Over the last few years, there has been a shift in narrative about women’s health, especially topics surrounding reproductive health. Renowned MD Obstetrician-Gynaecologist Dr Nitu Bajekal who has decades of experience in this field has worked with her daughter, expert nutritionist, Rohini Bajekal on the much-anticipated book ‘Living PCOS Free’. The book is all about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. PCOS is one of the most common endocrine disorders worldwide, which affects at least one in ten women or anyone assigned female at birth. Hammersmith Health Books is proud to be publishing this book, which aims to give those going through PCOS an insightful and inspirational guide. This blog is written by Rohini Bajekal, who gives a personal account of why she worked with her mother and co-author to write the book and what they hope to achieve with it.
‘Living PCOS Free’ launches on 28th April and can be purchased here.
What spurred you to write ‘Living PCOS Free’?
They always say you write the book you wish you had on your bookshelf. As Rohini had personal experience of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and Nitu has 35 years of experience helping patients, we both had a clear vision for our first book together. We had never come across a book on PCOS written by qualified health professionals that highlighted proven lifestyle approaches alongside western medicine and felt that this needed to be addressed as soon as possible. Nitu had wished to write a book for years but it took a pandemic and several lockdowns to be able to carve out the time to sit down and write it together. The initial idea was to write a general women’s health book but Rohini felt that since Nitu is an ObGyn, a general book would not do justice to the complex nature of these conditions as we would only be able to dedicate a few pages to each condition such as fibroids, endometriosis, painful periods etc. and that would not really help people to address their issues.
Could you tell us a bit more as to why PCOS is more than a fertility issue?
PCOS is often simplified as purely a fertility issue as it is the leading cause of infertility worldwide. However, PCOS and its other short-term and long-term complications are woefully underrepresented both in scientific research and mainstream conversations. It is estimated that as many as three-quarters of those living with PCOS remain undiagnosed.
PCOS is a complex condition that affects the way the ovaries function, resulting in a wide range of reproductive, metabolic, and psychological symptoms that affect women differently. Societal stigma (due to patriarchal beauty standards) often associated with common symptoms, such as weight gain, scalp hair loss, acne, irregular periods and excess hair growth, means many women are unable to talk about it openly or seek the help they deserve.
In addition, many women are told that losing weight is the only solution to improving their PCOS with little guidance or support on how to follow a “healthy lifestyle”. In fact, 20% of those with PCOS have lean PCOS and are within the “healthy” BMI range, yet still struggle with the symptoms.
As people with PCOS have a higher risk of endometrial cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other long-term chronic conditions, it is critical to introduce sustainable nutrition and lifestyle changes as early as possible. All national and international guidelines recommend lifestyle interventions to be the first line of management for PCOS, even before medications. PCOS is a condition that is heavily influenced by our lifestyle — how we eat, sleep, move, stress, interact and so on. The book is packed with information on how to make lifestyle changes, including following a plant-based diet pattern, moving regularly, managing stress, getting restful sleep, nurturing positive social relationships and avoiding use of risky substances such as tobacco and alcohol.
What do you both hope to achieve with the book in terms of awareness and change for those suffering from PCOS?
Our hope is to reach anyone living with PCOS, a complex condition that does not receive the attention it deserves. We especially want to reach those from marginalised communities, including people of colour who are not always able to access the best medical care and support for a number of reasons that we discuss in the book. We have tried to be inclusive as PCOS also affects trans men and non-binary folk. We also hope that family members, partners and friends of those living with PCOS read this book to better understand it and to support the person they care about. Since a staggering 75% of people with PCOS remain undiagnosed, we also hope to reach those struggling with the symptoms such as fertility issues, irregular periods or excess hair growth, but for whom the dots have not yet been joined.
Advocating for PCOS is political and we hope this book is a stepping stone for greater change and awareness around reproductive health. The economic burden of PCOS was previously estimated at approximately $3.7 billion annually in 2020. Even more strikingly, this figure only considers the costs of the initial diagnosis and of reproductive endocrine morbidities, without considering the costs of pregnancy-related and long-term morbidities.
We know that ‘Pinterest’ is about to release a trend report which shows that searches for menstrual cycle are up as younger people wish to empower themselves with knowledge about their cycle – how do you feel about this and how it links in with your work?
We think it is so promising that young people are empowering themselves with knowledge and raising awareness of what a normal menstrual cycle is. Dr Nitu Bajekal is active on TikTok where there are a lot of menstrual educators creating content. We bust a lot of myths in Living PCOS Free around menstruation – we even talk about menstruation in non-human animals! So many people who menstruate struggle with irregular, painful, or heavy periods, not realising that these are not normal because of societal conditioning and lack of menstrual education. As a society, we have to do better at educating everyone around menstruation from a young age and doing so in an inclusive way. We also talk about the importance of tracking your cycle in Living PCOS Free and bust myths around issues such as seed cycling for hormonal health.
Since announcing you were releasing this upcoming book, what has been the reaction from you friends, family, clients and followers?
The reaction has been wonderful. We have been incredibly touched by the support we have received from our followers on social media, by our close friends and family and by many people we admire and look up to in the medical, lifestyle medicine and plant-based communities. Most of all, we have been honoured to receive a few especially moving messages from those who have PCOS themselves and who are especially excited about the release. We are definitely a little nervous about the reaction as we inch closer to the publication date but we are so proud of what we have created. We really hope Living PCOS Free will help many people and stand the test of time.
Could you share with us, a PCOS friendly recipe – (either from the book or one you like to make yourself!)
We have over 30 plant-based recipes from our family kitchen in Living PCOS Free which are incorporated into our 21-day plan.
One of our favourite quick and easy recipes in the book is our Paprika Hummus. Eating legumes (beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, peas) every day is great for short-term and long-term hormonal health as these foods are full of fibre, protein, minerals and vitamins. Hummus is such a versatile dip and this homemade version takes minutes to prepare. It can be enjoyed with a baked sweet potato or potato, on a salad or as a dip with raw vegetables. The recipe also uses aquafaba, the viscous water in which legumes such as chickpeas have been cooked. Aquafaba can be used as an egg replacer as it mimics egg whites in cooking, for example in meringues and marshmallows.
Recipe: Paprika Hummus by Rohini Bajekal and Dr Nitu Bajekal
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed but set the aquafaba aside
1 can of cannellini beans, drained and discard aquafaba
4 cloves of raw garlic
1/2 tsp of black pepper
1/2 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp of cumin powder
Juice of 2 lemons
2 tbsp of tahini
1/2 tsp of paprika
1-2 tbsp of premium quality cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil (optional)
A sprig of fresh herbs such as parsley (optional)
- Drain water from cannellini beans and rinse.
- Save the water from the chickpea BPA free can (aquafaba) and use as much of it as you need to blend to a smooth consistency with all the other ingredients in a good quality blender.
- Use most of the aquafaba water if you prefer a runnier hummus. Add as you go along to reach desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning as preferred and garnish with a few herbs such as fresh parsley if you like and a sprinkle of paprika for colour. Refrigerate and enjoy within 3-4 days.