“The pain of PCOS is invisible, most people don’t understand it. And the hardest battles are those which we fight against the unseen”. This was written in a gynecologist’s office, and is true in every sense. Many people don’t even know the cause for PCOS. Some blame it on insulin resistance, some on obesity or overeating and some on genetics.
Insulin Resistance and PCOS
Today every 1 in 5 women suffers from PCOS, and sadly many even don’t recognise it. They fight this unseen battle without the basic knowledge of it. The number of problems and symptoms due to PCOS is extremely high. PCOS messes up women’s hormones and this imbalance in hormones have a drastic effect on health and appearance of a person.
What is PCOS?
PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, is a condition that affect women’s hormone levels, producing excess amount of androgens, a group of male sex hormones.
It is normal for every woman to produce some amount of it in her body. But in women with PCOS the production of these hormones increases manifold leading to problems such as acne, abnormal hair growth, like facial hair or male pattern baldness. Infertility and irregular periods are another set of issues that come along with PCOS.
Many research   proves that the production of these excess male hormones is due to Insulin resistance. Over 60% of women suffering from PCOS are insulin resistant. Insulin resistance causes many of the symptoms of PCOS and hormonal imbalance.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin is a hormone produced in our pancreas which allows the cells to absorb or use glucose. When insulin resistance happens, our body stops responding to this insulin.
Resistance to any substance happens, when there is an increase in the amount of the substance. Just as an increase in dosage of antibiotics creates resistance to antibiotics, or excess consumption of alcohol makes a person resistant to it. Similarly when insulin production increases in our body, our body becomes resistant to it.
Our body stops responding to the insulin produced in pancreas, thus causing troubles in its function.This further leads to many diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart diseases.
What does Insulin do in our body?
One of the functions of insulin in our body is that it acts as the primary hormone that signals for energy storage into our fat cells.
Imagine our cells as houses. Like every house, our cells also need necessary things for its functioning such as food or water. So the food that we eat is the source for our little cell houses. These foods break down into glucose and this glucose is the energy source for our cells.
Now, the next step is to send this glucose to every cell in our body, and this is the work of blood. Our blood acts as a carrier and transports glucose to our cells.
But the requirement of every house is different right? Similarly every cell has a different need for glucose. This must be regulated in our body. The regulation of glucose is done by insulin.
Insulin acts as key to our cell houses. It allows the necessary amount of glucose and stops its entry when the amount exceeds. Thus insulin is a very important hormone as it affects the basic unit of our body- Our cell.
How to know if you are Insulin Resistant?
1. Increased Cravings and Hunger
Our body releases insulin to lower the excess glucose to a safer level. This insulin also helps our cells to absorb this glucose to gain energy. But when Insulin resistance happens, the insulin does not do its work. As a result, the glucose level increases manifold in our body, and our cells cannot absorb the glucose. This means that the food that we are eating is not being converted to energy.
2. Increased thirst and excess urination
Insulin resistance may make you feel parched all the time. This is due to the excess glucose in your body. High glucose levels forces our kidneys to get rid of the excess. Thus causing frequent urination. In order to get rid of the sugar, it pulls excess water from our body too. This sends a signal to our brain of being dehydrated. hence we feel thirsty quite often. This cycle of thirst and urination continues until the blood sugar levels are balanced. This also happens in the case of diabetes.
Diabetes and Insulin resistance are the two sides of the same coin. One follows the other. When blood sugar increases insulin resistance increases and vice-versa.
3. Weight Gain
if you feel that lately, you’ve started gaining more weight than usual, then it maybe due to insulin resistance. The increased hunger can cause you to eat more, especially load up on carbs and sugar. This can easily make you gain weight in a short period of time. The excess insulin and glucose also make your abdomen area fattier. This is because the insulin settles down in the region and increases your waist size.
4. Dark Skin Patches
Insulin resistance can also cause visible skin changes. Dark patches on the back of your neck, or on your elbows, knees, knuckles, and armpits are some of the skin problems that come with it. This usually happens when Insulin resistance is severe.
How Insulin Resistance is connected to PCOS
Insulin Resistance and PCOS have been linked by various medical professionals. Insulin is a hormone that balances the blood sugar level in our body. When this does not happen during insulin resistance, both insulin and glucose level spikes up. High insulin has its own fatalities, such as increasing deposition of fat in the belly region as insulin is a fat-storage hormone. Secondly, insulin also triggers the release of excess androgens, and increases the symptoms of PCOS.
Although not all women with PCOS suffer from Insulin resistance, it for sure is one of the leading causes for PCOS. This is why many studies say that women with PCOS must be first treated for insulin resistance.
Exercises for Insulin Resistance:
Insulin resistance can be managed to a great extent through exercise. This is because when a person exercises, our body tries to use up the excess glucose in our body. Exercising specifically for Insulin resistance shows quick results, sometimes within 48 hours of the exercise.
High Intensity Interval Training, has gained its popularity due to its effective results. It involves high strength exercises performed for about 30 minutes. The recovery period given for this type of training is higher. Thus this is done only 2 or 3 times a week.
This training stimulates the muscle fibre to take up the excess glucose. The adrenaline released during it also helps in fat loss. Thus helping with PCOS to a great extent.
Combining aerobic activities such as brisk walking, cycling and swimming with HIIT has shown best results. During the recovery period of HIIT, aerobic activities can be adopted to the exercise regime. Women with PCOS must be careful to not let their body sit idle for longer hours. Exercising is very important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and reduce the symptoms of PCOS. Thus aerobic activities are an easy way to jump start your exercise routine.
Yoga and meditation can never go wrong. Various yogic asanas have their effect on balancing the blood glucose levels. Other than this, yoga calms down our mind, thus reducing stress. It reduces the release of cortisols, thus also helping in managing insulin levels. This 5000 year old way of exercising has benefits not only for the treatments of metabolic syndrome, but also for any other health problem. In Yoga, everything is interrelated. Thus, by curing one problem through Yoga, many other problems are also managed.
PCOS is just like any other disease, and it can be treated. But, one can’t just take a medicine and cure it. We need to change and improve our lifestyle and eating habit along with it. You should take special care if you suffer from insulin resistance. This is because PCOS and insulin resistance are directly proportional. One increases naturally with the other one.