Last year I wrote a blog post, The Little Pill & Listening to Our Bodies about birth control and my experience with hormonal health and PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). After I published that blog post, I had other young South Asian women, reaching out to me for months, asking about alternatives to the pill when it came to PCOS.
What I’m going to share in this post touches the tip of the iceberg and there is so much more that can be said. However, this is a start and I will be sharing more in the upcoming months on what I have changed in my life and what has worked for me. What I will address are questions and things I wish I knew when I began this journey. After 2 years of researching and experimenting, I feel like I am finally closer to the answers. I want both men and women to know there are alternatives- it is a matter of listening to our bodies and making intentional choices along the way. The process (and results) are totally worth it.
In 2016, I returned to the U.S. after being abroad in India and other parts of Southeast Asia for almost a year. At that point, I returned with little dark spots on my body and my parents said I looked a bit off. My mom told me to get a blood test just in case I had some sort of nutrient deficiency.
I went to my primary care physician to get blood tests done and then went to my gynecologist who ordered some more blood tests. She also told me to see an endocrinologist. He ordered the Complete Metabolic Panel, Endrostemetione, 17 Hydroxy Progesterone, DHEA Sulfate, Total and Free Testosterone. My testosterone levels were through the roof and my other hormone levels were out of range as well.
Since I’ve gone through puberty, I’ve had excessive hair growth on different parts of my body and at that point, had tried almost everything besides electrolysis and the YAG laser (which I am now learning more about).
With a combination of my hair growth, high hormone levels, and random acne breakouts, the doctor told me I had PCOS. He told me to wait a couple of months and then come back if my hormone levels were still high. He said he would prescribe birth control in a few months and just told me to keep exercising.
At the time, my diet had been pretty healthy. I was vegetarian, regularly exercised, and took care of myself.
I became concerned with my fertility health in addition to my hormonal health. While PCOS doesn’t always lead to infertility, I wanted to address all areas of my health and be as preventive as possible.
As someone who has always sought out alternatives, I went to see naturopathic, homeopathic, and Ayurvedic doctors in the U.S. and then in India when I went back late Fall of 2016. I traveled around, did research, changed my diet and routine even more, and visited different doctors and holistic practitioners. I wanted to know the root of what was happening in my body.
A friend finally recommended I check out Ayurveda centers, so I ended up going to one Coimbatore in South India called Vaidyagrama. The doctors who practiced nature based approaches all told me the same thing: I don’t have PCOS.
In March 2017, I went to Vaidygrama. When the doctor first saw me, he said my body type and my personality seemed different from what my symptoms were saying. While my hormonal imbalance and blood test said I had inflammation in my system, pointing to an excess of “fire energy”, I looked calm and composed. For over a year at that point since early 2016, I had more seriously been practicing yoga and meditation. My life had changed drastically and I was experiencing less stress than before. My daily practices had helped, but I needed to make more changes so my hormones could stabilize as well.
I stayed in that center for 3 weeks and it was life changing. I was given ghee treatment and my entire body was cleansed. Beyond that, it was one of the most intense emotional experiences I’ve had. The doctor told me it was normal. What often happens in this process of oiling the body and being in a contained environment with only a certain type of foods, suppressed channels (emotionally and physically) begin to open.
For women specifically, our hormones are suppressed from various experiences and we need help opening them. On a spiritual level, a physical imbalance can occur if our masculine and feminine energies are not in balance.
While I saw immediate effects in my life overall, here are the immediate physical effects I witnessed in my body:
- My period reset like clockwork - Since the first time I had my period in 7th grade, I had an irregular cycle. Sometimes my period would come 7 days later month after month. After returning from the center, my cycle was regular
- My hormones levels were normal - A couple of weeks after returning from the center, I had blood tests done and my hormone levels were completely normal. It was like a miracle. I recently had my third blood test, and the levels are still the same.
While I was lucky to have the luxury of going to this center for a dedicated three weeks of my life, I realize not everyone can pick up like that. I was still working part-time while I was there (which they strongly do not recommend and looking back, I probably shouldn’t have been working either!).
However, the true test is when I returned home and began to incorporate these changes into my life. It is possible to cleanse your body over time at home through making some intentional decisions. When you go back home, it is easy to disrupt your body again with toxins and stress, so it is vital to do as much as you can to manage that in your day to day life.
I had always been conscious of my diet, but I went back to being a more serious vegan. While my hormones had stabilized, I was still experiencing excessive hair growth. Up until recently, I also had been experiencing acne breakouts. In the past 6 months, I’ve kicked things up a notch with syncing my cycle with certain types of foods and different exercises. I recently also began seed cycling after learning about it from Christina Alvarez.
Since a woman’s cycle goes through four different phases during the month, I have been eating food, exercising, and scheduling my life around the time of the month. Paying attention to my gut health and managing stress has been a key part of this. My breakouts (for the most part) have stopped, and I currently only have scarring.
