Have you ever sat at your gynecologist's chair staring blankly back at them while you’re being hit with words you’ve never heard of before? Insulin resistance, cysts, fluid sacs, male hormones? Feels confusing and foreign, doesn’t it?
According to Hopkins Medicine, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition in which the ovaries create an abnormal amount of androgens, male sex hormones that are normally present in only small amounts. The term polycystic ovarian syndrome refers to the ovaries' numerous small cysts (fluid-filled sacs). However, some women with this condition don’t produce cysts and some women without the disorder do. We still don’t know what causes it, but science has narrowed it down to family, so if your sister, aunt, or mother has it, you’re most likely to have it too.
A lot of women with PCOS are also resistant to insulin. This means that the body can't make good use of insulin, so when insulin levels rise in the body, androgen levels may also go up resulting in excessive facial hair growth, acne, and/or male-pattern scalp hair thinning. Insulin levels can also go up with obesity, and PCOS symptoms can get worse.
Overall, it’s a lot to understand and deal with, and at many times it can feel very overwhelming – but at the end of the day it comes down to listening to how your body feels. I’m sure you’ve faced countless echo sounds showing the same results, a consistent unchanged body weight causing a lot of self-consciousness and anxiety and listening to a diagnosis you either didn’t understand or didn’t know how to start treating. So, here are some things I wish I knew about PCOS before I entered my 20s that can save you the headache.
1- Your diet affects your symptoms
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet, but doctors do recommend certain foods to avoid and which to consume more of when it comes to addressing PCOS. Instead of sugars and carbs, try eating more protein, vegetables, and healthy fats.
Eating these types of foods can minimize the risk of type 2 diabetes in PCOS patients with insulin resistance and high blood sugar.
Here are some suggestions for a PCOS-friendly diet:
Prioritize protein and veggies: Eating protein and veggies before carbs reduces your blood sugar more than carbs first. Carbs can cause your blood sugar to surge, then plummet, leading to overeating and low energy.
Reduce carbs, but don't eliminate them: Less carbs may help PCOS patients lose weight and boost their metabolisms. However, low-carb doesn't equal no-carb. Switch to whole-wheat pasta and bread, which are high in fiber and minerals.
Manage your cravings: Try intermittent fasting, drinking water when you have a sugar craving, or just giving in to your craving instead of driving yourself crazy and possibly leading you to overindulge – listen to what your body needs!
2- Be your own health advocate
3- Your mental state should not be ignored
Some neurotransmitters (chemicals that send signals throughout the brain and nervous system) may be less present in people with PCOS who have anxiety or depression. Neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is a chemical message in the nervous system that makes people feel good, are a big part of depression and anxiety.
According to womenshealth.org, women with PCOS are approximately three times more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression than women without. Most PCOS-related research has focused on sadness and anxiety, but it may also be linked to an increased risk of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, and eating disorders. Your mental health is important to pay attention to when treating PCOS - the more you stress, the more your body physically stresses. So, give yourself a break, remember that mental healing is part of your journey, and it equally deserves a chance to heal too.
Doing your own research and listening to your body is one of the most important things when you’re on a wellness journey. Remember, your body is not refusing you, it’s just asking you to listen.