Decoding PCOD with Ayurveda
If you have been diagnosed with PCOD, you’re definitely not alone. It is estimated that as many as 1 in 5 women in India suffer from this condition. What’s disturbing about PCOD is that it primarily affects young women of childbearing age – between 15 to 30 years. PCOD affects metabolic, endocrinal and reproductive functions, which can increase the risk of other health problems including infertility, heart disease, diabetes and in extreme cases even cancer. Although PCOD is regarded as a chronic condition, there is a ray of hope as it can be effectively managed with lifestyle changes and natural treatments such as Ayurveda. In fact, many regard Ayurvedic treatments for PCOD as more sustainable because of their holistic approach.
PCOD is categorized as an endocrinal or hormonal disorder in which small sacs or cysts develop on the ovaries. These fluid-filled cysts are not seen as threatening, but can result in hormonal imbalances, causing a wide range of problems. As a result, women with PCOD tend to have high levels of androgen (the male hormone) and suffer from PMS or menstrual cycle abnormalities that can include irregular periods and painful menstruation. Because of the imbalances in hormonal levels, women with PCOD also suffer from symptoms such as excessive facial and body hair growth, acne and obesity. Unfortunately, modern medical science fails to identify the precise causes of PCOD, although it is associated with problems of excess insulin, inflammatory response and genetic factors.
Ayurvedic Insights into PCOD
Although classical Ayurvedic texts do not specifically mention PCOD, the knowledge that they contain gives us a good insight into the condition. They also address specific symptoms and disorders that are associated with PCOD. Based on the teachings of Ayurveda, it becomes clear that PCOD is caused by a weakening of the rasa and rakta dhatus. This refers to the plasma or non-cellular components of blood and the red blood cells, respectively. When the level of impurities or toxins build up in these dhatus, there is a high risk of cyst formation in and around the ovaries. As the dhatus receive nourishment and are kept in balance through diet and lifestyle, Ayurveda regards dietary and lifestyle problems as the root cause of most instances of PCOD. This belief is also supported by modern medical studies that highlight a strong association of PCOD with diet and lifestyle choices. Accordingly, Ayurveda focuses on correcting those underlying imbalances and reducing the buildup of toxins through natural methods.
Ayurvedic Treatment for PCOD
Weakening of the dhatus (which gives rise to PCOD) occurs because of imbalances in the life-force or doshas, namely vata, pitta and kapha. As PCOD is categorized as Yoni Vyapad (female gynecological disorder) in the ancient text of Charaka Samhita, part of the focus is on restoring the balance of vata. Ayurvedic treatment for PCOD also works to detoxify the body, lowering levels of ama or impurities and to restore the natural balance of hormones. This strengthens healthy functions of the ovaries and improves the health of the uterine lining or endometrium. This also helps to address problems of decreased fertility levels and menstrual irregularities that are linked to abnormalities in the endometrium. These Ayurvedic treatments for PCOD are multi-faceted, including a combination of Ayurvedic herbs and polyherbal formulations, dietary practices and lifestyle modifications that include physical activities with specific yoga asanas.
Ayurvedic Medications for PCOD
Ayurvedic medications that are used to treat PCOD include specific herbs, minerals and medications or formulas that are derived through a blend of natural ingredients. The rich history of Ayurveda spans millennia which is why there is a vast choice of Ayurvedic herbs and medications. With modern medical research and clinical studies, the efficacy of many of these herbs and formulations has been supported. What’s great about them is that they may be used as standalone treatments or as adjunct or supportive therapy along with your regular medications. In addition to treating the underlying problem, these herbs and medications can also reduce dependence on pharmaceutical drugs and lower the risk of side effects associated with conventional treatment. Let’s take a closer look at what we know about some of the most commonly used ingredients in Ayurvedic medications for PCOS.
Amla – Regarded as a powerful rejuvenant and detox agent in Ayurveda, amla can help to reduce the levels of ama or toxins in the dhatus. This is believed to have a strengthening effect on the body and provide relief from PCOD symptoms like irregular and painful menstruation. Studies have confirmed the powerful antioxidant, anti-diabetic and hypolipidemic properties of the herb, with one study also demonstrating anti-neoplastic effects that can help inhibit ovarian cancer cell proliferation.
