Ritu Sharma was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) at the age of 23. It is a condition which is estimated to affect 1 in 5 Indian women, around 8–21 percent of women of reproductive age globally. Yet, awareness about PCOS management remains limited and a lot of medical experts remain dismissive about this painful hormonal condition. Just as women around the world have been trying different ways to manage PCOS, Ritu Sharma followed her own set of health tips to improve the quality of her life.
A journalist-turned-yoga teacher, Ritu now promotes the importance of holistic wellness for women. She says that while Bollywood celebrities such as Taapsee Pannu and Sara Ali Khan openly claim to have been suffering from PCOS, the larger India in smaller towns is still oblivious to the extent of its impact. Besides, the doctors, keeping in mind the cultural sensitivities, do not “tinker with the reproductive system of unmarried women”. That made Ritu’s predicament tougher.
How I was detected with PCOS
Looking back at her PCOS journey, Ritu, who is now 36 years old, tells Health Shots, “I was detected with a small dermoid cyst – a lump of flesh and hair – in my left ovary and my right ovary was polycystic. However, the doctors played it down as statistically ‘it is very normal’ these days. After all, one in every five women in India is suffering from it. Not suspecting much and trusting the advice of senior doctors, I went about my life.”
But the struggles of PCOS symptoms made life more complicated for this formidable woman, who covered Indian defence and security issues as a journalist for several years.
“I used to have constant pelvic pain, unexplained weight gain, fever, irregular periods, missing periods (at one time missed them for three months at one go), lethargy, terrible mood swings and period cramps,” she recounts.
She knew it was time to visit the doctors again. But she was always met with one question, even from female gynaecologists. “Are you married?” Ritu says the female gynaecologist even chided her by saying, “The girls these days are not able to handle pain.”
PCOS impacted my sex life too
At the time, Ritu did not want to conceive a child. But wanted to have a healthy sex life – well within her right. Doctors still remained dismissive.
“Even after marriage as sexual intercourse would remain painful and sex drive would be on the downwind, my health and general well-being was the least of the concern for the doctors as I still did not want to conceive,” she shares.
Almost a decade passed as she suffered from these PCOS symptoms. When Ritu decided to conceive, the dermoid cyst had grown so much that it had engulfed her left ovary that had to be removed. Also, the PCOS meant that her hormones had been whacked out of balance for long time.
While her body was still getting used to the changed state of hormones in her body, the doctor put her on a medicine used to counter the insulin resistance in people with Type 2 Diabetes.
This led to more complications. “I started having painful periods and severe lower back pain that reverberate through my legs. The severity of pain meant I could not even get up from my bed. My complaint about it was again frowned upon, as if it is the destiny of women to bear the pain and make peace about it,” says Ritu Sharma, who is also a sari and bike enthusiast.
It was then that she decided to take matters in her own hands. “More than child bearing, I wanted to have a quality life, where my cycles didn’t become unbearable,” asserts Ritu, who is now a mother of two adopted children. Conceiving naturally or turning to assisted reproductive techniques were not options.
Tips to manage PCOS
Many people want to reverse PCOS naturally. Here are few tips that helped Ritu Sharma manage her PCOS and improve her quality of life. She shares the lifestyle changes she incorporated in her life.
1. Syncing with the circadian rhythm
Our parents’ diktat, “Wake up at 4 a.m. and all will be well,” has triggered slew of memes. But syncing your biological clock with the nature’s clock has its benefits, especially for a woman’s hormonal and reproductive health. Be in bed by 10 p.m. and wake up by 6 a.m. or so. Getting up early gives you a headstart and creates time for you to get that workout done.
2. Prioritising sleep
FOMO is real. You want to ace your professional field and then be star of all the social gatherings, often at the cost of your sleep. This is a debt that keeps incurring on our body and over a period of time, it cannot take anymore. So, prioritise sleep over everything else and 50 percent of your woes will be taken care of. Research has shown that women with PCOS need more sleep.
Also read: A 5-step guide to living with PCOS, as suggested by a doctor
3. Stress management
A female’s body is more cyclical than males. So, we cannot pretend we are same biologically and keep going. We need to work smarter and that can be achieved in general by managing our stress better. Learn tools – meditation, yoga, music, dance, spending time in nature – whatever floats your boat. In general, slow down a bit, prioritise your life and take out some time for yourself. Work on your relationships as emotional stress is also one of the biggest triggers for PCOS.
4. Strength training
Mindless cardio to look skinny and ditching carbohydrates and fats is a sure-shot recipe for disaster. More so when you have PCOS. Instead, aim to get stronger by putting on more muscles. This will help you in keeping your insulin resistance in check and improve your blood sugar level.
Yoga has been life-altering. It helped me in calming my nervous system and has been a good addition to my running and strength training schedule. It has been really helpful in giving me tools to manage stress and also help me in strengthening my emotional intelligence quotient. Check out this video on yoga for PCOS!
6. Ditch fad diets
Fad diets that ask you to cut out certain food groups are impractical and unsustainable in the long run. Keep it simple – eat seasonal, local and fresh food. Try to include protein and vegetables in every meal and it nutrient dense food. Also, listen to your body as to how it reacts to a particular food. If a food causes bloating or acidity, it is not meant for you. Intuitive eating instead of fad dieting is the way out.