What Causes PCOS?
May 23, 2022

What Causes PCOS?

Insulin resistance increases the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and infertility in women. You shouldn’t ignore it, especially if you have PCOS. Read to learn about the health risks associated with this condition.

Polycystic ovary syndrome sounds like a disease of the ovaries only, but it isn’t! While it does affect the ovaries and ovulation rate, PCOS is actually a metabolic disorder linked to insulin resistance. Read on as we discuss in this article what insulin resistance is and how it leads to the development of PCOS.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age. Multiple cysts on the ovaries, irregular menstrual periods, unwanted body hair growth, scalp hair loss and extra weight owing to insulin resistance are all common PCOS symptoms.

If left untreated, PCOS can also cause fertility issues, obesity, and an increased risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer.

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin resistance is the root cause of PCOS in 93% of women with the condition.

Insulin resistance is when the body's cells become less sensitive to insulin. This can lead to an increase in blood sugar levels and, over time, can contribute to the development of serious health conditions.

Insulin levels rise briefly after eating in normal circumstances. It causes the liver and muscles to absorb sugar from the bloodstream and convert it into energy. Blood sugar and insulin levels drop as a result of this. On a fasting blood test, both sugar and insulin are normal when insulin sensitivity is normal.

Although blood sugar levels may be normal, insulin levels are high in women with PCOS due to insulin resistance. The reason for this is that the pancreas produces extra insulin, which the body has to process.

How does insulin resistance cause PCOS?

Insulin resistance can cause PCOS in a variety of ways. Insulin resistance can result in an increase in androgen levels. High levels of androgens, such as testosterone, can cause a variety of PCOS symptoms, including irregular periods and excess hair growth.

Insulin resistance can result in widespread inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation can disrupt the normal function of the ovaries and result in the formation of cysts on the ovaries.

Insulin resistance impairs the body's ability to use insulin. Blood sugar levels can rise when insulin is unable to do its job properly. This can result in hyperinsulinemia, which is another risk factor for PCOS.

How can you improve your insulin levels?

Good news … There are so many ways you can improve your insulin levels!

While conventional medications are available, lifestyle medicine is incredibly powerful. Lifestyle medicine is a holistic, evidence-based solution that looks at the body as a whole, and addresses behaviour and lifestyle change such as physical movement, nutrition, sleep, emotional health, stress reduction and so much more.

Sticking to a healthy PCOS diet is an excellent strategy to control insulin levels and other symptoms of PCOS. Try and include these foods in your day:

  • Complex carbohydrates, including whole grain breads and pastas, brown rice, quinoa and oats
  • Fruits and vegetables, particularly leafy greens, berries, oranges and tomatoes
  • Lean protein such as chicken, fish, tofu and legumes
  • Healthy fats sourced from nuts and seeds, avocados and olive oil

See if you can minimise simple carbs, such as white breads and pastas, sweets and sugary drinks. Trans fats, which are found in fried and processed foods, should also be reduced where possible.

If you suspect you have insulin resistance or PCOS, please consult with a healthcare professional who specialises in these conditions to develop the best PCOS treatment plan that includes lifestyle medicine.

Dr Michelle Woolhouse

Integrative GP and Vively Medical Director

Dr Michelle Woolhouse is an integrative GP, with over 20 years experience treating chronic conditions through lifestyle medicine