Heavy periods, weight gain, mood changes, pain, and acne. Sounds like normal symptoms of that dreaded time of the month, right? Maybe. But it actually could be more than that. It could also be symptoms of a hormonal disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a condition that affects a woman's ovaries. Women who have PCOS often experience irregular periods (infrequent or prolonged) due to PCOS' effect on the reproductive hormones. Doctors aren't exactly sure what causes PCOS and in fact many women don't even know they have it and often chalk the symptoms they are experiencing up to menstrual cycle symptoms.
PCOS affects women of all races and ethnicities who are of reproductive age. In fact, one study's findings "suggests that there are no racial or ethnic influences on the prevalence of PCOS." So, while black women are not necessarily more prone to PCOS, they are often misdiagnosed or misunderstood. "Most of my PCOS warriors are white or Hispanic. I've found that black women have had trouble with their diagnosis. They have no idea that they have it. In the black community, a lot of us aren't even aware of what PCOS is or how to support each other. But as an overall community, we are being recognized more, and more women are doing their research and finding fellow PCOS sisters. We're finding out how to change this stigma of people brushing it off like it's not real," said Alicia W. shared with xoNecole.
September is PCOS Awareness Month and women like Alicia, Mieko, and Tanny are doing their part to educate and bring awareness of the disorder, all while educating women on PCOS. Check out their stories below.
I remember having severe cramps, like I was on my cycle. Not too long after, I began to think something was wrong. I was trying to Google what was wrong with me until the pain got out of control. It got so bad my boyfriend took me to the emergency room. After arriving at the hospital, I was told that a cyst had ruptured and I was given the diagnosis of PCOS. Before then, I knew something felt a little weird and a little off.
"I was experiencing period symptoms, but they were happening without a period and they were coming more frequently than my period was coming. I brushed off all of those symptoms. I never thought to look into PCOS because I was going to my OB/GYN every year and it never came up."
In terms of treatment, I have been on just about everything you can possibly imagine. So, initially when they diagnosed me, they told me that all I needed to do was lose weight. No medicine, no nothing. I ended up dealing with the same symptoms for two years. I came home and started going to my current OB/GYN. I tried Metformin and it was horrible. It was not for me. It made me sick every time. I even tried to take it off and on along with birth control. But with birth control, my hair growth, also known as hirsutism, was getting worse. I was getting cystic acne and having more pain.
What I'm doing now is Ovasitol. I just started this year and it has been what works best for me by far. It's amazing. Ovasitol is a powder supplement. You mix it in your water or whatever drink you choose. It helps to level out hormones, control cravings, and regulate your cycle. I still have symptoms, but they are more manageable. The only thing you can't really reverse is the hair growth. That's the only thing that has not been managed. Literally after a month of Ovasitol (even without taking it regularly), my period came back after six months of not having one. I also take Goli gummies as well, just as an additional vitamin to help give me some energy in the morning.
"I hope that more black women feel empowered to talk to their doctors about PCOS. As black women, we are completely overlooked because we are traditionally heavier or have more curves. We are immediately told to lose weight which is not the answer for everyone. When we tell them about our symptoms, they attribute it to needing to lose weight. They rarely look into anything else."
One day, I put a little quiz on my Instagram story for women to take to see if they have PCOS symptoms. I received about 35 DMs from black women saying, "Oh my God, I think I have PCOS!" I was thinking what in the world is happening when these women are going to see their doctors? My advice to other women would be to ask questions and be sure they are listening to their bodies. I would also encourage other women to raise awareness because there are so many women out there going through the same thing.
To continue following Alicia's journey, be sure to follow her @lelestyleme.
After about two years of my partner and I trying to conceive, I finally made an appointment with my OB/GYN and expressed to him my concern of not conceiving. My periods were usually normal. Every now and then, they would be three to five days late but I didn't think too much of it and I also would get painful cramps and heavier cycles with larger than usual blood clots. I also noticed the last few years I've been getting more unwanted body hair which was pretty embarrassing. I even found myself hiding it from my partner.
"It did take a few appointments, bloodwork, HSG, and then finally my laparoscopic and hysteroscopy procedure for my doctor to finally say that it was PCOS. It seemed like my doctor did not want to diagnose me before getting all of those tests done but after doing research myself and matching up some symptoms, that's when I pretty much self-diagnosed myself."
