What is insulin resistance? 

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps your body’s cells use glucose from the blood. When you have insulin resistance, the cells are not responding to insulin and not allowing glucose into the cells efficiently. Yet, insulin is still being made and released, resulting in high insulin levels.

What happens when insulin is high? 

With insulin resistance, the cells are often not getting enough glucose and signal to your brain that you need more—hello, cravings! And since glucose is energy for our cells, you may feel fatigued without it, too. Insulin is a growth hormone, so you may experience weight gain as well. In addition, skin tags, dark patches of skin on the neck, armpits or groin, and signs of high androgens may happen. High insulin levels can contribute to elevated androgens, which further causes and exacerbates symptoms of PCOS, like irregular periods, anovulation, hirsutism, and infertility

Insulin resistance as a root cause of PCOS

A “root cause” is an underlying condition that contributes to symptoms of PCOS. Insulin resistance is the most common root cause. MOST (near 75-95%) women with PCOS have some degree of insulin resistance. In order to improve PCOS, you must improve insulin resistance.

How do I know if I have insulin resistance? 

You may experience some of the symptoms described above, such as strong cravings for carbs/sweets, fatigue, weight gain, skin tags, dark patches of skin, high androgens, and irregular periods. The best way to learn if you have insulin resistance is to get lab testing. A fasting glucose, hemoglobin A1c, fasting insulin, and/or oral glucose tolerance test can be ordered by your medical provider to determine if you have insulin resistance. It’s important to note that many women with PCOS have high insulin, but not always high blood glucose (sugar). This means it’s necessary to have a fasting insulin or oral glucose tolerance test to determine if you have insulin resistance. 

How do you fix it? 

If you find that you have insulin resistance, you’ll want to get on top of it right away! Seek out a medical provider like an endocrinologist and/or a dietitian to help you find the best ways to improve insulin resistance for your individual needs and lifestyle. Medications, like metformin, are often prescribed to those with PCOS as a means of improving insulin resistance. However, there are also many ways to do so naturally through nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle modifications. And no this doesn’t mean you have to start dieting, cutting out all the carbs, or running 10 miles a day!

Here’s a few simple tips to get your started: 

  • Include protein at meals and snacks
  • Eat more fiber (fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts/seeds)
  • Engage in movement you enjoy each day
  • Take steps to reduce stress
  • Get plenty of sleep, 7-9 hours a night

There is much confusion around insulin resistance, PCOS, and what to do about it. The fact of the matter is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Working with a dietitian who specializes in PCOS can provide you with the support and guidance you need to understand what may be helpful for YOUR body. I help women with PCOS balance hormones, like insulin, with confidence, without dieting and overwhelm. Learn more about 1:1 PCOS Nutrition Coaching by booking a free discovery call

Insulin resistance with PCOS