levels, magnesium is a must for women with PCOS especially if they are diabetic or pre-diabetic, as proven in clinical studies. While we should naturally be able to obtain magnesium via our diet, with the changing of times the rate of production and our own rate of absorption has been deterred. To maintain a healthy glucose metabolism, 700 mg of magnesium usually does the trick, but consulting a health care practioner is vital before taking it.
In short, PCOS is not the end of the world, and while it might feel hopeless to some, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Be patient, be consistent and be confident – treatments like these take 3-6 months to show results, but the outcome may surprise you and your physician in the long run.