Practical tips for managing insulin resistance in PCOS

An abstract image depicting insulin resistance and polycystic ovary syndrome PCOS

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) affects millions of women globally, causing various health challenges, one of which is insulin resistance. PCOS is strongly associated with insulin resistance​1,2​ and if left unmanaged, can lead to type 2 diabetes.

To help you manage PCOS-related insulin resistance effectively, here are some practical tips.

1. Balanced diet for PCOS and insulin resistance​3​

A well-planned diet is the cornerstone of managing insulin resistance in PCOS. Here’s how to get started:

Choose complex carbohydrates: Opt for whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and wholemeal bread. These carbohydrates have a slower impact on blood sugar levels. Limit ‘white’ simple carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, rice and potatoes.

Mindful portion control: Keep portions in check to prevent overeating and stabilise blood sugar. Use smaller plates if it helps you gauge portions better.

Limit sugar intake: Minimise sugary foods and drinks. Sugars cause rapid spikes in blood sugar, worsening insulin resistance. Check food labels for hidden sugars.

Prioritise lean proteins: Incorporate lean protein sources like skinless poultry, tofu, and legumes. Protein can help stabilise blood sugar levels by slowing digestion. Proteins take longer to digest, thus the energy gained from these foods is released into the blood at a slower rate.

Healthy fats: Include sources of healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, and olive oil. These fats can help improve insulin sensitivity by slowing digestion. Fats take a little longer to digest, slowing the release of sugar into the blood from a meal.

Fibre is your friend: Foods rich in fibre, like vegetables, fruits, and beans, slow down digestion and help manage blood sugar levels.

Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water. Sometimes thirst can be mistaken for hunger, leading to unnecessary snacking.

2. Exercise for PCOS and insulin resistance​3​

Regular physical activity can significantly improve insulin resistance in PCOS. Here’s how to incorporate exercise into your routine:

Aerobic exercise: Engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. Activities like brisk walking, swimming, and cycling are excellent choices.

Strength training: Include strength training exercises at least twice a week. This helps build muscle, which enhances insulin sensitivity.

Find what you enjoy: Choose activities you genuinely enjoy. You’re more likely to stick with a routine if it’s fun.

Set realistic goals: Start with achievable goals and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts.

Consistency is key: Aim for regular exercise rather than sporadic intense workouts. Consistency is vital for managing insulin resistance.

Include rest days: Don’t forget to give your body time to recover. Rest days are essential for overall well-being.

3. Stress reduction techniques

Stress can exacerbate insulin resistance in PCOS. Try these stress-reduction strategies:

Practice mindfulness: Techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can help reduce stress levels.

Get enough sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Poor sleep can increase insulin resistance.

Prioritise self-care: Make time for activities you enjoy, whether it’s reading, painting, or spending time with loved ones.

Seek support: Talk to a therapist or counsellor if you’re struggling with stress or emotional well-being.

4. Medications and supplements

In some cases, healthcare providers may recommend medications or supplements to manage insulin resistance and other PCOS symptoms. These could include:

Inositol: A supplement that helps improve insulin sensitivity.​4–7​

Berberine: This herbal extract was found to be as effective as Metformin in managing blood sugar levels.​8–11​

Metformin: This medication is commonly prescribed to improve insulin sensitivity.

Birth control pills: They can regulate menstrual cycles and reduce androgen levels in some cases.

Consult your healthcare provider: Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new medication or supplement.

5. Regular check-ups

Routine medical check-ups are crucial. These visits can help monitor your progress, adjust your treatment plan if needed, and detect any emerging health concerns early.

Managing PCOS-related insulin resistance is a journey that requires commitment and patience. By following these practical tips and working closely with your healthcare provider, you can take charge of your health and reduce the risk of complications like type 2 insulin resistance.

Remember, small, consistent steps can lead to significant improvements in your well-being.


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    Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner BA, Willett WC. Diet and Lifestyle in the Prevention of Ovulatory Disorder Infertility. Obstetrics & Gynecology. Published online November 2007:1050-1058. doi:10.1097/01.aog.0000287293.25465.e1
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Veronica Danger, BHSc(N) Naturopathic Practitioner

Veronica Danger, BHSc(N) Naturopathic Practitioner

Veronica Danger is a qualified naturopath specialising in vulvovaginal health. Veronica earned her Bachelor of Health Sciences (Naturopathy) at Endeavour College of Natural Medicine in Melbourne, Australia. Veronica is a proud member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS).