Insulin is a very important hormone secreted by the pancreas in our abdomen. Insulin controls the processing of carbohydrates and proteins and is responsible for metabolism and storage of fat.2 All our body cells require glucose for energy production, and insulin is the hormone that helps it move from our blood and into our cells.
Insulin Resistance (IR)
Insulin Resistance is a condition where our cells can neither correctly recognise nor use the hormone insulin.
Some people are more prone to Insulin Resistance (for example, Asian and black women), however, faulty diet, lifestyle and excessive stress can cause it.
Insulin Resistance is a major driver in PCOS. Between 44 to 70% of women with PCOS suffer from Insulin Resistance, irrespective of whether they are overweight or slender.3 However, women who are obese have an increased risk of developing Insulin Resistance.4 People with Diabetes also have Insulin Resistance.
A diet laden with sugars, empty calories, unhealthy fats and processed foods, combined with stress and a lack of movement lowers our body’s sensitivity to normal levels of insulin over a period of time. Our cells have special sites in which the molecules of insulin fit like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. In Insulin Resistance, there is a malfunctioning of these sites, so they cannot bind optimally with insulin. They stop responding to normal insulin levels and cannot remove glucose from our blood as they should.
High blood sugar levels force our pancreas to produce more insulin, in an attempt to manage the increasing blood sugar. This leads to a condition where there is too much insulin in our blood, called ‘hyperinsulinemia’.5
How does Insulin Resistance/hyperinsulinemia cause PCOS?
Insulin Resistance has a two-fold effect in PCOS. On one hand, Insulin Resistance increases the secretion of testosterone from the ovaries. On the other hand, it reduces the production of Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG), which is required for neutralizing excessive testosterone in our blood.6 Excessive free testosterone in the blood can further increase Insulin Resistance7, creating a vicious cycle.
Due to its dual effect, Insulin Resistance can both cause, as well as amplify, the symptoms of PCOS. It is a major culprit behind the central obesity in women with PCOS. Additionally, Insulin Resistance can prevent the ovaries from producing ova or eggs, leading to anovulation and infertility.8
Finally, there is a theory that insulin directly causes excessive adrenal androgen production and favours the hypo-pituitary- gonadal axis (HPG-axis) disorder in PCOS, and is thereby directly responsible for aggravating PCOS.
Tell-tale signs of Insulin Resistance
- Central obesity
- Skin tags
- Abnormal skin pigmentation ? acanthosis nigricans
- Excessive hair on face and body (and/or loss of hair from the scalp)
- Irregular or absent periods
- Dizzy spells/lightheadedness
- Metabolic syndrome
- Increased triglycerides and/or high blood pressure
- Intestinal bloating
- Sugar cravings
- Fatigue and/or brain fogginess and/or depression and/or mood swings.
Diagnosis of Insulin Resistance
Diagnosis may include tests like the two-hour glucose tolerance test, fasting blood glucose and insulin testing.9
Dangers of Insulin Resistance
If Insulin Resistance is not managed in its early stages, you can be at a greater risk of developing heart dis-ease, metabolic syndrome, type-2 diabetes, sleep apnoea, fatty liver dis-ease and endometrial cancer.10,11
Tackling Insulin Resistance
Lifestyle improvement is your most powerful weapon against Insulin Resistance.
A well-balanced food plan and physical activity are effective ways of improving your insulin sensitivity. I discuss how to improve your lifestyle throughout this book. As an added perk, these lifestyle modifications will also improve your fertility.12
Ensure enough sleep. 8 hours per night has been shown to help insulin to work optimally
Manage your stress levels, as increased stress can cause Insulin Resistance.
Maintain healthy levels of physical activity
The food plan recommended throughout ‘Conquer Your PCOS Naturally’ is vital in addressing Insulin Resistance – whether or not you have PCOS!
Supplementation with nutrients such as fish oil, chromium and magnesium have been shown to reduce Insulin Resistance.
To discover more about Insulin resistance, and about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, download the first three chapters of ‘Conquer Your PCOS Naturally’ for free at www.ConquerYourPCOSNaturally.com
The great news is, there is so much that can be done to address and overcome Insulin Resistance.
Until next time!