"We need more supporting families, so women get enough space and love to heal."
Many women suffer from PCOS (PolyCystic Ovary Syndrome) and are overwhelmed by its various myths.
1 in 4 women in India has this disorder, affecting girls as young as 15.
It can leave teenage girls feeling depressed and anxious over physical changes like excessive body hair and acne.
Many look at this condition as an overweight problem. However, this is just one of the many myths which surround PCOS.
The Desi community must learn the truth behind PCOS and the best ways to manage this disorder.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is the most common endocrine disorder in women in the UK, affecting 1 in 10 women.
Polycystic ovary syndrome as it is fully known can affect women from different backgrounds.
It is caused by insulin resistance that leads to diabetes, heart disease, and infertility.
The highest reported incidence in an ethnic group was a study of South Asian immigrants in Britain, which found that 52% of South Asian women had PCOS.
The symptoms of PCOS can be overwhelming to teenagers and young women.
Obesity, acne, and facial hair severely impact body image, alongside the additional worry of fertility issues later on in life.
Symptoms of PCOS
- Irregular periods
- Excess facial and body hair
- Hair loss
- Rapid weight gain
- Acanthosis Nigricans
What Causes PCOS?
Resistance to Insulin
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, which controls the amount of sugar in the blood.
It helps move glucose from the blood into cells, where it’s broken down to produce energy.
Also, insulin resistance means the body’s tissues are resistant to the effects of insulin. The body, therefore, has to produce extra insulin to compensate.
High levels of insulin cause the ovaries to produce too much testosterone, which negatively affects the ovulation cycle.
Insulin resistance can lead to weight gain, which can also make PCOS symptoms worse. Having excess fat can cause the body to produce even more insulin.
Another potential cause for PCOS is an imbalance in hormones. Some women who have raised levels of testosterone may have PCOS.
Moreover, high levels of luteinising hormone may have an abnormal effect on the ovaries.
There are more hormonal imbalances that can cause PCOS. But the reason why these changes occur is unknown.
Genetic has also been seen as a cause for PCOS, as it can run in families.
For example, if a woman’s mother or sister has PCOS, there is an increased risk of developing PCOS.
Therefore, South Asian families must be aware of how common this condition is and understand what small lifestyle changes they can make to support one another.
Myth 1 – A Women can Cause PCOS
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but no woman is at fault. Multiple factors play a role in PCOS, such as genetics.
Women whose mothers or sisters have PCOS are more likely to be affected by this condition.
Male hormones control the development of male traits. When the follicles grow and, eggs are not released, ovulation does not occur.
As a result of this, the follicles can turn into cysts, which means the body might fail to make progesterone, which is needed to keep an ovulation cycle regular.
Scientists also think that insulin plays a massive role since women who have PCOS have insulin resistance. This is more common in women who are overweight or have a family history of Type 2 diabetes.
Myth 2 – Losing Weight can get Rid of PCOS
It is scientifically true that obese and overweight women can balance their hormones by exercising and eating a healthier diet.
Regular exercise improves how the body regulates hormones.
However, this lifestyle doesn’t treat PCOS; it simply manages the symptoms.
Myth 3 – Birth Control is the Best Option for PCOS
Birth control can be a good treatment option if a woman does not intend of getting pregnant any time soon.
They can regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce androgen levels, but they may also increase the risk of endometrial cancer.
It can also increase the risk of blood clots, especially in women over 40 and obese women. Hence why researching the pill before taking it is vital.
Myth 4 – PCOS Prevents Pregnancy
PCOS may cause a pregnancy to be difficult, but it does not remove the chance of fertility. Every woman’s body is different.
A woman’s body is strong and resilient.
Talking with a GP or specialist can be beneficial in finding the right fertility treatment.
It might be harder to get pregnant, but it is not impossible.
As small lifestyle changes and perhaps medication, whichever works best for a woman’s body, will help a woman ovulate.
Myth 5 – PCOS Only affects Overweight Women
It may be true that some women who have PCOS are overweight, and PCOS can cause weight gain.
PCOS can affect women of all sizes.
Therefore, it is important to eat healthily and exercise regularly for a healthy lifestyle.
Myth 6 – Every woman who has PCOS has Polycystic Ovaries
Since “Polycystic ovaries” is in the name of PCOS, it frustratingly does not mean a woman must have this.
Many women who have PCOS do not have cysts on their ovaries.
Even having cysts does not lead to PCOS.
To be diagnosed with PCOS, a woman must need to have two of three conditions:
- Androgen Excess: acne, hair loss
- Irregular menstruation
- Cystic ovaries
Myth 7 – Every Woman with PCOS is hairy
Another common symptom of PCOS is hair growth.
Women with PCSO can grow unwanted hair on their upper lip, chin or chest, but this isn’t the case for every woman.
Women can also experience hair loss as a symptom.
Many Desi women understand the frustration of hair growth and the annoyance of constantly removing it is. It can be even more stressful for a woman with PCOS.
Therefore, people should not point out women with thin hair or facial hair.
It is important to remember, women with PCOS have no control over this, so rather than being judgemental, the community should be supportive.
PCOS Club India
DESIblitz sat down with Nidhi Singh, founder of PCOS Club India, the first Indian community for PCOS. To speak on the common misconceptions of PCOS and what PCOS Club India does for Indian women who are suffering this condition.
“Dealing with my PCOS for many years, I realised India lacks a community where women could find the trusted resources to reverse their PCOS naturally, share their struggles & motivate one another.”
Nidhi is an MBA graduate from the University of Birmingham & is currently pursuing a plant-based Holistic Nutrition Course from AFPA.
Ms Singh explained the need for this community group. Due to the stigma attached to menstruation in India and limited awareness about women’s health disorders.
“PCOS Club India aims to empower women and bring all the resources, educative content, Trusted hormone friendly products, and PCOS health experts that could together enable women to Reverse and manage their PCOS naturally without depending on a hormonal pill.”
PCOS Misconceptions Debunked
One misconception DESIblitz asked Ms Singh to explain is the suggestion that only overweight women have PCOS.
She said: “Lean PCOS is so much harder to deal with because no one talks about it.
“Weight gain is just a by-product of PCOS and is not a cause of PCOS.
“The current International PCOS guidelines suggest that up to 5% weight loss can help regulate your periods but doesn’t guarantee a PCOS cure.”
In terms of fertility and the perception that PCOS makes a woman infertile, Nidhi understands ovulation can be tricky.
Women should “work with their health practitioner to understand their menstrual cycle.”
PCOS and Mental Health
“One of the hardest and unseen PCOS symptoms is severe mood swings, depression and poor emotional health.”
Nidhi went on to say that poor mental health is “overlooked” by traditional medical practitioners.
“Dealing with facial hair growth, acne, body weight, extreme fatigue is hard whilst in our families talking about periods related condition is considered a taboo.”
Nidhi explained that dealing with PCOS can be very isolating.
“In our South Asian culture, families feel ashamed to disclose this condition about their daughters with a fear that no one would marry their daughter.”
She believes if a woman is suffering from low moods or anxiety, she needs to “seek help from an experienced holistic health care practitioner or a psychotherapist.”
Raising awareness on PCOS
Nidhi’s vision is to educate and create awareness about this condition for every woman.
Nidhi strongly believes that early education to women and their loved ones can help diagnose this condition and manage PCOS naturally.
“Unlike other ethnicities, South Asian women showed an increased degree of hirsutism, early onset of PCOS symptoms, and severe insulin resistance and metabolic risks.
“We are overjoyed to see concerned fathers and husbands and partners reaching out to us for help. We need more supporting families, so women get enough space and love to heal.”
Treatment for PCOS
After a Desi woman is diagnosed with PCOS, she will then have to sit down and look at what path is best for her in terms of treatment.
Since obesity and elevated insulin trigger PCOS, a healthy diet and regular exercise are required. Moderation is key.
Limiting foods high in sugar like certain fruits, sweets, fizzy drinks, and processed food can be very beneficial.
However, young Desi women should not read false information on social media.
Having a restrictive diet, cuttings out loved foods can affect a woman’s mental and physical health.
It is vital to try different treatments to see which suits the needs of the individual’s body.
Plant Based and Gluten Free Diet
There is no evidence-based research to show a connection between PCOS and gluten.
Yet, PCOS is a state of inflammation, which is associated with insulin resistance. The daily consumption of wheat products can also contribute to inflammation.
A whole food plant-based diet is naturally rich in fibre and micronutrients, which is crucial for healing PCOS. The addition of vitamin supplements can boost metabolism and energy.
Therefore, reducing or cutting gluten out of a diet might lessen the inflation in PCOS.
Following a low-carb or keto diet can help as well. A study by Cleveland Clinic in America found how the keto diet was beneficial to PCOS sufferers.
However, cutting gluten out of a Desi diet can be very difficult.
Arguably chapatis are its own food group for most Desi people.
But educational recipe sites like Traladal have created lists of vegan and gluten-free Desi recipes. Including mouth-watering bajra garlic roti, and spicy cauliflower and oat tikis.
So by going gluten-free, it does not mean a person will miss out on delicious food.
Education in The Desi Community
A woman can learn how to manage PCOS and still live life to the fullest. PCOS Club India currently offers :
- Credible educative PCOS content
- Personalised 1:1 PCOS healing programs and group workshops
- Access to trusted PCOS health experts
- Curated PCOS products and access to PCOS diagnostic centres.
Over the past year, through workshops and 1:1 consultations, Nidhi Singh has personally interacted with over 500+ women.
These women have seen a significant change in their PCOS symptoms, and some have successfully conceived too.
The Desi community must stand together. Countless Desi women face the struggle of living with PCOS every day.
Yet, women are shamed for the physical side effects of PCOS like body hair or the chance of infertility. It is not their fault.
The community must educate itself on women’s health. So young Desi girls can spot the symptoms of PCOS and learn to manage it.
This condition is difficult enough for Desi women, with PCOS myths and false information polluting their minds. Raising awareness and education is key to a healthier and happier tomorrow.