Insulin resistance is often talked about when it comes to PCOS (poly cystic ovarian syndrome) as they are highly interlinked. Insulin resistance occurs when the body's cells become less responsive to the effects of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, which is made in the pancreas.
So what's actually going on?
Insulin = a hormone you create in your pancreas (an organ in your body)
You eat food = pancreas releases insulin to take glucose (sugar) from food into your blood cells
This is how the process is mean to work.
When your cells won't let insulin do it's job of letting sugar into your cells, this is known as insulin resistance and you don't feel great due to this. We also talk about 'blood sugar balance' as if you can't get sugar into your cells, it stays in your blood.
You can have blood tests that can show if you have insulin resistance, but your body is actually quite clever at giving you clues as well. 70-80% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance so it’s highly likely it’s something that is affecting you!
These are some of the things to look out for that could suggest you have a level of insulin resistance:
- Irregular Menstrual Cycles:
One of the key signs of insulin resistance in PCOS is irregular menstrual cycles. If you have insulin resistance you may experience infrequent periods, prolonged menstrual cycles, or even complete absence of menstruation. This occurs due to hormonal imbalances triggered by insulin dysregulation. If your cycle is absent or over 35 days then speak to your GP as there are other reasons why your period can go missing.
- Weight Gain or Difficulty Losing Weight:
Insulin resistance can make it challenging to maintain a stable weight. The body's inability to effectively use insulin can lead to increased fat storage, particularly around your belly. If you notice your weight is going up or find losing weight really, really difficult, it may be a sign of insulin resistance.
- Intense Cravings for Carbohydrates and Sugary Foods:
Insulin resistance can cause intense cravings for carbohydrates and sugary foods. This is because the body is struggling to properly regulate blood sugar levels, leading to a desire for quick sources of energy (our brain knows how quickly sugar gives us energy). If you frequently experience strong cravings for sweets or find it difficult to control your carbohydrate intake, it’s a strong sign your bodies not in balance (I’ve been there, it’s not fun!) Hangry isn’t a good look.
- Fatigue and Low Energy Levels:
Feeling chronically fatigued and experiencing low energy levels is another common symptom of insulin resistance in PCOS. When insulin resistance disrupts the body's ability to efficiently convert glucose into energy, you may feel tired, sluggish, and lack energy to make it through the day. Afternoon nap anyone?!
- Skin Issues:
Insulin resistance can contribute to various skin problems, such as acne, skin tags, and darkened patches known as acanthosis nigricans. These skin issues occur due to elevated insulin levels, which stimulate the production of androgens (male hormones) and increase sebum production, leading to acne breakouts.
- High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels:
Insulin resistance can have an impact on cardiovascular health, leading to elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels. If you have PCOS and notice abnormal blood pressure readings or receive high cholesterol test results, then improving underlying insulin resistance could really help.
Our body’s ability to successfully use insulin relies on a number of factors and recognising the signs of insulin resistance in PCOS is key to be able to work through options as to how best to manage your symptoms.
If you experience irregular menstrual cycles, struggle with weight management, have intense cravings for carbohydrates, feel fatigued, notice skin issues, or have abnormal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, then speak to your GP about PCOS.
If you receive a diagnosis of PCOS or have already received this, you can then start work on helping your body get back into balance and be able to use insulin effectively.
Remember, this blog post is for informational purposes only and should not replace professional medical advice.
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