What is Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)?
Unfortunately, Angie, you've got plenty of company. Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is a condition that affects up to 1 in 10 women of child-bearing age. In a nutshell, PCOS is characterized by hormonal imbalances, involving not just the reproductive hormones (like estrogen and testosterone) but also hormones that regulate blood sugar, fat storage, and appetite.
Symptoms of PCOS may include painful or irregular periods, acne, abnormal hair growth, increased appetite, weight gain, and difficulty losing weight. Women with PCOS often develop metabolic syndrome, which increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes. And the reverse is also true: Women with metabolic syndrome are more likely to develop PCOS. PCOS is also a leading cause of infertility.
PCOS is strongly linked with obesity—and as obesity levels have risen, PCOS has become a more common diagnosis. But there are also lean women who suffer from PCOS. Almost all women with PCOS, however, have some degree of insulin resistance, which is also known as pre-diabetes.
The first-line therapy for PCOS is a diet and lifestyle makeover with the primary goal of improving the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Here are 3 ways to start on a virtuous path.
3 ways to improve insulin sensitivity and alleviate PCOS symptoms
Tip #1: Lose weight (if you need to)
Weight loss improves insulin sensitivity and you don’t necessarily have to reach your goal weight to get this benefit. Even a modest amount of weight loss can begin to reverse symptoms of PCOS. For example, if you are 50 pounds overweight, losing 10 pounds can make a big difference in your PCOS symptoms, even though you might still be significantly overweight.
Above all, you want to lose weight at a pace you can maintain long-term. Crash diets that produce fast weight loss followed by the inevitable rebound weight gain do more harm than good.
Tip #2: Be more active
Exercise is also a great way to improve insulin sensitivity. It also helps rebalance reproductive hormones. As a bonus, it can also help with weight loss. A combination of aerobic exercise (anything that gets your heart rate up for 30 minutes a day) and strength training will work best.
Tip #3: Eat regularly but not too frequently
Although some people claim that eating every 2-3 hours is ideal, spacing your meals out more can help improve insulin sensitivity. Instead of having a small meal or snack every few hours, try to get used to eating a more substantial meal and then waiting 4-5 hours before eating again. For tips on how to choose foods that will keep you full longer, review my episodes on satiation and satiety.