PCOS and Insulin Resistance: What's the Connection?

Board Certified Obstetrician & Gynecologist located in North Reading, MA

PCOS and Insulin Resistance: What's the Connection?

PCOS and Insulin Resistance: What's the Connection?

You may know that PCOS causes unwanted hair growth, period problems, and even fertility challenges — but insulin resistance? September is PCOS Awareness Month and a great time to learn about its lesser-known complications, including Type 2 diabetes.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects about 5 million American women, yet it’s one of the most misunderstood female health issues. We aim to change that during the PCOS Awareness Month by shedding some light on one of this condition’s lesser-known complications — insulin resistance.

Board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Anju Nayar and our team at Nova Women’s Health in North Reading, Massachusetts, offer a full spectrum of services for women of all ages. Unfortunately, many women experience symptoms and changes they don’t realize are signs of PCOS, so they never seek care. 

Here, Dr. Nayar explains the connection between PCOS and insulin resistance and how we can help if you experience this troublesome symptom.

What is insulin resistance?

When you eat a meal, your body breaks down the food and turns it into sugar, also called blood sugar or blood glucose, which provides energy for everything from basic bodily functions to running a marathon. 

To fuel these activities, the glucose enters your bloodstream and triggers your pancreas to release a hormone called insulin. Insulin unlocks your cells and allows the sugar to enter your muscles, liver, and fat tissue, where it resides until you need to use the energy. Once the sugar transfers from your blood to your cells, your insulin level drops and rebalances. 

However, if your cells don’t respond to insulin appropriately and can’t absorb or store the glucose — insulin resistance — your blood sugar spikes, and your pancreas cranks out more insulin to correct the problem. 

Insulin resistance can be temporary, but if it becomes chronic, you develop Type 2 diabetes.

What’s the link between insulin resistance and PCOS?

As its name suggests, PCOS originates as a problem in your ovaries, but it affects your entire endocrine system, which is why up to 70% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance or high insulin levels. 

However, insulin resistance isn’t just a PCOS symptom; it’s also one of the driving factors that cause PCOS. Because high insulin interferes with ovulation, it can trigger your ovaries to make too much of the male androgen hormone — the definition of PCOS. 

There’s also a connection between PCOS, obesity, and insulin resistance. Your fat cells produce a protein called adiponectin, which helps regulate insulin and blood glucose. Adiponectin levels rise as your weight increases, hindering your insulin sensitivity. 

The complicated relationship intensifies when you add the variable of obesity. Obesity makes you more likely to develop insulin resistance, insulin resistance makes you more likely to develop PCOS, and PCOS makes you more likely to gain weight and develop insulin resistance. 

This vortex of causes and symptoms makes it tough to identify the starting point, but one thing is certain: Having PCOS affects how your body responds to insulin.

What to do about PCOS and insulin resistance

There’s no cure for PCOS yet, but there’s much we can do to control its symptoms and prevent complications. 

If you’re overweight and have PCOS with insulin resistance, the best thing you can do is drop excess pounds. Losing even a small amount can make a big difference, reducing your chances of developing prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes, and even reversing your symptoms if you’ve already been diagnosed.

If you don’t plan to get pregnant, we may recommend hormonal birth control or insulin-sensitizing medication to rebalance your hormones.

If you plan to get pregnant, Dr. Nayar performs thorough physical and diagnostic tests at our state-of-the-art facility and determines whether PCOS is causing infertility. She develops a personalized treatment plan that increases your chances of conceiving safely and successfully despite PCOS. 

Don’t let PCOS symptoms rob your comfort and joy — call Nova Women’s Health PCOS specialists or book an appointment online and break the cycle of PCOS and insulin resistance.