Indian Long Pepper – Better known as pipli or pipramool, this ingredient is believed to help regulate menstrual flow, relieving cramping and boost fertility. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits of pipli have also been confirmed by studies, with some suggesting that it may also offer antidepressant benefits.
Gokhru – Commonly used in sexual wellness supplements for both men and women, gokhru can help treat PCOD by relieving menstrual irregularities. Research shows that medications containing gokhru may not only help relieve menstrual symptoms, but could also improve endocrine function, helping regulate ovulation and improve hormonal balance.
Ashwagandha – Primarily associated with male sexual health and bodybuilding supplements, ashwagandha may also have a role to play in the treatment of PCOS. This herb has been the subject of several studies and may help women sufferinng from PCOS in a variety of ways. Preclinical studies show that ashwagandha may help improve insulin sensitivity and can be particularly effective for PCOS when used in combination with gokhru.
Shilajit – An organic substance that is obtained from rock formations in the Himalayas, shilajit has long been used in Ayurvedic treatments for sexual wellness. It may be particularly helpful for PCOD as studies show ovogenic effects, which means that it can induce ovulation.
Other commonly used herbs, spices and seeds include the likes of cinnamon, fenugreek, flaxseeds, tulsi, ashoka and shatavari, to name a few.
Ayurvedic Diet for PCOD
Contrary to popular belief, an Ayurvedic diet for PCOS is not complicated or restrictive, but emphasizes balanced eating. You are advised to eat natural or whole foods, while limiting or avoiding your intake of processed and junk foods. This is in keeping with current scientific literature, which suggests that PCOD is associated with a higher intake of simple sugars, refined carbs and saturated and trans fats.
The bulk of your diet should comprise of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, beans, pulses, legumes and nuts. Non-vegetarians should limit or avoid the intake of red meats and instead consume fish, eggs and other lean meats in moderation. When choosing fruits, vegetables and grains, try to increase your intake of low glycemic carbs such as unrefined cereals, oats, jowar, bajra, nachni, whole wheat atta, bran and brown rice. These foods are good sources of complex carbs and since they are absorbed by your body at a slower rate, they supply a slow and steady stream of energy. These foods also control mood swings and since they increase muscle glycogen levels, there is a lower risk of extra glucose being converted and stored as fat.
Increase your intake of healthy monounsaturated fats. Nuts such as almond and groundnut as well as channa and black gram are good sources of this type of fat. Alpha-linolenic fatty acids are also healthy fats that are present in most varieties of seeds, nuts and fatty fish. Monounsaturated fats and Alpha-linolenic fatty acids are an important part of a PCOS diet as they control obesity and insulin resistance. Protein is just as important, but is often lacking in our diets. Boost your protein intake by adding more paneer, eggs, sprouts or lean meats to your regular diet. Proteins are a very important part of a diet plan for PCOS as they increase satiety, which reduces sugar and carb cravings. Protein helps to reduce insulin spikes and regulate blood sugar levels. It will also protect lean muscle mass and increase muscle response to exercise.
Ayurvedic Lifestyle Recommendations for PCOD
The best thing you can do for yourself would be to adopt the Ayurvedic practice of dinacharya or daily routine. Until you are ready to make that transition however, there are some basic recommendations that you should follow. While any form or moderate intensity exercise or physical activity will help, certain yoga asanas are regarded as particularly beneficial. Keeping this in mind, any routine of yoga for PCOS should include asanas such as the Surya Namaskar, Ushtrasana, Ardhmatsyendrasana, Sarvangasana and Paschimothanasana. Some studies have shown that the regular practice of yoga can help improve quality of life in PCOD patients by aiding weight management, controlling androgen levels and normalizing insulin resistance. Of course, to enjoy all of these benefits and to effectively manage PCOD, you need to make changes in all areas of your life, embracing all of the Ayurvedic recommendations. This means that in addition to using Ayurvedic herbs and medications, you should also adhere to dietary recommendations and exercise routines.