Since I was only diagnosed a month ago, so far I've mainly been focusing on regulating my diet, being that I want to tackle this the most natural way possible. I've cut down on my sugars and white flour. I've increased my omega-3 intake and other supplements. I've also increased the amount of light exercises I do and added more stretching to my regimen.
After being diagnosed with PCOS, the effects have been more emotional than physical. Although I do have physical symptoms more around ovulation and my period, it doesn't affect me as much as the mental side. The emotions of knowing that I have been diagnosed with this and that it will take me more effort to finally conceive, it has become a bit discouraging and I tend to blame myself.
"Every month, for pretty much the past two years, I cry every time my period comes and this was even before officially being diagnosed because I just knew something was wrong. I do feel that I am more prone to have mood swings and I have a major shift in my emotions and little things make me cry easily now."
My words of advice to other black women living with PCOS is to stay strong! When you're dealing with something so personal, you tend to question why this is happening to you. Never blame yourself or beat yourself up over this diagnosis, try your best to come up with a regimen that will specifically help you and your symptoms and stick to it. Most importantly, remember that you are not alone.
To continue following Mieko's journey, follow her @Scxbanx.
I experienced a wrath of vaginal and hormonal issues that had an impact on my health. I was extremely anxious, moody, had a low libido, dry scalp, skin problems, my periods were irregular or would appear for more than 14 days, and one of the biggest detectors for me was consistent vaginitis due to my hormone imbalances.
"I went from WAP to DAP, had a painful vagina, and recurrent bacterial vaginosis no matter what I did to cure it. I tried at-home remedies, over-the-counter drugs, I even meditated on my vagina but nothing worked."
I visited several physicians until I found one with the patience to investigate my health problems. I was diagnosed with PCOS in 2017, after an extensive hormone and blood test which showed disproportionate hormones and excess in androgen. To this day, it is rare to find a physician to diagnose and provide real PCOS advice. I didn't receive any advice or helpful info after my diagnosis.
After I received my diagnosis, I wasted no time to do my own research on how I could improve my symptoms. At the moment, I take several vitamins and supplements to improve my well-being and fight PCOS symptoms. Myo & D-Chiro Inositol, Vitamin D, Omega-7, a probiotic, a multivitamin, and maca root powder, to name a few. I've realized it's so important to stay active and maintain a PCOS-friendly diet.
I cope with my PCOS roller coaster by venting through my blog vtalksgyn.com. It's the best way to connect with other women and to let other black women know that they are not alone in the fight. I also struggle with low libido which has a direct affect on both my mental and sexual health. For a long time, I had no sexual confidence because I felt like my vagina just didn't work. Throughout the years of experimenting with various supplements, products, foods, and birth control, my symptoms are kept at bay by staying true to my daily regimen. I have a strong support system of friends who work to understand my journey which makes my day-to-day hardships just a little easier.
"When I received the news that I had PCOS, I cried for an entire week and had absolutely no guidance. In my mind, it meant I would never have children and that my vagina was broken. One day, I decided that I would not be defeated by my disorder."
I want to scream, "PCOS is not the final destination!" Take control of your symptoms and become stronger than your excuses! Take one day at a time, listen to your body, and do what makes you feel best. We have to support one another and continue to have these types of conversations so none of us feel alone.
To continue to follow Tanny's journey, be sure to follow her @Vtalksgyn.
Featured image by Shutterstock
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This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
Deanna Robinson, a health and wellness advocate and professional based in the Washington D.C. area has been helping Black and brown women reach their fitness goals for more than a decade. And with her brand of self-love and faith, she's redefining just what "fitness" means when it comes to women of all shapes and sizes.
There's definitely a need for women like Robinson, especially since recent research shows that between 47% and 55% of Black consumers' needs "are not being met" in the wellness space, and the U.S. fitness industry hit $32 billion last year and that it's important for Black women to see themselves prominently in the space.
As a health and wellness programming expert, licensed nutritionist, mom, wife, and former all-women's gym owner, Robinson has built up a body of experience that has culminated into doing something she loves via the FabBody Retreat, an experience for women ages 30-60 to be enriched via group activities, good food, and connection in the backdrop of tropical peace and tranquility.
This year's retreat was held in Grenada, with special guest and TV host icon Free Marie (BET's 106 & Park). Next year's event will be held in St. Maarten with plenty of opportunities to enjoy beach vibes, authentic and healthy dishes, and all the pleasures of being among other fabulous Black women seeking holistic wellness in paradise.
