A few years ago, having a child was unimaginable for 33-year-old Mansi Chhabra, a financial consultant from New Delhi. Chhabra, who was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), constantly struggled with her weight and chronic fatigue. Her menstrual cycle was irregular, and she had terrible mood swings, too. She had almost given up hopes of having a normal life. Until she decided to look closely at her lifestyle and make changes, one step at a time. “I realised the root cause for the hormonal imbalance was stress, and I started getting up just 15 minutes earlier to meditate. Adding a walk to my routine after a few days, avoiding processed food, along with drinking three litres of water also helped regularise my menstrual cycle”, says Chhabra. These small changes helped her successfully reverse and manage her PCOS, adds Chhabra, who now has a 6-month-old son.
Chhabra's situation is not an uncommon one. According to a survey published in the National Library of Medicine in 2020, an estimated one in five women in India between the ages of 20 and 29 years suffers from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS. The same study adds that women with PCOS are at risk for co-morbidities, including diabetes, insulin resistance, hypothyroidism, and cardiovascular disease. They are also prone to hirsutism(excess facial hair), excessive acne, and hair loss, along with fatigue, obesity, anxiety, and depression. In some extreme cases, PCOS may also lead to infertility.
Despite the complexities of PCOS, it can be managed. Here are some things that you can do to manage the condition better
Also read: Why women’s mental health is often neglected
Diet and exercise regularly
According to Kolkata-based gynaecologist Dr Shashi Jindel, “PCOS is not completely curable, but it is controllable by managing your lifestyle better. You have to eat healthily and exercise regularly," she says, adding that managing the condition is dependent on adherence to a better lifestyle.
Ask 26-year-old Avantika Gandhi, a fashion designer from Bengaluru. When she was first diagnosed with PCOS, she managed to reverse her symptoms in three months with a strict diet and exercise regime. When she slid off the wagon, however, the symptoms returned. "Consistency played a huge role in controlling my symptoms”, admits Gandhi.
As suggested by official international PCOS guidelines, 2018, a minimum of 250 minutes per week of moderately intense activity and muscle strengthening activities twice a week, along with minimised sedentary or sitting time, is sufficient to manage PCOS. Moderate exercise can include brisk walking, hiking, cycling, low-impact aerobics, yoga, and weight training, amongst others.
Samriti Vashisht, 26, a yoga teacher from Khanna, Punjab, takes online classes specifically for PCOS patients. She says, “Yoga can help in opening up the pelvic area, which increases the blood flow towards your ovaries and uterus. It also releases deeply stored stress in the pelvic area. Stress is one of the most common symptoms of PCOS, but with yoga, you can manage the symptoms and lead a happier and healthier life.”
Healthy eating habits and incorporating small changes in your daily routine play a major role in reversing PCOS symptoms. Nutrition consultant Neelam Agarwal, 48, from Apollo Clinic, Kolkata, says, “As PCOS is associated with insulin resistance, proper nutrition is imperative to prevent weight gain and reduce the risks of diabetes, cholesterol, and cardiovascular disorders”. She recommends having small meals at regular intervals while avoiding refined carbs, processed and sugary foods, as well as caffeine and carbonated beverages. “Focus on high-fibre foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; anti-inflammatory foods like tomatoes, kale, spinach, nuts, and berries; lean protein like whole pulses, fish, egg whites, and low-fat dairy”, says Agarwal.
Manage stress better
Since PCOS also affects the psychological health of women, it is important that women struggling with the condition learn adequate stress management skills. A tried and tested way is meditation and practising mindfulness. Several classes and mobile applications are available to begin one’s mindfulness journey. Kolkata-based communications coachVishakha Agarwal, 29, says, “My journey with reversing PCOS began early at age 11. Eating healthy and taking homoeopathic supplements helped. Eventually, I started meditating and doing my prayers which helped me reverse my PCOS successfully.”
Get in your zzzzs
Another underrated lifestyle change is regulating one’s sleep cycle, which plays a key role in maintaining one’s hormonal balance. Sleep regulates cortisol and hence reduces the symptoms of PCOS. Maintaining good sleep hygiene includes having a fixed sleeping and waking time and sleeping in a cool, dark room. Avoiding alcohol and late-night snacking, along with exercising regularly, will also help you sleep better. Television producer Ananya Malhotra, 26, from Mumbai, has noticed considerable changes in her energy throughout the day once she regulated her sleep cycle. “ Keeping away my phone and reading for thirty minutes before bedtime helped me calm down and helped me sleep better”, says Malhotra.