As I look out the window at 39,000 feet, squinting at the ephemeral clouds enveloping my home for the next dozen hours, I lose myself in thought. I am flying home from my nearly one week stay in Kerala, India, and pondering the roles played in our lives by hope, purpose, love, and resilience.
Reflecting on my time spent in Kerala, known as “God’s Country,” leaves me in no doubt about the powerful mark my short visit has left on my heart. And I recognize how it has amplified my drive to do all that is in my power to enable the people that cross my path, those I lecture to, and those who may read my writings, to acquire the knowledge, skills, and self confidence they need so as to optimize their health. Though my medical practice has already taught this to me, my travels even more so have clearly revealed the truth about health across the globe – too many people are suffering, and much of it is needless.
I went to India to forward my mission concerning the medical condition labeled Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), the most common endocrine condition of reproductive-aged women, and the greatest cause of infertility. Although more data is needed to accurately denote the prevalence of PCOS in India, there is no doubt that it is very high, in parallel with the growing epidemic of diabetes.
PCOS brings so many challenges – a large array of symptoms which can literally steal the fundamental elements of femininity from young women. Its typical manifestations include irregular menstrual cycles, high rates of obesity associated with difficulties in losing weight, severe cystic acne which is resistant to conventional therapies, hirsutism – hair in inappropriate sites such as the face, chest, abdomen, as well as alopecia – and thinning of scalp hair. These women have high rates of infertility, miscarriages, and pregnancy complications. They also have an elevated incidence of depression and anxiety, sleep disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, fatigue, vaginal infections, and an elevated incidence of cancer.
The young women of India with PCOS have few resources to turn to and a lack of information is prevalent, both among doctors and patients alike. In a country where fertility is revered, a condition such as PCOS can present a handicap to finding a husband and getting married. Add to all of that the fact that discussing the female reproductive tract is quite taboo, and the young women are very ashamed of themselves for all of their PCOS manifestations. Imagine that – on top of dealing with the pain of having PCOS, the young women must deal with overwhelming shame.
Hope, purpose, love, and resilience are four key components needed by all women dealing with PCOS, obviously in addition to getting proper medical care. Sadly, the hearts of women with PCOS are often broken due to the struggles they face, and healing in the aftermath of a broken heart is a great challenge, but not insurmountable. To lead the lives they desire to have, the hearts of these women absolutely must be healed, and as their hearts heal, so too will their souls and their bodies. The mind-body connection for PCOS is significant, and as the recognition of this critical link grows, we are now grasping the immense implications involving the interrelationship of the gut, the mind, and the heart.
The first task to achieve on their healing journey is the ending of the shame. These young women must be helped to stop feeling shame. That accomplishment is necessary if they are to truly recover from PCOS. For although there is no cure, a remarkable amount of improvement is achievable. Shame harms all the organs of the body, piercing deep into the heart and spreading in all directions. By educating the young women of India, and elsewhere, that they are not to blame for having PCOS, the healing process can begin, and the shame eradicated. And that’s where hope, purpose, love, and resilience surface as key components of healing. Hope is essential to life. When all hope recedes, life can be perceived as so dark as to seem worthless. A deep depression can set in and all can seem lost. Hope must be restored if health is to be restored.
Developing purpose in life is a wonderful therapeutic tool. When one lives with purpose, there is the promise of a beautiful life. A life with purpose heals one in a myriad of ways. With purpose, one sees that there is a role for you within the universe, and that it can be substantial and that it matters. That is key – having purpose means that you actually matter. Everyone must matter to have self-esteem. Love is not optional for health. From birth on, love is the foundation of life and health. All humans must both give and receive love, and women with PCOS can be viewed as having a love deficit. They often don’t love themselves and often believe they don’t deserve to be loved. Being convinced that there is no shame, no blame, and that hope abounds, is the first step to planting the seeds of love within them. And with this love comes further hope! Wonderful, isn’t it, how just as depression can grow exponentially, so too can hope and love!
And lastly the critical ingredient to a healthy, happy life is having resilience. Life is a series of challenges. No one goes through life unscathed by downturns, losses, and even some tragedy, and weathering such things is the foundation of a healthy life. Women with PCOS need tremendous resilience. At a very young age they must deal with all the issues I’ve described, all of which can feel like daggers to the heart. They may get negative comments from family and friends which lead them deeper into a dark state of shame and depression.
Establishing hope, purpose, love, and resilience can be achieved, as the first step in healing the soul, and for the women with PCOS to regain their lives, these elements must be achieved. There are a multitude of approaches to begin the healing process of the soul, and all are equal in importance to the approaches to heal the body – for mind, body, spirit are all one. I offer the full array of mind-body approaches to my patients. For the women of India, I recommended yoga. They are familiar with yoga and it is culturally acceptable. Getting established with a yoga practice can work miracles, along with a beautiful symbiosis with the necessary lifestyle changes essential for their health.
I look forward to continuing my mission to help women with PCOS to achieve the beautiful lives they desire and deserve, both in India and elsewhere around the world. And by emphasizing the importance of mind-body medicine for this healing process, we will see more success and more happy smiles on the beautiful faces of these women.