Insulin Resistance & PCOS

Article kindly provided by Maritza Prinsloo Botha.

What does it mean to be insulin resistant?

In a nutshell it means that your cells are resistant to insulin activity which results in delayed uptake of glucose from the blood into the cell. Insulin acts as a key to allow glucose into the cell to be processed as either energy or stored as fat.

Should a person with insulin resistance eat a high glycemic index carbohydrate, the blood is flooded with glucose and the body signals the pancreas to increase insulin secretion to enable the insulin resistant cell to process the glucose. In the presence of high insulin, the cell then very quickly processes the glucose. Because the body cannot utilize all the glucose processed this quickly in the cell, the excess glucose is stored as fat (in the case of IR, usually on the midsection). Because the glucose is processed so speedily, the blood sugar level drops suddenly, this drop in blood sugar levels can make one feel irritable, light headed, give one the sweats, make you jittery, drowsy or even dizzy. These feelings fuel cravings for high sugar foods to restore the blood sugar levels as quickly as they have dropped, only for the vicious cycle to begin again.

The diagram below illustrates this process.

Insulin Resistance and PCOS

Insulin is one of many hormones in a tangled web. The most important consequence for women facing infertility due to PCOS is the impact of insulin on male hormone production in the ovaries. Insulin increases the production of androgens in the ovaries which disturbs the menstrual cycle and most often prevents maturation of the follicle and result in lack of ovulation, or anovulation. Lowered insulin levels results in lower androgen (testosterone) production which can in many cases restore ovulation.

If you are overweight as little as 7 - 10% loss of body weight through healthy eating and maintaining that weight with moderate exercise can be sufficient to effectively reduce your PCOS symptoms.

Excess weight, insulin resistance and PCOS interact in a complex relationship, each one worsening the other. By addressing insulin resistance, one addresses the problem of excess weight and inevitably also decreases PCOS symptoms.

PCOS cannot be cured, but can be managed and all symptoms can be reversed by adjusting your lifestyle.

How does one manage Insulin Resistance to promote weight loss?

Remove Sugar and High Glycemic Carbohydrates

The first step in the management of insulin resistance is to remove all sugar and high glycemic carbohydrates from your diet, you'll be surprised how much of these items you consume on a daily basis. In order to lose weight you need to consume less calories than you expend in energy. Only when creating a deficit (healthy) by eating less, or being more active can one actually lose weight. When removing these items from your diet, you are forcing yourself to substitute with healthier alternatives. Unhealthy alternatives (Sugar & High GI) lead to spikes in your blood sugar levels, which feed cravings for more unhealthy food, fueling he vicious IR cycle which leads to excessive fat storage.

Determine Your Target Weight and Calorie Intake

Get to know your body by calculating your Body Mass Index (BMI) and comparing it to the BMI chart. By using this tool you can determine a healthy target for your body. BMI is calculated by dividing your Weight in kilograms by Height x Height.

Calculate your Body Mass Index >>

BMI IndexMeaning
18.5 or Less Underweight
18.5 - 24.9 Normal
25.0 - 29.9 Overweight
30.0 - 34.9 Obese
35.0 - 39.9 Obese
40 or greater Extremely Obese

Calculate the number of calories you are allowed to consume daily in order to achieve your target weight within a specific amount of time.

Calculate Your Daily Calorie Allowance >>

Replace Unhealthy Food with Healthy Food Choices and Portions

Explore the world of healthy food and educate yourself on healthy options. Many people get stuck in the rut of unhealthy eating and never manage to escape because of sheer laziness and unhealthy addictions to food and emotional eating. Healthy food is virtually always fresh and therefore requires better planning and preparation skills for more tasty options. A book that comes highly recommended is Eating for Sustained Energy by Liesbet Delport & Gabi Steenkamp which contains tables on low GI options for South African products and many easy to prepare healthy meals. Get to know healthy portion sizes and how they relate to your daily calorie allowance.

Balance your Blood Sugar

The most difficult task in managing Insulin Resistance is to balance your blood sugar levels throughout the day without eating more than your daily calorie allowance. You can achieve this by combining the right food groups during main meals and eating the right snacks at frequent and consistent intervals between meals, and no not only eat when you are starving for food.

The Three Golden Rules


Make sure you eat the types of food, this is especially important for sugar and carbohydrates. Learn to interpret GI Index and GI load to manage your carbohydrate intake. For more information on GI visit:


Eat frequently. By eating your main meals at regular intervals and supplementing with healthy snacks you control the rise and fall of your blood sugar. To control IR you need to ensure that blood sugar rises in a steady curve and does not rise and fall throughout the day.


A mistake often made by healthy eating individuals who struggle to lose weight is portion control. Eating small, but sufficient portions is essential to lose or maintain weight since one can only lose weight if you consume less calories than you expend in energy. Only when creating a deficit (healthy) in your daily calorie allowance you can lose weight.

Carbohydrates at Dinner Time

Because the presence of Insulin suppresses the production of human growth hormone it is advisable that you do not eat carbohydrates at dinner time. Human growth hormone proliferates during sleep to restore and heal the body. In the presence of insulin this process is hampered and you may feel tired and grumpy when getting up in the mornings. This fact added to the reality of carbohydrates being stored during sleep due to inactivity makes for good reason to exclude carbohydrates at dinner time. What does one eat then for dinner? It is advisable that only protein and vegetables be consumed at dinner time.

Article kindly provided by Maritza Prinsloo Botha.