Once you enter into the world of PCOS, words like insulin resistance and blood sugar balance start coming at you frequently (if they haven’t, don’t worry, we’ll bring you up to speed).
Statistics vary on this but we know that many women with PCOS have insulin resistance or difficulty managing their blood sugar. This is where your body makes insulin (a hormone from your pancreas) which take glucose (sugar) and gets it into your cells for energy, but your body can’t use it effectively.
You don’t always gets diagnosed with insulin resistance but you may be asked to have tests such as glucose tolerance tests, fasting glucose test, HbA1C test blood tests or to monitor your blood glucose at home. You might have these tests and be told you’re fine / normal and be made to feel like you’re going a bit insane. It can be a rough journey.
Whether you are officially diagnosed with insulin resistance or not, blood sugar balance affects everyone, regardless of having PCOS. Insulin resistance is seen as a precursor to type 2 diabetes and unfortunately women with PCOS are 40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes so it really isn’t something to be ignored.
Symptoms can be hard to spot but things you might notice:
- You’re lacking in energy
- You often get hangry or shaky
- You have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep
- You wake up exhausted in the morning
- You have really intense sugar cravings
- You have brain fog
- You’re starving soon after you eat a meal
- You’re gaining weight around your stomach
- You get skin tags
- You have darkened skin on your neck or armpit (acanthosis nigricans)
- You have to reach for caffeine and sugar every afternoon just to get through it
If your blood sugar isn’t balanced, it affects your PCOS in a number of ways by impacting the hormonal levels in your body which further disrupts your menstrual cycle, further increases androgen levels and can increase weight gain.
So what can I do?
The good news is that you can really affect the way your body manages insulin through your nutrition and lifestyle choices! There’s a growing bank of information, helped along but tech developments like continuous blood glucose monitors – the ones you wear on your arm, that are helping shape knowledge around how we manage sugar in our blood and helping prevent more problems later in our lives.
But to be very honest here, your blood sugar isn’t going to miraculously balance itself. You will have to put in some focused effort.
Bring an awareness to your actual sugar intake. In the UK, we really like sugar and we eat a lot of it. The government guideline is for an adult to have 30g of sugar per day. The reality is that a of people are up around 90g. For context, one Burger King strawberry milkshake has 92g of sugar. I know it’s hard to think of giving up your favourite things but some simple shifts can really start to bring your body back into balance and reduce symptoms that you’re suffering from.
Key things you can focus on for better blood sugar balance:
- Ensure you have a good amount of protein at every meal and snack
- Don’t drink sugar – avoid syrups in coffees, soft drinks and limit or dilute fruit juice
- Focus on eating unprocessed foods – fibre from veggies is a great blood sugar balancing tool
- Prioritise sleep
- Be mindful of ‘health’ bars and balls made with dried fruit and dates
- Choose lower fructose fruits such as berries and combine with a protein and fat source. Eg berries and nuts
- Build muscle mass – lift weights! More muscle in your body helps your body process sugar better.
- Get moving after a big meal or sugar rich food. A 10 minute walk can make a huge difference to how your body responds to sugar.
Managing your blood sugar can also be helped with supplements which is why we include the 40:1 Inositol blend, chromium and alpha lipoic acid in our daily balance multivitamin blend which have all been shown to support how our bodies manage sugar which can help insulin resistance and lessen symptoms.
Where can I get more information on insulin resistance and blood sugar management?
There’s amazing advice on blood sugar management from the Glucose Goddess on Instagram and Jessie has a supporting book, 'Glucose Revolution', by Jessie Inchauspe, that’s worth a read.
There are a number of blood glucose monitors easily available which can be a helpful tool to be able to understand how your body reacts to different foods that you eat. The classic option is to use a ‘finger prick’ test where you prick your finger and a small droplet of blood goes onto a test strip, you put it into a hand held machine at home and it gives you a reading. The alternative option is to use a continuous glucose monitor which are more expensive, but are super simple to use and give you realtime information on your phone. They’re pretty clever. There are a number of different options so you can look into the one that’s right for you.
If you don’t want to spend money or track blood sugar, the best and free option is to just start checking in with your body and how you’re feeling after you’ve eaten. This takes a bit of practice to remember to do, but it can really help to reconnect you with your body and understand what foods are nourishing you and which are depleting you.