Why You Might Be At A Higher Risk For Insulin Resistance If You Have PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is one of the leading causes of infertility for women. It impacts hormones, ovulation, and menstrual cycles, but one of the biggest ways it can impact the body is through insulin resistance, which can ultimately lead to health issues.

In PCOS, there is an imbalance of hormones, specifically high levels of what are called "male hormones" — like testosterone — which all women have small amounts of (via Office on Women's Health). These hormones, called androgens, can block the ovaries from releasing an egg each month, which causes infertility. If you have PCOS, you might have really irregular periods as a result, with fewer than eight periods a year or even periods every 21 days. Androgens also cause excess hair growth and acne, which are two classic symptoms of PCOS.

PCOS affects 5% to 10% of women of childbearing age, but many often don't find out until they're trying to conceive. If you have a family member with PCOS, you may have a higher risk of having it as well. While it's not completely clear what causes PCOS, experts think that it's likely a combination of genetics, high levels of androgens, and high levels of insulin, the hormone that helps manage your blood sugar.

How PCOS impacts levels of insulin

While it's not completely clear why, the majority of people with PCOS have insulin resistance, which happens when blood sugar is high (per Cleveland Clinic). When sugar increases in the bloodstream, the pancreas creates insulin to "unlock" the cells and use sugar as fuel. But when your blood sugar is high too often, the body has to keep pumping out insulin to try to get it into the cells and lower your blood sugar levels. If this happens for too long, your body will eventually become resistant to insulin, which can lead to health conditions like type 2 diabetes. Signs of insulin resistance with PCOS include darker skin pigmentation around the folds of the neck or armpits, excessive hunger, weight gain, and difficulty losing weight, via EndocrineWeb.

While there's no cure for PCOS, you can work to increase your insulin sensitivity and manage your symptoms, which may lower your risk for other medical conditions too (via Cleveland Clinic). Prioritize moderate exercise, which can decrease the amount of insulin needed to lower your blood sugar. Be careful not to go overboard though, as excessive exercise can stress your adrenal glands and cause more issues. Make sure you're getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night and minimize your stress levels. You can also focus on a diet of unprocessed, unrefined, whole foods, minimizing your carbohydrate intake. Talk to your doctor about other ways that are right for you to manage your symptoms of PCOS.