It is estimated that as many as 40% of women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) also have a condition called insulin resistance, meaning they are susceptible to high glucose levels and eventual diabetes.
In this article, we discuss the connection between insulin resistance and PCOS, as well as everything we know about managing symptoms and treatment options.
PCOS – What Is it?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), sometimes called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is a hormonal disorder that occurs in women of reproductive age (usually between 15-48), where an overproduction of male hormones called androgens affects ovulation.
Symptoms include ovarian cysts, irregular menstruation, acne, weight gain, hair loss, and hirsutism – a condition that thickens facial hair. It is commonly accepted that insulin resistance is also a symptom of PCOS.
However, the exact cause of PCOS remains unproven and some researchers believe that insulin resistance could be part of the cause of PCOS rather than a symptom.
Other experts caution that PCOS is more than likely linked to genetics, causing disrupted messages from the pituitary gland to result in an overproduction of androgens.
In any case, insulin resistance requires management, lifestyle changes, and sometimes medication, therefore it is always advisable for any woman with PCOS to have their insulin levels tested.
What Does Insulin Do?
Understanding the important role of insulin in the body can help to comprehend what happens when the body becomes insulin resistant due to PCOS or type 2 diabetes.
Effectively, insulin plays two roles in the body; the first is to regulate blood sugar levels and the second is to store excess glucose as energy that can be used at a later stage.
For example, after eating natural sugars or sugars that are added to foods, the body’s enzymes break the sugar down into glucose, which then enters the bloodstream. Once sugar is detected in the bloodstream, insulin is normally released from the pancreas to help the body absorb the glucose and use it as energy.
Any excess glucose is stored in the liver in the form of glycogen and released when insulin levels are low, usually between meals, to maintain blood sugar levels.
Insulin Resistance Explained
Insulin resistance is when the body fails to use insulin effectively. Meaning that although insulin is released as usual by the pancreas in response to increased glucose levels in the bloodstream, the glucose is not absorbed by the cells of the body as it should be.
As a result, glucose levels continue to increase without being properly broken down, causing energy levels and metabolism to drop.
Over time, as glucose builds up in the bloodstream, more and more insulin is needed to help break it down and absorb it into the body. When left untreated, insulin resistance can lead to pre-diabetes diabetes, and gestational diabetes, as well as further complications like kidney damage, vascular disease, and blindness.
PCOS and Insulin Resistance
Although medical professionals realize that there is a connection between PCOS and insulin resistance, the cause and effect relationship between the two is not 100% clear.
For instance, even though PCOS symptoms like ovarian cysts, irregular menstruation, and infertility can manifest in advance of symptoms associated with insulin resistance, some experts suggest that increased levels of insulin may contribute to the metabolic complications connected to PCOS.
Does Everyone with PCOS Have Insulin Resistance?
No, not all women with PCOS have insulin resistance, which is why the cause of PCOS is unclear. Despite being a common sign/symptom of PCOS, insulin resistance is not a factor for every patient. In addition, insulin resistance does not affect everyone in the same way.
Symptoms of Insulin Resistance
Some women with insulin resistance experience few to no symptoms at all until it escalates into pre-diabetes or diabetes when left untreated. However, due to the connection between insulin resistance and PCOS, women should understand that some symptoms are similar to both conditions. Common symptoms include the following:
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain
- Lingering fatigue and tiredness
- Food cravings, especially for sweet treats and salty foods
- A darkening of the skin around the armpits and groin, or back of the neck
- Pins & Needles in the feet or hands
- Frequent urge to urinate
If the above symptoms are familiar to you, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider and request blood tests to determine how effectively your body is dealing with sugar.
Bear in mind that testing for glucose levels often requires patients to fast beforehand, so be sure to check on the details with your doctor.
Lifestyle Changes, Treatment & Natural Remedies
Being diagnosed with insulin resistance or PCOS does not necessarily mean you will develop diabetes. Making healthy lifestyle changes and incorporating natural remedies can reduce insulin resistance symptoms to a manageable rate and prevent the necessity of medical treatment.
Reducing sugar intake, and replacing processed foods with whole grains, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products will help to lower blood sugar levels and decrease insulin resistance over time.
Regular exercise will help you to lose weight gained due to the slowed metabolism associated with the condition, as well as increase your energy levels and improve sleep.
Concerning women with PCOS, researchers have found that a combination of Myo and D-Chiro Inositol in supplement form can promote hormonal balance and positively influence the use of insulin. Inositol is a type of sugar naturally made in the body to balance moods, fertility, cholesterol, blood sugar, and metabolism.
The added ashwagandha and vitamin D in the Myo and D Chiro Inositol Supplement from Intimate Rose also regulate brain hormones like serotonin and dopamine to relieve stress and feelings of depression associated with PCOS. In addition, due to its effects on blood sugar and metabolism, the Myo and D Chiro Inositol supplement helps to reduce acne, hair loss, and weight gain.
Medical treatment options for insulin resistance include mild doses of diabetes medication to lower blood sugar levels.
If you have PCOS, health experts highly recommend scheduling an appointment with your doctor at your earliest convenience to get tested for insulin resistance. With some healthy lifestyle changes like regular exercise and a well-balanced food plan, insulin resistance can be managed and does not have to result in diabetes.
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American Diabetes Association, Diabetes Care 2010 – Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes, 2010 - https://diabetesjournals.org/care/article/33/12/e147/39268/Exercise-and-Type-2-DiabetesThe-American-College -
National Center for Biotechnology Information - Dietary intake, body composition and metabolic parameters in women with polycystic ovary syndrome, 2019 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30449604/
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