Teenagers back in our days would converse about movies, discuss different study strategies, go out cycling for long hours and were carefree about worldly worries, blooming with energy and cheerfulness on their faces. Unfortunately, I don't see those cheerful smiles any more. Today most of the teenage girls and middle age women look exhausted, worried, have dry freckled skin, thin dry hair. The discussions are now about who has what kind of health problems. Most of these girls seem to be caught in the vicious circle of hormonal imbalance.
The most common of all hormone imbalances in women is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Sudden weight gain, facial hair, numerous cysts in the ovaries of a female are a few symptoms that signal a caution.
What causes PCOS?
Very commonly PCOS occur due to stress. Stress releases the cortisol hormone in the adrenal glands. Cortisol hormone affects the working of the hypothalamus and thus, the interrelated hormones get disturbed. A female may observe a change in her ovary's function since the hormones are not released in the exact sequence, disrupting the entire chain of reactions, and resulting in an irregular cycle of periods. The overuse of pollutants, preservative saga can affect the natural fauna of foods and hence chemical disruption. Many cases of PCOS are influenced by genetic predisposition. The number of follicles carrying eggs are decided very much at birth. The most important cause is the change in the lifestyle, poor dietary habits, a change from being physically active to a sedentary lifestyle, leading to a slack in the activity of insulin, the hormone responsible to covert sugars in our body.
A lot of women correlate the insulin resistance and PCOS and resort to a low carb diet. There's no specific diet for PCOS. It needs a lifestyle change, a change that becomes a part of your life.
Excess body fat leads to an over production of estrogen hormone. It's utmost important to shed some kilos if you are overweight. Losing even 2-3 kilos will show results in the management of hormones. Focus on a steady weight; less free fat mass, not more than 20% and more lean mass. It's not so difficult to achieve this…
• Eat 6-8 meals a day. Divide these meals into four large meals and four smaller meals.
• Eat a balanced meal at all times. Your meal should have all three macro nutrients, i.e. carbs, protein and good fats.
• While choosing carbs, opt for low GI carbs, carbs that release sugar in the bloodstream very slowly and gradually, thus, avoiding the insulin spike that may push this fuel in to fat storage, rather than being used as a fuel for energy.
• Include at least three servings of vegetables and 2-3 servings of fruits. Vegetables like spinach, fenugreek, broccoli, capsicums are rich in fiber. Fiber helps in maintaining insulin levels steady in the bloodstream. It also makes you feel fuller for a longer time since it is emptied in the gut very slowly, giving one a satiety feeling. This in turn helps to decrease unusual hunger pangs which commonly happen in PCOS.
• Include fruits like pear, oranges, kiwi, berries, figs. Kiwi, oranges, berries are rich in fiber and antioxidants, helping against inflammation. PCOS is a lot associated with inflammation. Figs, apples, papaya, guava are rich in fiber and are low GI fruits as well. Banana, a fruit rich in potassium can help with water retention but then it is also a medium GI fruit, so it would be better to consume it in moderation.
• Avoid all refined grains. They may make a light fluffy flour good for baking but are stripped completely of the fiber, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytochemical. Include more of whole grains like buckwheat, whole wheat, oats, quinoa, millets. These whole grains are rich in vitamin B, minerals, enzymes good for digestive system and phytochemicals.
• Another macro-nutrient protein needs to be consumed regularly and mindfully. Protein helps build up the cells and muscles. Cells are an integral part of all tissues and organs, is the baseline of a muscles tissues too. Adequate muscle mass will aid in less fat storage. Also, protein makes you feel fuller for longer just as fiber does. Protein takes 30% more time to get absorbed than carbohydrates, contributing to a feeling of satiety. Include lean animal proteins like egg whites, lean meats, plant proteins like legumes, soybean etc.
• A good vegetarian source of protein that's gained a lot of contradiction is soya. A lot has been said about soya and its ill effects. But soya contains phytoestrogens, a cell structure close to the estrogen hormone. It can actually help women with an ovulation –absence of ovulation.
• Another good supply of protein comes from dairy for vegetarians. Dairy again is believed to have an effect on the insulin. But if had at the right time and not over consumed, it can prove more beneficial. It does contain a specific AI beta casein believed to increase the production of testosterone, but if you avoid the full fat dairy products, this effect can be nulled.
• Good fats, especially omega-3 fats coming from flaxseed, fish, avocados are very essential for PCOS. They are anti-inflammatory and will prove effective to deal with the inflammation symptoms like breast tenderness, excess backache, stomachaches during PMS i.e. pre menstrual symptoms. Also, fats had in the right proportion will aid in fat loss . Nuts and seeds like almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts are a wise choice.
• Give up caffeine in any form, chocolates, coffee, and tannin in tea. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, excites the brain suggesting it can affect the hypothalamus and hinder the balance of hormones. Though it is also used in some pain killers, it is best to avoid this chemical in our bodies. It can decrease the bone mass density by interfering with the calcium absorption in the bones. It may also cause breast tenderness or worsen the PMS symptoms. Reduce the intake if you cannot give up completely. It's ok to have 1-2 cups a week but eliminating it completely from your diet shall work more in your favor.
• Say a NO to processed foods. Processed foods are not whole foods, they are stripped off their natural goodness, carrying more trans fats, no fiber, and added chemicals that tend to increase the production of dopamine, also known as the pleasure neurotransmitter. An increase in dopamine hinders with the feeling of satiety and one craves more for junk food once eaten.
• By reducing the energy you intake and increasing the energy you expend, weight loss can be everyone's cup of tea. Even for someone with PCOS. Different types of physical activity give you different results. A moderate to intense cardiovascular activity can increase the heart rate and expend more energy. Start with a moderate intensity aerobic activity like walking, jogging, spinning or swimming for 40-50 mins thrice a week and gradually build up the intensity. Strength training or weight training helps in building more muscle mass and also aid in the amount of energy your body can use every day even while resting.. Weight train for thrice a week using different muscle groups.
• Most importantly, rethink about your relationship with your body, nurture it, respect it and thank your body. This positive approach will ensure the management of hormones swiftly.
Author Pooja Bhargava is Founder/CEO of Fitness U and Nutrition (F.U.N.), Certified Personal Trainer by ACSM and IIFA and Nutrition Consultant and Physical Fitness Expert