Diabetes & PCOS: What’s The Connection?

17 Dec 2019

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Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, has increasingly been in the spotlight, emerging as one of the most widespread health problems for women today. This endocrinal or hormonal disorder affects up to 36% of women [1] in the reproductive age group, causing a wide range of symptoms including menstrual irregularities, hirsutism, or excessive body and facial hair growth, sudden onset or increase in acne, and unexplained weight gain. While these symptoms are themselves troubling, the risk of PCOS complications is most concerning, which includes diabetes.

Before you start to panic and torment yourself with thoughts of a life devoid of doughnuts and ice cream, read on. Awareness about the PCOS-diabetes link can help you take steps to lower the risk of diabetes.

The PCOS-Diabetes Connection

Although the precise cause of PCOS and diabetes connection is not clearly understood, the risk factors are well established. PCOS is a disorder of the endocrine and is characterized by hormonal imbalances, including the hormone insulin, which is essential for the regulation of blood sugar or glucose levels. Women with PCOS often develop insulin resistance, in which cells in the body ignore or ‘resist’ insulin signals to utilize glucose from the bloodstream. This condition affects an estimated 60–80% of women with PCOS [2], more commonly in patients who are overweight.

As glucose is no longer utilized efficiently, blood sugar levels start to rise, leading to the onset of pre-diabetes and eventually type 2 diabetes. High insulin resistance and abnormal insulin levels are hallmarks of diabetes. While there are many risk factors for diabetes (many controllable), PCOS is increasingly identified as an independent risk factor. Australian researchers [3] have found that the risk of type 2 diabetes was 4 to 8.8 times higher for women with PCOS. These findings have been supported by subsequent studies [4], which suggests that the onset of diabetes is also earlier in women with PCOS. These findings also highlight the fact that high BMI and abnormal blood glucose levels are the strongest predictors of diabetes development in PCOS patients.

How To Protect Yourself From Diabetes

Regular Screening: The above information underscores the importance of regular screening for type 2 diabetes if you have a diagnosis of PCOS. While diabetes is classified as chronic or incurable, prediabetes is reversible. Early screenings can help detect such abnormalities, allowing you and your healthcare providers to take timely action to prevent diabetes.

Healthy Weight Loss: In addition to regular screening tests for diabetes, you can also take other steps to lower the risk of diabetes. Weight management to reach a healthy BMI range should be the main goal, using a combination of dietary strategies and lifestyle modifications. In fact, weight reduction with just lifestyle interventions has been shown to reduce the incidence of diabetes by as much as 58% [5].

Low GI Foods: Dietary interventions with low-fat high-carbohydrate diets have often been used for weight reduction, but are not recommended for diabetes prevention as high carb intake can worsen your metabolic profile if weight loss is not achieved. Changing the quality of carb sources to include low Glycemic Index  (GI) foods is proposed as a safer alternative. Low GI foods have a stronger satiating effect and will not adversely affect blood sugar levels.

More Protein, Less Carbs: It would also be a good idea to get more of your calories from dietary protein rather than carbs, as this approach has been shown to promote more sustainable weight loss [6], with reductions in abdominal fat and maintenance of lean body mass.

Supplements: Some evidence suggests that nutritional supplements like meal replacements or nutritional ones can also help promote weight loss in women with PCOS.

Exercise: Another essential component of any lifestyle intervention for weight loss and to protect against diabetes is physical activity or exercise. Regular exercise not only aids weight loss, but also lowers the risk of diabetes and many PCOS symptoms. Exercise helps your body utilize exercise blood sugar and improves sensitivity to insulin, fighting insulin resistance and helping keep a check on blood sugar levels.

Although a diagnosis of PCOS can be incredibly disheartening, you can still live a fulfilling life with PCOS. Global fitness icon Jillian Michaels and Olympian champion Carissa Gump are proof that you can be your best self despite PCOS.


  1. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/cb31/1be6b265a116827be080ca17a2171370b5d5.pdf

  2. http://www.hormones.gr/8713/article/article.html

  3. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2013-2007

  4. https://www.endocrine.org/news-room/current-press-releases/researchers-reveal-link-between-pcos-type-2-diabetes

  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11832527?dopt=Abstract

  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11874925

  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16825684

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