Aunt Vadge: What role is insulin resistance playing in my PCOS?

Hi Aunt Vadge,

I am trying to understand what role the insulin resistance plays in my case [of PCOS]. I always thought my high cortisol/DHEAS were causing the insulin resistance. If that’s the case, would addressing the cortisol also improve my insulin?


In my experience, insulin resistance always plays a role in polycystic ovarian syndrome to some degree. Even if women have normal insulin and glucose test results I still find that they benefit greatly from cutting out refined grains and refined sugar and managing their blood sugar by eating low-glycaemic foods.

Yes, I would expect that addressing high cortisol would help with insulin resistance in your case. Cortisol is our stress hormone, which is released from our adrenal glands in response to stress – any sort of stress. This could include something that excites you and makes you happy like preparing for a party, or something that makes you mad or sad, or just plain running from A to B all day and being busy.

Cortisol does play a role in insulin resistance because it causes blood sugar to rise, providing energy to get more done, or get yourself away from a dangerous situation. Cortisol achieves the rise in blood sugar by inhibiting hormones that increase insulin sensitivity, thereby causing insulin resistance. Therefore, if we are constantly stressed, we constantly have high cortisol and we consistently fuel insulin resistance, which worsens the symptoms of PCOS.

How to reduce cortisol

  • Use herbs that lower cortisol – rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) and withania (Withania somnifera)
  • Meditate daily for 5-10 minutes, and if you struggle, an easy way to learn this is to use a guided meditation mindfulness app such as Smiling Mind or Headspace
  • See a counsellor or psychologist to learn what might be driving your stress and learn techniques to handle stress better
  • Do something that you enjoy every day for 30 minutes minimum – e.g. walking, drawing, funny movies, time with friends, time with pets, swimming, music or anything else that makes you feel good.
  • Try to get 8-9 hours of sleep per night, as this will greatly improve your stress response

Warmest regards,
Aunt Vadge