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    Treating PCOS: How fixing your body weight and lifestyle can help

    “PCOS” is a health-condition related to female reproductive health, a topic which is still a taboo in several parts of the country, and perhaps only paid attention to, for most women, during their pregnancy and childbirth.

    However, female reproductive development begins around the age 10 and is completed by age 14. Menstruation is another significant marker of the female reproductive system functioning, which, on an average, starts between age 10-15.

    If all this happens during pre-teens or teenage years, then it is essential that girls should get the proper knowledge on their reproductive health at the right time, from parents as well as teachers. This will help to prevent any taboo, embarrassment or insecurity in relation to their reproductive health, along with ensuring that the girl is healthy.

    Why do we emphasise so much on being aware? Uvi Health, a digital therapeutics platform for sexual & reproductive health (SRH) conditions, recently conducted a survey investigating the awareness and prevalence of various conditions in India. The survey received about 2600 responses from urban India, between the ages of 15-73. They found that less than 60% of urban Indian women were aware of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.

    Dr. Neharika Malhotra, Consultant, Gynaecology, Ujala Cygnus Rainbow Hospital, Agra, shares, “Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common hormonal disorders among women of reproductive age. Globally, its prevalence rate is 10-80%. In adolescent women, prevalence is as high as 36%. Its manifestations are different in different age groups.”

    Learn to identify signs of PCOS

    According to John Hopkins medicine, here are some of the common signs of PCOS which should not be ignored:

    -Missed periods, irregular periods, or very light periods

    -Excess body hair, including the chest, stomach, and back

    -Weight gain, especially around the belly

    -Acne or oily skin

    -Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair

    -Infertility

    -Small pieces of excess skin on the neck or armpits

    -Dark or thick skin patches on the back of the neck, in the armpits, and under the breasts

    What causes PCOS?

    Dr. Aradhana Singh, Additional Director, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Fortis Hospital Noida, explains, “PCOS is mainly a lifestyle disease, and the main culprits are lifestyle patterns, faulty dietary habits, and lack of exercise.”

    “Whenever a PCOS patient will be eating high-sugar food, there will be more fat in the body and there is more and more insulin secretion in the body. So whenever high sugar food will go into the body, the high insulin release will be there, and this insulin is an androgenic hormone. Androgenic means it stimulates the male hormone pattern in the body of a female. So when there will be more insulin in the body, there’ll be more hormones and that will lead to acne hirsutism, which is facial hair and the loss of scalp here. That is how the high blood sugar and faulty diet intake lead to hyperinsulinism which leads to the androgenic hormone formation in the body.”

    Emphasising on the
    necessity of healthy lifestyle modification, Dr. Aradhana Singh adds, “All these problems are related to your faulty diet habit, lack of exercise, and hyperinsulinemia and that leads to delayed periods, abnormal bleeding periods, and later in life it can lead to diabetes, hypertension, difficulty in conceiving, and many types of cancers also. So ultimately, the rule of thumb is lifestyle modification.”

    Doctors encourage weight loss can help

    Dr. Nidhi Shah, Consultant, Obstetric & Gynaecology, Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre, says, “Weight loss (5 – 10% of current weight) is the most effective method for resolving ovulation and regularising menstruation. Aim is to maintain one’s weight so as to have a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18 – 25.”

    However, they add that losing weight may not be that easy. Dr. Neharika Malhotra says, “For a woman suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), this can be pretty challenging. As the weight gain is triggered by male hormones specifically in the abdomen, abdominal fat is the most difficult and one cannot get rid of it easily.” The best way to fix this is committing to a healthy lifestyle, which consists of a healthy diet and regular exercise. “The way you live physically, mentally and socially can make great changes in the body.”

    Diet – What not to eat

    Dr. Nidhi Shah says, “A detailed dietary history of PCOS patients suggests a carbohydrate rich and poor protein diet with frequent intake of fast/junk food – pasta, pizza, soft drinks etc.; bakery products – biscuits and breads; Chinese and packaged food; fried food – samosa/batata vada/sev puri etc. and sweets/desserts.”

    All these should be avoided. Dr. Nidhi also shared that “the key is to have a calorie deficit, balanced diet consisting of natural, unprocessed foods that are high in fibre”.
    Here’s what you should eat instead.

    -Foods with Low Glycemic Index (GI) such as whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.

    -Anti – inflammatory foods such as berries, fatty fish, green leafy vegetables and extra virgin olive oil.

    -Low fat dairy products

    -Food cooked in ghee and locally produced oil – like cold pressed groundnut oil, mustard oil, coconut oil and sesame oil. Olive oil should be avoided for cooking Indian food but is excellent for salad dressings.

    -We recommend that the consumption of oil + ghee + butter per person, per month should be around 0.5L.

    For people with a sedentary lifestyle a calorie intake of 1200 – 1500 kcal/day is recommended.

    Exercise is a must

    Dr. Aradhana Singh says, “Women nowadays lead a sedentary lifestyle, and if you ask them, they usually don’t exercise at all because of maybe the position or because of maybe their busy lifestyle, or that they are sitting for long hours in front of computers or phones so they are not exercising every day.”

    However, it is crucial – whether you have PCOS or any other health condition or not – to exercise everyday, or almost everyday. You can choose any kind of physical activity you enjoy.

    “Daily exercises should be done for at least 150 minutes per week. So that makes it at least 30 minutes of exercise five days in a week. That includes at least 5 to 10 minutes of vigorous strength training exercises like
    jogging, aerobics, strength training and yoga,” Dr. Aradhana Singh adds.

    As to why exercise is important, she explains, “Exercising every day stimulates better hormone secretion. It causes fat loss in the body and it causes less insulin surges and that’s how the male hormone pattern disturbance is relieved.”

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