A couple of days ago, actress Daisy Ridley of Star Wars fame declared on Instagram that like her onscreen persona, Rey, she too was fighting a prolonged battle of her own. She spoke about her struggle with PCOS, a condition she has been living with since the age of 15 when she was first diagnosed. In her own words, “I’ve tried everything: products, antibiotics, more products, more antibiotics) and all that did was left my body in a bit of a mess. Finally found out I have polycystic ovaries and that’s why it’s bad.”
So what is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and why should you be concerned about it at all?
PCOS is a common endocrine system disorder among women of reproductive age. It is a condition in which a woman has enlarged ovaries that contain small fluid-filled cysts — called follicles — located in each ovary.
According to the PCOS foundation:
- PCOS is responsible for 70% of infertility issues in women who have difficulty ovulating.
- 5-10% of women of childbearing age are affected by PCOS.
- Less than 50% of women diagnosed, which means millions of women are left undiagnosed.
- Some studies have found that if a mother has PCOS, there is a 50% chance that her daughter will have PCOS.
- Postmenopausal women can also suffer from PCOS
Signs and symptoms
The symptoms of PCOS may vary from person to person. On a personal level, persistent adult acne or aggravated acne in teens and/or excessive facial hair growth could be caused by hormonal imbalances in the body, which in turn could be a sign of PCOS. Sleep apnoea (a sleep disorder where there are abnormal pauses of breathing during sleep) and mood swings or depression and anxiety could also be telltale signs.
For a medical diagnosis, your doctor looks for at least two of the following:
Irregular periods: This is the most common characteristic. Either of the conditions of prolonged periods or fewer menstrual cycles in a year or excessively heavy or scant periods could fall under the radar of PCOS symptoms.
Hormonal imbalances: PCOS often causes an elevated level of male hormones (androgens) in women that are physically manifested as aggravated acne, excess facial and body hair (hirsutism) and male-pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia).
Polycystic ovaries: Polycystic ovaries are enlarged ovaries that are surrounded by numerous small fluid-filled sacs or cysts as seen during an ultrasound exam.
What causes PCOS?
The causes of PCOS are largely unknown, but certain factors have been said to play a major role. Excessive insulin, the hormone produced in the pancreas that allows cells to use sugar (glucose), is one of them. Excess insulin might affect the ovaries by increasing androgen production. PCOS is also a hereditary condition and there are 50% chances of a woman affected by it to pass it on to the offspring.
Treatment: Weight and Nutrition
There is no actual cure for PCOS, rather it is something that needs to be managed. Therefore, treatment is more likely to be focused on the symptoms or effects of PCOS, like the treatment of acne, infertility issues and a guarded supervision over risks of diabetes and heart diseases.
Weight management is especially important in keeping PCOS in check. Overweight worsens insulin resistance and the symptoms of PCOS. In this wake, a proper nutrition plan monitored by an expert nutritionist comes in handy. Daisy Ridley confesses to having drastically cut down on dairy and sugar intakes (“except for spontaneous ice creams”), which is beneficial in keeping the acne away. Adding more whole-grain products, fruits, vegetables, and lean meats to your diet also helps lower blood glucose levels, improve the body’s use of insulin, and normalize hormone levels.
As less as 5-10% of weight loss can be instrumental in restoring a normal period and making your cycle more regular. It really is a very small price to pay for a much greater benefit. Like Ridley says, “From your head to the tips of your toes we only have one body, let us all make sure ours working in tip-top condition, and take help if it’s needed.”
Founder of Food ‘n’ Wellness, a food, and nutrition advisory company based out of Singapore. Meenu is a trained clinical dietitian & holds a Masters degree in Nutrition & Dietetics. She is registered with the Singapore Nutrition and Dietetic Association( SNDA). She specializes in providing nutrition advice with an emphasis on managing medical conditions like diabetes, cholesterol, acidity, thyroid, blood pressure and weight-related issues.