Women Ovulate cyclically- something that's natural.
For the uninitiated, ovulation is the process by which a women's body produces eggs to be fertilized by a sperm (if feasible); in the absence of which the eggs dissolve and the uterine lining breaks leading to menstrual cycles.
These events occurring within a women's body - ovulation, menstruation etc. are driven by hormones- an imbalance of which causes various health challenges.
PCOS, or PolyCystic Ovary Syndrome is a commonly occurring health condition in women who typically experience 2 or more of the following symptoms:
Lack of ovulation for an extended period of time/ Absence of monthly cycles;
High levels of androgen / male hormones;
Many cysts on ovaries.
PCOS is often accompanied by the following conditions:
Metabolic Syndrome (we'll skip this in this article as it is loosely related to 1 &2 )
Let's understand insulin resistance, and how it happens.
Insulin is responsible for maintaining the sugar levels in the blood.
How? Let's see what happens when we take food.
The food that we eat is broken down into sugar (and other components- but, let's focus on sugar).
This sugar enters into the bloodstream, and this action triggers the release of the hormone- Insulin.
Insulin is secreted by the pancreas- an organ located in the abdominal region (behind the stomach).
This hormone facilitates the movement of sugar from the bloodstream into the cells for generation of energy.
Insulin also signals the liver to store this energy for later use (when the body needs energy in the absence of food at long intervals).
When sugar levels in the blood decrease owing to utilization in the cells, the insulin levels also drops. The following chart (fig 1) explains this insulin secretion process:
Now, what happens when the amount of sugar in the blood increases a lot ( owing to various factors)?
The pancreas produce more and more insulin (to enable the cells to utilize the sugar), but, over time, the cells stop responding to this hormone. As a result, the blood sugar levels increase - often leading to Type 2 diabetes. (Fig 2 below explains this process).
And how does weight gain occur under this condition?
Well, remember that insulin directs the liver to store energy for later use?
When the liver is full, it directs this excess sugar to the fat cells that in turn gets converted to body fat (refer fig 3 below)!
So, as a consequence of insulin resistance, you not only end up feeling tired (cells are resistant to insulin, and therefore cannot utilize the blood sugar for energy), you also gain weight.
Now, how is insulin resistance related to other symptoms associated with PCOS?
High insulin levels also mean that the ovaries produce more testosterone,that in turn has an adverse impact on the formation of follicles in the ovary (thereby leading to irregular cycles etc.).
High testosterone levels in also cause acne and hirsutism (unnecessary hair growth).
Ok. Now that we understand the various terminologies associated with PCOS, what's next?
Is there a cure for PCOS?
The doctors might say that there's no definite cure( and probably prescribe pills that tackle insulin resistance, regularise the cycles, and curtail the androgens etc.).
But, we'd say-Yes; because there's nothing in the world that cannot be cured with the right approach.
What's the right approach?
It's something as simple as taking good care of yourself: exercising, eating right, and resting well.
How to exercise?
The human body functions as a unit- a sum of parts. Therefore, it is important to focus on doing exercises that lead to an overall balance in this unit.
However, to target specific challenges associated with PCOS, we'd probably recommend a combination of Strength/ Weight training (to catalyse the process of lowering body fat and strengthening the body-ovaries in particular), some cardio, and pelvic strengthening moves.
Let's also remember that PCOS is associated with hormones; feeling good over what you do makes a lot of difference - especially to those hormones that do not enjoy 'stress'.
Therefore, train with abandon; enjoy what you do, and the results will follow.
Psst: Check out our functional training group classes to get started on your exercise routine.
How to Eat?
Eat when you feel hungry (and preferably at regularized intervals); eat a well balanced diet that provides all the essential nutrients to your body viz. the proteins, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals.
Since PCOS is associated with high blood insulin levels, it is recommended that we avoid foods that release high amounts of blood sugar.
This is where understanding the Glycaemic Index (GI) of the food that you consume, really helps. Foods that contain carbohydrates are usually given a GI value relative to that of Glucose (glucose has a GI value of 100). GI measures how certain foods increase the blood sugar levels; the lower the GI, the lesser it affects your blood sugar levels. Therefore, it is recommended that those with PCOS consume foods with lower GI.
Of course, as with all meals, enjoy what you eat, and avoid processed foods, and carbonated drinks.
How to Rest well?
Make it a habit to get to bed on time.
As they say, all's well that ends well- so end the day with a restful sleep.
Your body deserves the sleep to recover from the day's activities.
So, summing it all up:
PCOS is a very common condition occurring in women at various stages-from puberty to post-menopause.
Eating Right, Resting well, and Exercising regularly is the key to overcoming the challenges associated with this condition.
And, let's not forget to have fun while doing all of it focusing on the actions is more important than stressing over the outcome when it comes to tackling challenges...