Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) affects an estimated 4-12 percent of women in the United States. Women with PCOS typically suffer from weight gain, infertility, hirsutism (male pattern hair growth in women), menstrual difficulties, acne and mood swings.
At the heart of PCOS lies insulin resistance. Smoking, stress, genetics, little exercise and obesity all factor into the risk of insulin resistance. However, diet seems to play the heaviest hand in PCOS. In fact, PCOS might as well stand for Please Cut Out the Sugar.
Insulin is released in response to sugar in your bloodstream. The primary job of insulin is to usher this sugar into your body’s cells to be used for energy or stored as fat. This is why diet is integral to the process.
Because complex carbohydrates are broken down gradually, this leads to the natural ebb and flow of sugar and insulin into the cells.
On the other hand, simple sugars are processed quickly and cause an insulin surge that escorts more sugar out of the bloodstream and into the cells than normal. This causes a drop in blood sugar levels and usually the individual craves sugary snacks to bring their blood sugar levels back up. And we’re back on the same roller coaster again.
Insulin resistance occurs when insulin can no longer perform its job correctly. The sugar or glucose remains in the bloodstream. Meanwhile, your body continues to produce insulin because the job isn’t getting done. All of this results in increased levels of sugar and insulin in the blood.
Wondering how insulin resistance ties into PCOS?
The delicate balance of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) is heavily dependent up the proper processing of insulin within the body. These two hormones regulate the production of estrogen and progesterone within the ovaries during the menstrual cycle. Normally, FSH is produced at the beginning of the menstrual cycle. This allows the eggs, or follicles, within the ovaries to mature properly. A dominant egg (follicle) forms and LH is produced to further mature this dominant egg, allowing it to be released and then stimulate the production of progesterone. This is ordinarily how the process works.
In the case of PCOS, chronically high levels of insulin change this cyclical production of both FSH and LH, thus creating hormonal imbalance. Insulin resistance causes the pituitary gland to produce increased levels LH relative to FSH. Remember how FSH is crucial in the development of the dominant egg? Due to inadequate levels of FSH, a dominant follicle never forms. Instead, numerous follicles form, resulting in cysts on the ovaries; hence, polycystic ovarian syndrome. With PCOS, the ovaries become anovulatory, hence the problem with infertility. The increased levels of insulin cause the ovaries to produce androgens such as testosterone. The high levels of male hormones lead to acne, head hair loss, and an increase in body hair.
The first step to solving the PCOS problem begins with eliminating insulin resistance by cleaning up the diet. This means, ridding the diet of refined carbohydrates. In addition, especially among women approaching menopause, balancing your hormones with bioidentical progesterone, estrogen and DHEA may decrease the symptoms associated with insulin resistance and PCOS.
PCOS is just one of the many negative aspects of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance in and of itself causes a host of health problems such as an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer.
If you suffer from PCOS or the symptoms of insulin resistance, take the first step: Please Cut Out the Sugar!