PCOS and Insulin Resistance
Updated: Apr 22
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) sounds like it’s exclusively a disease of the ovaries, but it’s not. While PCOS does affect the ovaries and ovulation, it’s actually a full-body endocrine and metabolic disorder that is closely tied to insulin resistance.
It's the most common endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age. Patients with PCOS usually have higher than normal insulin levels. Insulin lowers your blood sugar by storing the glucose in cells. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the cells become resistant to insulin. When that happens, an abnormal amount of insulin is made.
So what exactly is PCOS and how do you treat it?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is a condition in which there is an imbalance in reproductive hormones, which causes unwanted cysts to grow on the ovaries, and can affect the timing of egg release and egg development. Although PCOS is often thought of as a complication with the ovaries, it really is an endocrine and metabolic disorder, and is the most common endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age. PCOS presents with a variety of symptoms, such as irregular periods consisting of infrequent or prolonged menstruation.
What is Insulin Resistance?
PCOS is associated with excess androgen, which can also cause hair loss and acne, as well as insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone made in your pancreas, which uses glycogen for energy. Insulin is also responsible for balancing blood glucose levels. Insulin resistance affects the body's ability to use blood sugar for energy. If someone has insulin resistance, this means that the body is continuing to produce this important hormone, however it is unable to actively use insulin, therefore the insulin is pooling in our bloodstream and continuing to circle throughout our bodies, thus creating an increase in levels of fasting insulin.
This in turn, increases blood sugar levels and has an inflammatory cascade response throughout the rest of the body, also telling the body to produce more insulin because it does not recognize the unusable insulin already floating throughout the bloodstream. Insulin and other nutrients such as glucose are necessities in the body, but when they are at abnormal levels, and out of whack, they cause a spiral of health issues, PCOS being one of them.
Complications of PCOS include:
Abnormal Uterine Bleeding
Painful and Irregular Periods
Acne and Excessive Hair Growth (hirsutism)
Thinning Hair and/or Hair Loss
Difficulties Getting Pregnant (because of irregular ovulation)
Gestational Diabetes or Pregnancy-Induced High Blood Pressure
Cancer of the Uterine Lining
What can you do to treat PCOS?
A great way to help decrease symptoms and severity of PCOS is to begin achieving hormone balance via lifestyle and nutrition management.
Weight Loss: An increase in weight is associated with further complications associated with PCOS and obesity, such as the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndrome.
Diet Changes: To reverse symptoms of PCOS, one should strive towards metabolic flexibility. Metabolic flexibility is the body’s ability to burn carbs and fats efficiently. Optimally, we should be able to burn and utilize both of these for energy without creating an inflammatory cascade of high insulin or high glucose. Decreasing insulin resistance is a great way to ensure metabolic flexibility. Eating a variety of healthy fats, as well as nutrient dense foods is a great way to help reset insulin levels. This also helps to break down other forms of nutrients for the body, allowing one to feel more full after meals and satisfied for longer periods of time.
Exercise: Another great way to decrease symptoms of PCOS and insulin resistance is to exercise! Exercise should be in a variety of different forms, however it is important to ensure people with PCOS are getting an adequate amount of resistance training. Each cell throughout the body has insulin receptors on it. Resistance (or strength training) allows for these cells to make more room in the muscle tissue to take up carbohydrates as the storage form (glycogen) which then is used as a form of energy in the muscle cells, instead of being bogged down by unusable insulin. Increasing muscle mass also helps to burn more calories as rest, which allows those with PCOS to maintain a healthy weight.
Supplements and Herbal Products:
Inositol: D-Chiro Inositol is one of the most important supplements for women with PCOS. It is especially helpful in reducing insulin resistance, as well as improving ovulation.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency has been well researched and commonly found in those with PCOS. Vitamin D is important in maintaining blood sugar control. Even if someone is not deficient in this vitamin, it is still an important vitamin to supplement with in terms of strengthening ovarian follicle health, which can assist with fertility.
Berberine: Berberine is a bioactive compound found in plants that is used to improve blood sugar balance and cholesterol, thus helping to balance insulin resistance with PCOS. This powerful herb is also helpful in balancing hormones, which is helpful in regulating the menstrual cycle.
Omega 3 Fatty Acid: A new study by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine showed that Omega 3FA are essential in boosting one’s fertility for women with PCOS who are trying to conceive. Other health benefits of taking Omega 3s consist of lowering triglycerides, balancing mood, insulin regulatory properties, anti-inflammatory properties, lowers androgen levels, and improves egg ovulation and fertility. Omega 3 Fatty acids are found naturally in fish (salmon), nuts and seeds. However, most diets do not contain an adequate amount of this nutrient, and supplementing is often suggested.
Zinc: Zinc is great for its immune-boosting components, however it is also a great supplement for those with higher testosterone levels, which is found in PCOS. Zinc is also helpful in decreasing the effects of hirsutism and unwanted hair growth in women with PCOS, as well as maintaining adequate blood sugar levels and assisting with mood balancing.
Licorice Root: This herb is often found in tea form, and is also helpful in decreasing testosterone levels in women with PCOS as well as regulating menstrual cycles.
Saw Palmetto: This nutrient comes from a Palm tree, and is also well known for its ability to decrease testosterone levels, especially in those with PCOS. Saw Palmetto is also helpful in reducing symptoms such as hair loss, facial hair growth, acne, and menstrual irregularities. Saw Palmetto and Zinc together have been shown to have better benefits for those with PCOS than when taken independently.
There are many options for managing PCOS symptoms, but chiropractic care is a great natural solution to promote health and wellness as well as address symptoms of PCOS and symptoms surrounding Insulin Resistance.
If PCOS has affected your life, it’s time to look into chiropractic care to keep your body at its healthiest. If you have irregular monthly periods, are having trouble getting pregnant, or have excess acne or hair growth, please see your healthcare provider.. If you’re told you have PCOS, ask about getting tested for type 2 diabetes and how to manage the condition if you have it.
Making healthy changes such as losing weight if you’re overweight and increasing physical activity can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes, help you better manage diabetes, and prevent or delay other health problems. There are also medicines that can help you ovulate, as well as reduce acne and hair growth. Along with chiropractic adjustments, proper spinal alignment can be restored to increase energy, restore hormonal balance, and improve the function of the body.
By: Brooke Morphet
Chiropractor at ANH Wellness