Let's Talk Food/Exercise/Lifestyle:
Like I said before, I am only touching the tip of the ice-berg, but I want to provide as much information as I can. To start, I highly recommend reading Alisa Vitti’s book, Woman Code. She had PCOS, balanced her own hormones, experienced a lot of the same symptoms I’m talking about, and through nature-based remedies, changed her life completely. I recently finished reading the book and am already seeing changes in my own health.
Tracking my cycle
- I use the Flo Living App (you’ll learn more when you read Woman Code) to track my cycle and learn more about what I need to be doing to nurture myself during that time of the month
- Vegan: I became vegan for different reasons, but from the health/physical perspective, it is because of the antibiotics and hormones cows are given. In addition, cows automatically have higher hormone levels when they are pregnant. We are consuming those hormones as a result. While the scientific research says different things, I choose to stay away from dairy unless I am straight up raising the cow and milking it myself.
- As little refined sugar and processed foods as possible: I try to stick with steamed vegetables, raw fruits and vegetables, beans, and healthy grains like quinoa and brown rice (my mom buys high quality white rice which isn’t as processed, so I will have that whenever I’m with my parents)
A note about enjoying the little things: In saying all of the above, I am not saying I live like a robot. I love chocolate and gooey chocolate chip cookies. I still find myself indulging and making exceptions once in a while. If I do eat too much of something (like cookies!) I try not to be hard on myself and move on. I also love to put my mom’s homemade ghee in my food when I’m at home eating my mom’s cooking – these are the few things that bring me joy and I still have it from time to time. As I’ve experienced extremes of figuring out what works for me, I’ve realized it is so important to not suppress desires. Developing healthy relationships with what we put in our bodies is a key part of this journey.
- I’ve never been much of a caffeine person since my body has always been really sensitive to it. I also stay away from caffeine even if it is in tea. I don’t know enough about “healthy” caffeine choices to share more, but I do know alternatives are out there.
- Throughout the day, I feed off of my natural energy. To do this, I get enough sleep (7-8 hours a night), make sure I do some form of exercise during the day, and minimize people and things in my life that drain my energy.
- Like being vegan, there are other reasons why I don’t consume alcohol. However, from a physical health standpoint, alcohol is a toxin and I am incredibly sensitive to it. It has the ability to throw my entire system off, including my sleep cycle.
- Over the past couple of months, I’ve learned it’s important to not force my body to do excessive amounts of cardio, especially if I’m not feeling it. That does more harm than good and can exert stress not just on the body, but also the mind. While I regularly exercise, I try to stay in tune with what my body needs that day.
- I volleyed from periods of trying not to do so much in order to mitigate stress. Through a routine that works for me, learning different productivity techniques, and creating space for myself and the people I love, I am able to manage my stress a lot better. I am now back to the eccentric entrepreneur that I am, but manage my work through experimenting with different types of practices and seeing what works best for me.
Lifestyle & Other Areas of Life
It is hard to address my health and yours without addressing other lifestyle factors. Everything is interconnected. When there is some sort of imbalance, it is important to take a step back and ask, What is my body trying to tell me? When I began thinking about my fertility at 23, it wasn’t because I wanted to have kids right away. I wanted to ensure my body and reproductive system were working optimally so later in my life, I can have options and prevent complications down the road.
Initially, I saw my hormonal imbalance and other symptoms as a burden. However, through this journey I’ve realized that it has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. From having the intense desire to know the root of what has been happening in my body, I have learned to listen to my body, understand the science, become my own doctor, and take the steps I need in order to best treat myself. It is empowering to know I can listen to my body and choose how I engage with it.
Earlier this month, I cured myself (with a lot of care from my parents) from a bacterial and viral infection without taking antibiotics. While it took a few days longer to get better, it was empowering to have the ability to say no and allow my immune system to fight back on its own.
I am still learning more about my alternatives, including food and supplements, but felt moved to share my own journey so far. While millions of women have a hormonal imbalance and have PCOS, I feel we have the power to choose 1) how we live and 2) what we eat in order to stabilize our hormones and feel better in our skin.
When I began this journey, I was searching left and right for answers. I couldn’t seem to find the right people to connect with when it came to hormonal health, diet, exercise, and in general, just living a holistic lifestyle. I also felt that there needed to be a community for South Asian women to discuss all things hormonal, PCOS, and hair growth related.
I know so much of this varies from person to person, so I want to create space where women going through this can ask specific questions and engage in dialogue in a way that best serves their needs.
So, I don’t want your journey to end the moment you stop reading this! What are your questions? Let’s continue the conversation. In the next week or so I’d like to get a community of women together. If you are interested in staying in the loop, please sign up here and I will invite you as soon as possible.
*note: I am not a medical professional or expert. These are my experiences and in no way do they replace the knowledge of a licensed practitioner.