Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
By Julie Stelting RN CDE
Girls as young as 12 years old have been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). But what is the connection between PCOS and insulin resistance?
Many teenage girls are placed on birth control pills to regulate their cycles, improve pain associated with their periods and improve acne. These are all signs of PCOS. Although birth control pills improve the symptoms, they mask this potential problem which can create fertility problems in their future. (Gambineri, 2012) Irregular cycles, period pain, and acne are all signs of PCOS. When diagnosed early, PCOS can be cured and future infertility problems can be avoided. PCOS is increased with abdominal fat. To prevent PCOS, we must consider how abdominal fat effects body chemistry.
What is the PCOS and Insulin Resistance Connection?
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown. PCOS is involved with the endocrine system which is a feedback hormone system that involves the whole body. Since this is involved with the hormones, it is understandable that young girls going through puberty are at higher risk. These hormone changes during puberty also encourages weight gain. Biologically, their body is preparing for a pregnancy. Unfortunately, young girls who are not thin are at risk for gaining too much weight which can result in insulin resistance and contribute to PCOS.
As body mass index (BMI) increases, the incidence of PCOS also increases. Up to 70% of women with PCOS are classified as obese. (Barber & Franks, 2012) When diagnosed early, PCOS frequently resolves with substantial weight loss. (Barber & Franks, 2012) Many people who are trying to lose weight benefit from a support group or an individual coach.
How do you test for PCOS?
Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) is a common blood test used to predict PCOS. Increased body fat and insulin resistance decreases the liver’s production of SHBG. (Sex Hormone Binding Globulin and PCOS, n.d.) In fact, the decreasing SHBG levels are being used to identify insulin resistance and prediabetes before the pancreatic beta cells die off and blood sugar levels rise. (Gambineri, 2012) Diabetes can be prevented with early detection before the beta cells die.
Fifty percent of women with PCOS will develop prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes before the age of 40. ((APS), 2015) Increasing weight is associated with insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia (increased levels of insulin in the blood). (Barber & Franks, 2012) Before blood sugar levels are uncontrollable, the pancreas goes into high production. When the problems associated with insulin resistance are not resolved, the beta cells will die off. This triggers uncontrolled blood sugar which is diagnosed as prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
How is PCOS and Insulin Resistance related to Fertility Issues?
Insulin resistance in PCOS is well recognized. Up to 90% of women with PCOS are insulin resistant. (Spero, 2016) The presences of high levels of insulin inhibits ovarian folliculogenesis (the development of the follicles). (Willis, Watson, Mason, Brincat, & Franks, 1998) Think of this like fruit with its seeds inside. When the outside of the fruit (follicles) don’t ripen, the seed (or eggs) inside are not released and it forms a cyst. This is easy to see on diagnostic pictures.
Increased levels of insulin not only inhibit folliculogenesis but also stimulates the production of testosterone which suppresses the ovaries. (Spero, 2016) High levels of testosterone is associated with acne. One of the benefits of taking birth control pills is improved acne. Acne can also be caused by bacteria, so it is important to be properly evaluated for this problem.
How is PCOS treated?
Metformin is the first prescription used for PCOS. It is also the first medication used in diabetes management. (Gambineri, 2012) It works to improve the liver functions. The liver synthesizes SHBG as well as helps to regulate blood glucose. (Gambineri, 2012) Real improvements in liver function will result in improved PCOS and blood sugar control. Unfortunately, Metformin has a side effect of GI upset. If it is started at a low (tolerable) dose and increased as tolerated, most of the side effects can be avoided. Many clinicians are starting Metformin at a lower dose than is recommended to improve patient compliance. Metformin also has a time released formula available. Clients need to be encouraged to take this Rx.
Can PCOS be prevented?
There is no known prevention for PCOS. (Clinic, 2017)
Improved lifestyle habits are key to improving PCOS. (Spero, 2016)
Lifestyle changes include:
- Reduce refined carbohydrates
- Increase dietary fiber
- Regular exercise
- Eating for your body’s limitations with small frequent meals
- Reduce processed foods
- Eliminate alcohol, smoking and caffeine
- Be evaluated for individual needs of supplemental vitamin D and chromium
It is far better to understand the causes of your teen’s problems than it is to simply mask the symptoms. Placing teens on birth control pills to control the symptoms can cause significant fertility problems in their future by masking the signs of PCOS.
To assist individuals with PCOS to get pregnant, many women benefit from a life coach. For a life coach with a specialty in insulin resistance, please see my qualifications at www.kidsatriskfordiabetes.com. Or schedule a discovery call with me and we can talk about your needs and options.
Get my FREE list: 10 Signs of Prediabetes.
(APS), A. P. (2015, June 3). Polycyctic oavary syndrom and diabetes: Researchers find out why the two are linked. Retrieved from ScienceDaily: https://www.sciencedaily.com/2015/06/150603181739.htm
Barber, T., & Franks, S. (2012, August). Women’s Health. Retrieved from The Link between Polycycystic Ovary Syndrome and Both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: https://medscape.com/viewarticle/759835_5
Clinic, C. (2017, March 3). Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Retrieved November 28, 2017, from Cleveland Clinic: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/polycystic-ovary-syndrome
Gambineri, A. P. (2012, Sept). Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a Risk Factor for Type 2 Diabetes. American Diabetes Association Diabetes, pp. 2369-2374.
Sex Hormone Binding Globulin and PCOS. (n.d.). Retrieved November 28, 2017, from PCOS.com: https://pcos.com/shg6-sex-hormone-binding-globulin-and-pcos/
Spero, D. (2016, October). Pcos (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Diabetes. Retrieved from Diabetes Self-Management: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/pcos-polycystic-ovary-syndrome-diabetes/
Willis, D., Watson, H., Mason, H. G., Brincat, M., & Franks, S. (1998). Premature response to luteinzing hormonne of granulosa cells from anovulatory women with pcos: relevance of mechanism of anovulation. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology Metabolism, 3984-3991.