Insulin Resistance, PCOS and Infertility
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of female infertility related to ovulatory irregularities especially the absence of ovulation (anovulation). Some women don't even know they have the syndrome until they try to have a baby and find they are infertile. Others have dealt with the symptoms of PCOS since puberty. Problems with menstruation, conditions like amenorrhea, where there are no menstrual periods to periods with such heavy bleeding it seems like hemorrhaging, are part of this difficult syndrome. These conditions are the result of the ovaries failing to produce hormones that are designed to keep the menstrual cycle normal.
Insulin Resistance, PCOS and Infertility
Insulin resistance is thought to be at the root of PCOS. Insulin resistance prevents the efficient conversion of food into energy in the body because the body has become desensitize to insulin. The result is a major imbalance of glucose (blood sugar) and insulin levels allowing for a glut of free-floating glucose to be sent to the liver and to be stored as excess body fat. Weight gain and obesity are common to women with PCOS. However, the extent of damage by this glucose-insulin imbalance has a farther reach than weight. It can be the cause of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 Diabetes as well as infertility.
How Insulin Resistance Affects Women with PCOS
The way insulin acts on the woman's body is by increasing the amount of male sex hormones produced by the ovaries. The result of excessive androgens (male sex hormones) is that the woman with PCOS may:
· stop menstruating
· stop ovulating
· gain weight
· develop skin conditions like acne and skin tags
· grow abnormal facial and body hair
Additional symptoms include decreased sex drive, high cholesterol levels, fatigue, foggy mind, depression and anxiety, breathing problems (sleep apnea) and thyroid complications.
PCOS Insulin Resistance is Manageable
Since there is no single magic bullet for treating PCOS insulin resistance, a lifestyle approach must be taken. Dietary changes, exercise, and the inclusion of supplements to keep things in balance seems to be the best way to tackle this syndrome successfully. It is interesting to note that more often we are seeing the best way to deal with a variety of health issues is through diet.
Diet to Control PCOS Insulin Resistance to Treat Infertility
Maintaining a healthy weight has been shown to reduce the symptoms of PCOS. However, that may be more easily said than done in some cases. But pregnancy is far easier to achieve when women are at a healthy weight. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is often associated with weight issues with about 50 percent of women with PCOS classified as obese. Some women have developed PCOS as a result of being overweight, since obesity does lead to insulin resistance, which is at the root of PCOS. It's a "wild goose chase" and unless the brakes are put on, it will spin out of control.
A diet that addresses out-of-control insulin and blood sugar is important to control the symptoms of PCOS. A diet low in carbohydrates, especially simple sugars like white bread, white rice, white pasta, (any white flour products) and sugar (in all its delicious forms) is necessary to keep insulin levels from shooting up. Since a woman with PCOS already has high insulin levels, avoiding these foods is critical for balance. Carbohydrates are difficult to entirely avoid, so a diet that has a variety of foods including lean protein from chicken, eggs, and fish; green leafy vegetables; and high-fiber carbohydrates in small quantities (brown rice, whole grain pasta) can help a woman with PCOS maintain a healthy weight.
Study Confirms Diet Helps Treat Inferitility Caused By PCOS Insulin Resistance
A small study done at Duke University looked at whether a low carbohydrate diet could impact the symptoms of PCOS. Eleven women with PCOS were in the study. They kept their carbohydrate consumption below 20 grams per day for six months. The women who completed the study showed an overall weight loss and lowering of some hormone levels, including fasting insulin. Two of the women who were previously infertile became pregnant during the trial. Although the fasting insulin levels were reduced, there did not appear to be any significant change in glucose or insulin levels.
The researchers wondered whether it was the weight loss of the women that created the health benefits, or whether the diet itself was what made the difference. Although more studies will be done, most doctors agree that weight loss helps improve PCOS insulin levels, restores normal menstruation and ovulation cycles, and makes it easier to become pregnant.
Read about other ways to address infertility in women with PCOS in this section of our site.