Understanding PCOS and insulin resistance: Causes and treatment approaches
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex endocrine disorder that is believed to impact up to 21% of women worldwide. One of the key features of PCOS is insulin resistance, a condition in which the body’s cells become less responsive to insulin, leading to elevated blood sugar levels. While not all women with PCOS will have insulin, it is believed up to 80% of women with the syndrome will have a level of insulin resistance.
In this article, I will explore how a naturopath would approach the topic of understanding PCOS and insulin resistance, including its causes and naturopathic treatment approaches.
Explaining PCOS and Insulin Resistance
PCOS is a multifaceted condition characterised by hormonal imbalances, irregular menstrual cycles, and the presence of cysts on the ovaries. Insulin resistance, a common feature of PCOS, occurs when the body’s cells do not respond effectively to insulin, resulting in high insulin levels in the blood. This can lead to further hormonal disruptions, increased androgen production, and difficulties with ovulation.
Causes of PCOS and Insulin Resistance
1. Hormonal Imbalances: PCOS is often associated with imbalances in reproductive hormones, including elevated levels of androgens (e.g., testosterone) and insulin. These hormonal imbalances can disrupt ovarian function, leading to irregular menstrual cycles and the development of cysts. Insulin resistance increases the ovarian production of testosterone. to Increased testosterone can also impedes ovulation
2. Genetic Factors: There is evidence to suggest that certain genetic factors may contribute to the development of PCOS. Women with a family history of PCOS are more likely to develop the condition, indicating a genetic predisposition.
3. Insulin Resistance: Insulin resistance is strongly linked to PCOS. Excess insulin in the bloodstream stimulates the ovaries to produce more androgens, leading to hormonal imbalances and the characteristic symptoms of PCOS.
Naturopathic Treatment Approaches
1. Dietary Modifications: A naturopathic approach to treating PCOS and insulin resistance often involves dietary modifications. Emphasising a low-glycemic, whole foods-based diet can help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. This includes consuming plenty of vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and high-fibre foods while minimising processed foods, refined sugars, and carbohydrates.
2. Herbal Remedies: Several herbs can be beneficial in managing PCOS and insulin resistance. For example, cinnamon has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, while herbs such as spearmint and licorice root may help balance hormones. Berberine in a recent study has been shown to be as effective as conventional drugs like metformin, with fewer side effects. Herbal remedies should be used under the guidance of a qualified PCOS naturopath or a herbalist as individual needs and herb-drug interactions may vary.
3. Lifestyle Modifications: Engaging in regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight are important aspects of managing PCOS and insulin resistance. Exercise can improve insulin sensitivity, help regulate hormone levels, and support overall well-being. Stress management techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and relaxation exercises, can also be helpful in reducing stress-related hormone imbalances.
4. Supplements and Nutraceuticals: Certain supplements and nutraceuticals may be recommended by a PCOS naturopath to support insulin regulation and hormonal balance. These may include inositol, berberine, chromium, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D. The dosages and specific recommendations should be determined by a qualified naturopath based on individual needs and health considerations.
5. Balancing Gut Health: Gut health plays a crucial role in overall well-being and hormone regulation. Addressing gut imbalances through probiotics, fermented foods, and dietary changes can support digestive health and potentially improve insulin sensitivity.
Consulting with a PCOS Naturopath
When seeking naturopathic treatment for PCOS and insulin resistance, it is essential to consult with a PCOS naturopath who specialises in women’s health. I will conduct a comprehensive assessment of your health history, hormonal imbalances, and specific PCOS symptoms. As a PCOS naturopath, I develop a personalised treatment plan that may include dietary and lifestyle recommendations, herbal remedies, supplements, and additional therapies to address the underlying causes of PCOS and insulin resistance.