Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, affects 1 out of 5 women in India and is mainly caused by underlying hormonal imbalances in the body, including levels of insulin.
Along with an increase in male hormones (androgens) in the body, PCOS is often accompanied by insulin resistance, which is also the major contributing factor to the excessive weight gain many PCOS patients experience.
Some studies also suggest that insulin resistance may actually be at the root of PCOS, causing the condition while also exacerbating its symptoms.
Although insulin resistance can cause havoc in the body by putting patients at potential risk of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, it can also be managed by making certain lifestyle changes — along with medication if required.
However, it does not always have to be as complicated as it sounds. Read on to learn all you must know about PCOS and insulin resistance and how you can prevent these conditions from getting the better of you.Start PCOS Treatment
Insulin is produced by the pancreas, which lies in the lower abdomen and is responsible for the exocrine function of digesting food and the endocrine function of maintaining blood sugar levels.
When we eat carbohydrates, the body breaks them down into glucose (blood sugar), which is the main source of energy for the body’s cells, tissues, and organs. Insulin is secreted as a response to the blood sugar levels in the body and assists the body in absorbing glucose from the blood.
Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body does not respond to insulin as quickly and efficiently as it should, resulting in higher blood sugar levels and low energy in some cases. As a result, the body produces more and more insulin, which further causes the body to produce an excess amount of androgens.
The symptoms of insulin resistance can often be hard to recognise as symptoms. Women with insulin resistance experience symptoms that can seem very basic and normal, thus making it all the more difficult for a laywoman to identify.
The most common signs and symptoms of PCOS insulin resistance are:
Insulin resistance is one of the primary causes of weight gain — a symptom that many women who have PCOS struggle with. Weight gain can worsen insulin resistance and also put you at risk of developing other health complications.
Insulin resistance puts you at a greater risk of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes if left untreated. Untreated insulin resistance can also increase the chances of developing gestational diabetes, that is, diabetes during pregnancy that can cause a number of complications for the mother and the child.
Elevated levels of insulin can also cause an increase in the levels of male hormone production, which is responsible for a number of PCOS symptoms like excess facial hair, acne, irregular periods, and scalp hair loss.
The terms blood sugar levels or blood glucose levels refer to the amount of glucose in the blood at a given time. Fluctuations in blood glucose levels potentially indicate an underlying health condition that requires immediate attention. According to the World Health Organization, the average normal fasting blood glucose value lies between 70 mg/dL to 100 mg/dL. Anything above the normal range can indicate impaired glucose levels and can be a sign of prediabetes or diabetes.
Regulated blood sugar levels can help improve your quality of life and prevent chronic health conditions. There are several ways to keep your blood glucose levels under control.
Monitor your carb intake and choose whole-food forms of carbs instead of refined and processed carbs. Opting for whole grains like quinoa, barley, and oats over flour-based products like breads and pastas is a very healthy choice you can make. Greens, beans, and legumes are highly recommended too. Your diet must also provide you with an adequate amount of omega-3 fats, which are found in cold-water fatty fish.
A diet rich in protein and fibre is non-negotiable. You must also regulate your meals by ensuring you eat at regular intervals, because long intervals between meals can also spike blood sugar levels.
Stress elevates the levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, which can increase the levels of blood sugar and insulin in the body. Moreover, cortisol increases the secretion of the hormone leptin, which can decrease satiety and cause you to feel hungrier.
Exercising regularly is beneficial for health in general, and it also helps manage blood sugar levels. Moreover, losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight can also help curb your PCOS symptoms to a significant extent.
Insulin resistance has several contributing factors and causes. While certain lifestyle modifications such as eating a nutritious diet, exercising daily, and losing weight can help increase insulin sensitivity in the body, not all causes are reversible.
You can improve insulin resistance greatly and reduce the risk of developing complications, but your healthcare provider can help come up with a personalized treatment plan based on your hormonal profile.
PCOS does not directly cause diabetes, but it puts you at a higher risk. Insulin resistance, which is the main driver of PCOS symptoms, can progress to pre-diabetes and then diabetes if no medical intervention is sought.
It is also important to know that untreated insulin resistance in PCOS can also lead to gestational diabetes, a condition that occurs when pregnant women develop issues with increased blood glucose levels. This can lead to serious birth complications like premature birth, jaundice, and breathing issues.
Pregnant women with PCOS must strictly monitor their blood sugar levels and work closely with their healthcare provider to ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
Based on your symptoms, your healthcare provider might suggest the following blood tests to accurately identify insulin resistance and prediabetes or diabetes.
You may be asked for a fasting plasma glucose (FPG) or a glucose tolerance test (GTT) to help your doctor screen for, diagnose, and monitor pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes.
This test helps your doctor understand your blood glucose levels over the last 3 months.
This group of tests measures specific lipids in the blood such as total cholesterol, LDL and HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Furthermore, you may also be asked to take tests to help diagnose other serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and PCOS.
There are certain factors such as genetics and age that are non-modifiable risk factors for insulin resistance, but there are a number of modifiable factors such as lifestyle that can improve many symptoms of PCOS.
A healthy diet, regular exercise, a healthy mind, and good sleep can help to collectively treat and overcome insulin resistance in PCOS.
There are certain drugs such as metformin and nutraceuticals such as myo-inositol that can help improve insulin sensitivity. However, medications alone cannot help with insulin resistance; they must be combined with sustainable lifestyle changes.
Although the following natural remedies are not backed with solid scientific evidence, many people find they can help improve insulin sensitivity and overall health.
Ginger: The active component in ginger, called gingerol, encourages the sugar receptors of muscle cells to be more available, helping the body to absorb and process glucose from the blood.
Fenugreek seeds: These seeds are rich in soluble fibre, thus helping insulin be more effective in the body. Eating them whole or as an extract can help manage blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
Turmeric: Turmeric contains curcumin, which has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It boosts insulin sensitivity by decreasing the sugar and free fatty acids in the blood.
Foods that can spike your insulin levels are usually refined and processed foods. These foods can cause an increase in your glucose levels and worsen insulin resistance.
Although it is okay to indulge in your favourite foods once in a while, you should limit your intake of:
Self-diagnosis is never a solution, especially when dealing with sensitive health conditions like insulin resistance and PCOS. Moreover, simply opting for remedies and medicines that you have heard of or read about can make your condition worse instead of helping you.
If you are experiencing unexplained symptoms like excessive weight gain, irregular periods, unusual fatigue, acne, hair loss, or facial hair, it’s best to talk to a PCOS expert at the earliest. If treatment is delayed, one symptom can lead to another and obstruct your daily functioning.
Wondering where to begin? Veera’s online assessment is the quickest way to get started with your PCOS management journey today and avoid any potential chronic health complications in the future.
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