Let’s talk about women’s health this week! Girls and women undergo a variety of changes during different phases of their life. They have specific health needs and it is imperative that it is given the attention it requires. This article is all about PCOS and the role of Ayurveda in dealing with PCOS.
Hormones play an integral role in growth, reproduction, metabolism, sexual development, blood sugar, and even sleep, hunger, thirst. An imbalance in hormones can lead to serious disorders. One such disorder, commonly seen in women, is PCOS. PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is where the ovary has a cluster of small pearl-sized cysts. These cysts are fluid-filled and contain immature eggs. PCOS causes irregular menstrual cycles, excessive body or facial hair and those diagnosed with it are prone to conditions such as insulin resistance, Type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Women with PCOS also find it difficult to bear a child. One in ten women is diagnosed with PCOS.
Lifestyle changes such as weight loss, low-calorie diet are said to improve the condition. To regulate menstrual cycles, doctors recommend birth control pills (BCP) or progesterone therapy. These drugs merely induce a women’s ovulatory cycle rather than allowing it to revert to its original healthy rhythm. The pills have proven helpful to many women who suffer from this disorder, but the long-term side effects are plenty.
As someone who has been diagnosed with PCOS, I can agree with the dreadful side effects of the disease and the treatment strategy. Let me tell you briefly about my journey with PCOS. I was diagnosed with PCOS in 2017. Prior to that, I underwent a surgery to remove a cyst. However, that did not improve the situation. I had irregular menstrual cycles, facial hair, and tremendous pain during my cycles and lethargy. Two months on BCPs and I had gained a ton of weight, more lethargy and severe headaches (even on normal days). That’s when I knew I had to stop and shift to Ayurveda. I have been on Ayurvedic medications for the past year and I can confidently tell you that it worked for me with zero side effects.
Now that I am done with my monologue, let us try to understand PCOS from an Ayurvedic point of view. Ayurveda not only looks at the doshas in case of any malady in the body, but also focuses on the mind and consciousness. These two factors play a role in endocrinology (the study of the endocrine system and its hormone secretions). This way, Ayurveda goes beyond the physical body to address hormonal imbalances.
Each endocrine system is associated with a specific type of dosha. Pituitary gland is located in the head. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are associated with it. Thyroid and parathyroid glands are located in the throat and they are Kapha-centric. Adrenal glands and the pancreas are located in the abdomen and these are associated with Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Testes and ovaries are located below the navel and these are Vata-centric.
When the doshas in these areas are in a state of balance, the body functioning is normal. However, if one or more are in a state of imbalance, the body enters a state of disorder. Ayurveda looks at every hormonal disorder from goitre, hyperthyroidism, diabetes and more, in the eyes of vitiated doshas. Moreover, it plays a significant role in women’s health.
According to Ayurveda, PCOS disrupts healthy ovulation, and this condition is attributed to an imbalance in the Kapha doshas. This imbalance in Kapha dosha blocks Vata and Pitta. Vata dosha is responsible for follicular movement, rupture of the ovarian wall and the movement of the fimbriae that guides the egg to the uterus. Kapha dosha affects the metabolism in the tissues or dhatus. One of the dhatus that is affected in PCOS is the artava dhatu or the female reproductive system.
PCOS requires long-term management to avoid complications that last a lifetime. The common treatments that Ayurveda recommends for PCOS is detoxification along with diet and lifestyle modification. Regular exercise or even a walk for 20 minutes a day can stabilise the imbalanced doshas. Reduced sugar intake, Kapha-friendly diet that includes warm, light and airy foods with spices such as cardamom, clove, ginger and turmeric. Ayurveda also recommends a variety of kashayas, guggulus, and arishtas that help in curing PCOS.
There are Yoga asanas that help in the treatment of endocrine pathologies. A study showed the efficacy of Yoga as a supportive therapy to Ayurveda treatment in improving endocrine parameters and psychopathologies in PCOS. 64 women aged between 18-40 years undergoing Ayurveda treatment for PCOS were divided into Ayurveda+Yoga group and Ayurveda-only group. After three months, it was observed that there was a significant decrease in the endocrine parameters and an improvement in anxiety, depression and stress (Vibhuti Rao et al.).
A study observed clinical efficacy in Ayurveda treatment regimen on subfertility (reduced fertility) with PCOS (Dayani Siriwardene et al.). Forty patients were treated according to Ayurveda theories of Shodhana (elimination), Shamana (alleviation) and Tarpana (nutrition) for a duration of six months. At the end of the study, it was seen that subfertility was cured successfully and most women from the study delivered healthy babies the following year.
Good health should always be a priority. Most issues associated with women are not openly spoken about owing to the social stigma attached to it. PCOS is not an easy journey for most women. Ayurveda is one of many solutions that holds the key to a comfortable and PCOS-free life.
About the Author
Ms Varsha Venkataraman
Varsha Venkataraman is a graduate in Applied Microbiology and Cancer Studies. Currently she is the Senior Researcher for the Centre for Soft Power with an avid interest in Ayurveda and wishes to focus on the integrative approach of Ayurveda and modern medicine in the treatment of cancer.