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Connecting the Dots: Recognizing Insulin Resistance in PCOS


Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex hormonal and metabolic disorder that affects millions of women of reproductive age. One of the characteristic features of PCOS is insulin resistance, a condition where the body's cells do not respond effectively to insulin. Identifying the signs of insulin resistance in the context of PCOS is crucial for early intervention and effective management. In this blog post, we will explore the signs and symptoms of insulin resistance in PCOS and their significance.


Eating a sugary donut

Understanding Insulin Resistance in PCOS


Let’s briefly review the connection between PCOS and insulin resistance before we dive into the signs. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels in response to the presence of glucose. In PCOS, the body does not always respond to insulin very well, this leads to elevated insulin levels in the bloodstream, which can trigger increased androgen production (male hormones) and result in a range of PCOS symptoms, including irregular periods, acne, and excess hair growth.


If you have noticed any of the following, you may be experiencing PCOS related insulin resistance:

- Cravings for carbohydrate rich or sugary foods

- Feeling hungry straight after having a reasonable sized meal

- Large slumps in energy levels throughout the day

- Difficulty sleeping at night

- Increased thirst

- Irritability and poor concentration


Other, often more longer-term signs and symptoms of insulin resistance include:


Irregular Menstrual Cycles: Irregular periods or absent periods (amenorrhea) are common signs of PCOS. These menstrual irregularities are often linked to insulin resistance.


Weight Gain: Difficulty losing weight and a tendency to gain weight, especially around the abdominal area, can be associated with insulin resistance in PCOS.


Acne and Oily Skin: Hormonal imbalances caused by insulin resistance can contribute to skin issues such as acne and increased oil production.


Hirsutism: Excessive hair growth in areas like the face, chest, and back, known as hirsutism, is a common symptom of PCOS and is often related to insulin resistance.


Hair Loss: On the flip side, some individuals with PCOS may experience hair thinning or hair loss on the scalp, known as androgenic alopecia.


Skin Changes: Acanthosis nigricans, a darkening and thickening of the skin, often in body creases like the neck or underarms, is a visible sign of insulin resistance.


Fatigue: Persistent fatigue can result from the body's struggle to use glucose for energy effectively.


Polycystic Ovaries: On ultrasound, the presence of multiple small cysts on the ovaries is a key diagnostic criterion for PCOS. These cysts can be associated with insulin resistance.


High Blood Pressure: Elevated blood pressure is often linked to insulin resistance and is a risk factor for cardiovascular problems.


High Cholesterol Levels: Abnormal lipid profiles, including low HDL ("good") cholesterol and high triglycerides, are common in individuals with PCOS and insulin resistance.


If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, then you may benefit from making lifestyle changes that improve insulin resistance. This is a key part of managing your PCOS symptoms, as once you improve insulin sensitivity, your testosterone levels will decrease and with that you should experience an improvement in symptoms listed above.


Lifestyle changes, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, taking supplements such as inositol, can play a significant role in managing insulin resistance and improving PCOS symptoms.

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