"My God-given purpose is to help serve, connect, and heal Black and Brown women," she said, taking her experiences serving corporate and individual clients via projects like the NFL's "Fuel Up To Play 60" initiative and the Nike Training Club live experience, to do just that.
xoNecole caught up with her to talk about why she chose the fitness industry, her success in launching and running the FabBody Factory, and how she's pivoted to use her skills to build impact on a larger scale in health and wellness.
xoNecole: What sparked your interest in a career in health and wellness?
Deanna Robinson: I have always been involved in sports, always been active in cheerleading, dance, [and] gymnastics. In my college career, I was a competitive cheerleader at the University of Maryland, College Park, and I've just always been passionate about physical activity, health, and fitness. I double-majored in kinesiology and public and community health, and it's always been a passion for me about others being well.
Out of college, I wanted to be a personal trainer, and I interviewed at a big-chain gym. I was really excited about getting this job, but when I had the interview, they informed me of what the split was—what the client paid, what I'd get as a personal trainer, and what the gym got. And I just thought it was a ridiculous split. I've always been into entrepreneurship as well, and doing things on my own terms, so I actually opened up my own gym in the community I grew up in called the FabBody Factory, an all-female gym in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
I was able to hire several trainers, offer group classes and personal training, and one of the things I was always a big proponent of is making sure that they got a better cut than they would get at larger chains.
xoN: Talk a bit more about that in terms of starting a gym, especially one that caters to women. What was the process and motivation?
DR: I have worked out in big-box gyms before and just never felt comfortable. It was always really uncomfortable working out in a huge gym where men would be gawking at you or try to get your number when you're trying to focus on yourself in that moment. So I always wanted the FabBody Factory would be a safe haven where we didn't have to worry about our titties flopping when we're doing jumping jacks, it was just for us by us, and we could just [be] comfortable making ourselves a priority.
I was almost talked out of doing something like that because people would say, "You're cutting off half of your potential clientele," but I never had an issue. Women flocked to the gym, and I'd sometimes have to split classes. I might have to do part one of a class at one time and a second another time. It was majorly successful. Ladies loved it. And on top of this being all-women, it was all Black and brown women.
Culturally, we get each other, so it was a big social thing for us, too. We were able to fellowship with each other and get fit at the same time.
xoN: Your brand includes the concept of a 'Fab Body.' What does that mean for you---and just wellness---in general, for Black and brown women?
DR: FabBody in itself is not a look at all. It's more of a mindset and a willingness to invest in your mental, spiritual, and physical self. In promoting the FabBody Retreat, I actually had someone DM me and ask me, "Do you have to have a 'Fab Body' to come on the retreat?" and my response to her was that you do have a 'Fab Body.' Everyone has a Fab Body. It's more of a state of being—a sound, healthy mind, body, and spirit. It's not about aesthetics at all but about overall improvement.
xoN: You decided to pivot from owning a gym, which you ran successfully for more than a decade, to your current role in health and wellness programming and launching the FabBody Retreat. How did this come about?
DR: My gym closed last year, and the reason was because of where I saw myself going and where I wanted to be in the next 10 years. A lot of my time at the gym was selling and getting people to register for classes, and it wasn't as lucrative and fulfilling for me as it had been in the beginning.
Now I'm doing more consulting work with larger companies. One of my passions is programming, and that is where I see my future going. I'm moving more toward passive income, coming from my being able to use the knowledge I have from years in this industry and putting together programming that can reach the masses versus individuals.
xoN: What can people expect from the FabBody Retreat next year, and how does this venture continue your love for advocating for health and wellness among Black and brown women?
DR: One of the things that really sets this event apart from so many other retreats is that I have married everything that is important to me: wellness, my faith, and my community. God is a huge part of all of the events we do, and all are interwoven with faith-filled, intentional activities, and I think that's what makes it different. On Sunday, we do a service on the beach, and we always have a guest speaker—someone you can relate to where you don't feel like you're being preached to. It's an awesome experience, unlike any retreat I've seen.
It's definitely rooted in faith, but at the same time, there's a balance. We'll get on a boat and have a cocktail with an umbrella in it, and then we'll go back to wellness. There's a healthy balance.
Find out more about Deanna Robinson via Instagram @deannarobinsonfit and more on the FabBody Retreat via the website.
Featured image courtesy