Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and insulin resistance are related. Changes in your diet can help

Controlling blood sugar through diet and lifestyle changes can help restore hormone balance

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is more common than you may realize, affecting 6% to 12% of adult women. But were you aware that diet plays a role in insulin resistance, one of the main causes of the hormone imbalance?

Infertility is just one of many possible complications. 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.

The good news is that simple lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, can help make PCOS very manageable.

If a person is overweight because of an unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity, losing just 10 to 15 pounds often will improve PCOS symptoms no matter what caused the insulin resistance.

“PCOS is like many other disorders in that it can respond positively to changes in lifestyle,” said Nicholas D. Carricato, an OB/GYN with Norton Women’s Specialists. “Being overweight can contribute to PCOS, so diet and exercise can help.”

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Signs of PCOS

PCOS mostly affects people in their late teens and 20s. It often begins after the first menstrual period. It’s common to be diagnosed with PCOS if the person has difficulties getting pregnant.

In PCOS, the ovaries develop immature follicles, or fluid-filled sacs containing an immature oocyte (egg), but there isn’t the hormonal signal to develop into a mature egg that can be released during ovulation.

If you have PCOS, you should have two of the three symptoms:

  • Irregular periods or no periods
  • Excess facial hair, acne or thinning scalp hair
  • Multiple small cysts on the ovaries

Depression and anxiety are also common with PCOS.

How diet affects PCOS

Insulin resistance often makes weight loss more difficult.

A diet high in refined carbohydrates, such as starchy and sugary foods, can make insulin resistance, and therefore weight loss, more difficult to control.

In people who are insulin resistant, the body may try to pump out high levels of insulin in order to keep blood sugar levels normal. Increased levels of insulin can cause ovaries to produce testosterone.

PCOS treatment through lifestyle changes

For people who are overweight, increased physical activity can lower the risk for Type 2 diabetes, as well as other health issues.

“Moderate exercise is a great way to help your body become more sensitive to insulin,” Dr. Carricato said. “But know when not to overdo it.”

When it comes to diet, adding high-fiber vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats is essential. It’s also important to cut down on the amount of processed foods and added sugars.

Keeping an annual OB/GYN appointment is an important way you can help discover any issues before they become more serious.

PCOS is treatable and can be managed effectively. If you’re having irregular periods and suspect something isn’t right, it’s probably time to see a gynecologist.

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