How can a vegan diet be useful for PCOS?
What is PCOS?
PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is an endocrine, i.e., hormone-based disorder. It is a condition that may be characterized by one or all of the features among the following:
Polycystic Ovaries – This is the issue from which the syndrome takes its name, but in reality, this symptom may not be apparent to all women with PCOS. PCOS-affected women do not have cysts, but enlarged ovaries, that may contain follicles (tiny sacs filled with fluid that surround eggs) much higher in number than the usual.
Irregular Periods – Due to the ovaries getting impacted, women with PCOS do not ovulate regularly, and hence, generally do not have periods at regular, normal intervals.
High Levels of Androgen – Androgens, i.e., the predominantly male sex hormones, are found in high levels in the blood of PCOS-affected women, and this can lead to excess facial and body hair, as well as elevated hair loss.
1. excessive hair growth on the back, buttocks, face, or chest (hirsutism),
2. sudden, unexpected, or unexplained weight gain,
3. thinning or falling out of hair from head (sudden elevated hair loss), and
4. excessive acne and oily skin on face or body.
Women with PCOS, many a-times do not even understand that they might have been affected by the syndrome. Hence, under-reporting and late diagnosis are quite common things. More often than not, women with non-diagnosed PCOS have trouble conceiving children, and that is the time they are first diagnosed with the disease.
2% to 27% of all women of childbearing age are said to be affected by PCOS, globally. In India, the stats are even more alarming, as some studies bring up the number to 1 in every 5 Indian women of childbearing age.
How is PCOS caused?
PCOS is primarily a lifestyle disease, punched with a genetic linkage. These types of hormonal diseases have been seen to run in families. Apart from that, a sedentary lifestyle, unjust and disruptive food habits, lack of exercise, and obesity, have been linked to the induction of PCOS in women, especially those who are already predisposed to endocrine and reproductive disorders, by familial linkage.
Insulin resistance seems to also have a very deep linkage with the induction of PCOS. It acts in a loop of a vicious cycle, as heightened insulin resistance has been shown to induce PCOS, whereas, the condition of PCOS heightens the condition of Insulin resistance even more. This is, hence, a positive feedback loop in the vicious cycle, that must be broken to get rid of the PCOS symptoms.
Very interestingly, 70% of PCOS patients also suffer from insulin resistance, 80% are obese or overweight, and many also experience chronic inflammation.
While all of the above factors could be traced back to having a role to play in the induction and sustenance of PCOS, the exact cause, or the exact stimulus that causes the PCOS condition still lies in ambiguity, and science is still trying to unravel its causative factors and trace its prognosis. The timely diagnosis and sustained treatment, combined with a dedicated lifestyle, can bring down the haywire hormone levels to normal, and most women can get pregnant, once they achieve the normal levels.
With all of this information in the background, it can be concluded without a doubt that lifestyle, especially diet and exercise have a huge role to play in the induction and sustenance of PCOS, and hence, women must become conscious of the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle, far from the bliss of nature. For if we get back to our natural lifestyle, with enough physical activity and a good diet, the incurable conditions are at least reversible.
How can a vegan diet be effective in PCOS?
Apart from all the above factors, the way how diet specifically plays a major part in the induction of PCOS goes very deep. Animals like cow and chicken, which are used in the dairy and meat industry, are injected with hormonal injections of estrogen and progesterone, to enhance their lactation and body-fat and meat. These injected hormones, along with the elevated stress hormones that are released by the animals out of torture and pain endured, lead to very high steroid hormone levels in the meat, milk, blood, and every body part of the animals. These elevated amounts of hormones make their way into our bodies when we consume meat, milk, and other dairy products. This event, in turn, does interfere with our hormone levels, leading to an overall state of hormonal imbalance in the body.
This is where the vegan diet comes into importance at the primary level. By cutting out all animal-based foods in our diet, we are restricting the amount of external mammalian hormones entering our bodies. The secondary, as well as the bigger aspect is that there is a huge repertoire of plant products, especially the roots and seeds of many plants, which have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, to sustain the reproductive youth, and cure infertility in women of childbearing age. These are very effective in regulating the menstrual cycle and hormones, and hence, to date, many women have resorted and continue to look forward to various seed-therapies to balance their hormone levels. Plants like Shatavari, Ashoka, etc, have a very high place in the Ayurvedic system in this regard.
While there is no concrete evidence that a vegan diet can cure PCOS, but it definitely helps regulate and maintain the hormonal balance of the body, and reducing obesity, thus aiding in living a normal healthy life, and maintaining the body’s harmony with nature.
What vegan foods can help in PCOS?
As the vegan diet is rich in fibre, hence, it s helpful for the gut microflora, which flourish under these conditions, and hence, our gut health is maintained. Also, some red meats are high in saturated fat content, hence, eliminating them helps in reducing inflammation, and aids in controlling insulin resistance.
So, what all can you eat preferably to control PCOS?
Vegetables, legumes and whole grains are the holy trinity for our bodies. All of them work towards promoting insulin sensitivity, reducing inflammation, keeping good gut health, and meets our daily fibre and vitamin needs as well. For fat intake, you can look towards nuts and seeds, which are very rich sources of plant-based fats and omega-3 fatty acid. You can choose to swap your regular cooking oil with pure olive oil or coconut oil, and regular butter can be swapped with plant-based natural nut butters. You must keep in mind to limit your soy intake, as this very common replacer of meat has very high quantities of phytoestrogens, which mimic the human body’s estrogen, and might make your PCOS worse. If you have PCOS, your body’s tolerance to soy should be tested gradually over a long period of time.
It’s still very much a lifestyle disease
Regulating PCOS can be cumbersome, but with the right diet and lifestyle, it becomes very manageable. All you need is a positive outlook, and step-by-step efforts to improve your lifestyle. Test if you are intolerant to gluten, and if you are, you can swap the consumption of wheat and all-purpose flour with high-fibre millets like finger millets, sorghum and amaranth. Try picking whole foods over processed foods, and prepare your meals yourself. Self-preparation helps in regulating the measurements of each food you want to take, and increases self-love. Stick to what the earth provides, she knows the best for you. Keep an occasional treat day for yourself, and learn to read food labels, so as not to be fooled by fad marketing. Try to think about all that you can eat, while cutting out thoughts on what you cannot eat. This positive thought process fuels you in a dedicated manner. Talk to your family and friends, and keep a happy mind. Share your vegan preparations with your family. That way, you all end up on a common page, so you don’t feel left-out. The world is not going to end if you have PCOS. It just requires a little bit of self-dedication to fight it and live a normal healthy life. Give yourself time, and don’t rush into anything. If you live heavily on an animal-based diet and want to shift to a vegan one, start slowly like once or twice a week, and gradually keep increasing the frequency every week. By doing this, you give your body the time to recognise your changes in food habits and your ideas, and make the necessary arrangements and adjustments. Do not delay in seeking professional help as soon as you start noticing any of the symptoms mentioned above. A speedy diagnosis enhances the chances of speedy recovery.
Come back to nature
With the changing times, it is evident that the frequency of diseases have increased as the world grew faster and farther away from the lap of nature. Regular yoga and meditation can aid you in keeping touch with the spiritual processes around you, and keep you happy mentally. Make sure to take a stroll in the open air whenever possible, and breathe in the beautiful breaths of nature. Let us come back to where we all came from. She holds all the secrets to a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.