Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and Diabetes

Last month, Tamahra wrote an article on what Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is, so I wanted to expand on this and its relationship to the development of type 2 diabetes. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition that occurs in 5-10% of women between late adolescence and menopause. It is one of the leading hormonal related problems in women during their reproductive years. Not only is PCOS a leading cause of in-fertility, it can also be a risk factor for other health related issues, primarily type 2 diabetes (T2DM).

Symptoms of PCOS

The following symptoms are most common for women with PCOS:

• Irregular or absent periods

• Excessive hair growth or hair loss

• Difficulty becoming pregnant

• Acne

• Weight Gain (especially around the mid-section) and difficulty losing weight

Link to Diabetes

Between 50-70% of women with PCOS have high insulin resistance which occurs when insulin made by the body is not working as efficiently as it should. Insulin is as important hormone for regulating blood glucose levels. When insulin resistance occurs, the pancreas needs to make more and more insulin to effectively control blood glucose levels.

Excess and high insulin levels stimulate fat storage, blood lipid problems as well as androgens (‘male hormones’) which can lead to excessive hair growth and other symptoms previously listed. It is the insulin resistance however, that predisposes women with PCOS to T2DM. For this reason, we recommend all women with diagnosed PCOS to be tested for T2DM.

PCOS Treatment and Benefits of Exercise

PCOS treatment usually follows careful consideration of the medical history, symptoms and hormonal testing so can therefore vary somewhat between individuals. Generally speaking however, lifestyle modification including regular physical activity, following a low fat diet, consuming low glycaemic index foods and cessation of cigarette smoking dramatically improve PCOS symptoms.

As Exercise Physiologists however, it is of our primary interest to effectively utilize exercise to improve symptoms and prevent development into T2DM. Exercise still remains the first line treatment for individuals with PCOS. When combined with dietary intervention, exercise has been shown to potentiate the effects of diet on metabolic and reproductive outcomes. The evidence suggests that greater than 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous exercise inclusive of aerobic and weight bearing exercise weekly is linked with dramatically improved hormonal and metabolic profiles. Benefits as a result of this include weight loss, boosted insulin sensitivity, lower cholesterol, better sleep and ultimately the prevention of full blown T2DM.

If you are reading this article and have PCOS, or know of someone who does, please don’t hesitate to give us a call to book in your free initial assessment and find out exactly how evidence based exercise may be the key for your improved health.

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