Insulin Resistance Drives PCOS and Weight Gain in Women

High levels of a newly discovered peptide hormone has been found in women with PCOS and linked to insulin resistance.

What is PCOS?

PCOS is the acronym for polycystic ovary syndrome, and it is a chronic metabolic disorder in women that causes the ovaries to enlarge with small cysts on the outer edges. It can cause numerous and unpleasant symptoms that affect menstrual cycle and fertility, as well as cause excess male hormone levels and small follicles on the ovaries. PCOS affects about 10 million women worldwide and insulin resistance, a condition that doesn’t allow the body to use insulin effectively, plays a vital role in the pathogenesis of this disease.

To learn more about insulin resistance, please read my article Insulin Resistance Causes Sugar Cravings and Addiction.

How Does Insulin Drive PCOS?

According to a study published in an October 2018 issue of Gynecological Endocrinology, circulating aprosin levels were elevated in women with PCOS compared to women who do not have the disorder. Aprosin is a newly discovered peptide hormone that is linked to insulin resistance, body mass index or weight gain, and free androgen index. Located in fatty tissues, aprosin stimulates the liver to release glucose into the bloodstream. Women with the highest levels of aprosin have the highest risk of having PCOS associated with insulin resistance.

What are PCOS Symptoms?

The symptoms of PCOS vary from woman to woman which makes diagnosing the condition difficult. In fact, many women with PCOS are misdiagnosed or not diagnosed properly until the symptoms are more severe.

PCOS symptoms can begin shortly after puberty, but it can develop well into the teen years and early adulthood. However, the disorder may not be diagnosed until much later in a woman’s life.

Some of the symptoms in PCOS are due to the hormonal effects of the condition which is stimulated by aprosin and insulin resistance. The progesterone and androgen hormones greatly contribute to many of the symptoms.

More Common Signs & Symptoms of PCOS

  • Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
  • Heavy menstrual flow
  • Infertility
  • Weight gain / obesity
  • Acne (face, chest, and back)
  • Excess hair growth (face, chest, back, lower abdomen, fingers, and toes)
  • Thinning or loss of head hair
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Mood disorders (anxiety, depression, and bipolar depression)

Less Common Signs & Symptoms of PCOS

  • Ruptured cyst
  • Pelvic pain
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Eating disorder
  • Hypoglycemia
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatty liver
  • Hyperkeratosis (abnormal thickening of the skin’s outer layer)
  • Atopic dermatitis (dry, scaly, itchy skin)
  • Keratitis sicca (dry eyes)

Does PCOS Complicate Health?

In addition to the symptoms that may accompany PCOS, the disorder does raise the risk for other chronic diseases including the following.

  • Prediabetes
  • Diabetes
  • Abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Endometrial cancer
  • Obesity

How Can I Eliminate PCOS Symptoms?

Currently, there is no medical cure for PCOS. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t decrease or eliminate the symptoms and feel better. Because insulin resistance is what drives PCOS, eating a low-carb and whole foods diet and exercising will definitely help. Some herbal supplements may also be beneficial.

Eat a Low-Carb, Whole Foods Diet

Many women have done well in alleviating their PCOS symptoms with a low-carb or ketogenic wholefoods diet. The diet should include higher fats, moderate protein, and low carbs. However, that doesn’t mean any type of food that falls within that ratio is good for someone with PCOS. A wholefoods diet, rather than a refined and prepackaged diet, is best as it provides necessary nutrients. In fact, research has shown a “ketogenic” wholefoods diet with less than 20 grams of carbs per day can provide significant improvements in weight, testosterone levels, luteinizing hormone to follicle stimulating hormone ratio, and fasting insulin levels over a 24 week period.

For protein and fat sources, include grass-fed beef, wild games (bison, elk, venison), certified organic poultry (chicken, turkey), pasture-raised eggs, wild fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel), and seafood (shrimp, crab, lobster). For extra fats, you may want to include avocados, nuts and seeds (walnuts, flax seeds), butter, and cheese. Since the carbohydrate recommendation is low, include some dark green leafy and cruciferous vegetables like spinach and broccoli. Limit fruits to a quarter cup of berries. Drink plenty of water and herbal teas to flush toxins out of the body.

If you find that your symptoms aren’t relieved after two months on a ketogenic wholefoods diet, you may want to change up your vegetables with low oxalates and lectins or eliminate them altogether.

Include Helpful Supplements

Studies have shown some women with PCOS to have specific nutritional deficiencies such as Vitamin D, chromium, and Omega-3. Therefore, the following may be helpful.

Vitamin D:To improve metabolic parameters in women with PCOS, Vitamin D supplementation is beneficial. For women undergoing in-vitro fertilization, a sufficient Vitamin D level should be obtained. Two of the best products for Vitamin D include the following:

Chromium: Studies have determined that chromium administration for 8 weeks for PCOS women had beneficial impacts on glycemic control, few variables of cardio-metabolic risk, and oxidative stress. Try the following:

Omega-3 & Vitamin E: A study showed co-supplementation with Omega-3 and Vitamin E for 12 weeks significantly improved gene expression, lipid profiles, and biomarkers of oxidative stress for women with PCOS. Try the following together.

Moringa: Research has shown that moringa oleifera can lower blood insulin levels, subsequently decreasing androgen while increasing folliculogenesis in PCOS. Benefits were noticed after 14 days. Just mix the moringa with your smoothie or herbal tea.


Much research has shown that both aerobic and anaerobic exercise is very beneficial for women with PCOS. Women with PCOS have high circulating leukocytes, and aerobic exercise can reverse this and also improve insulin sensitivity. Anaerobic exercise such as progressive resistance training can reverse hormonal (high androgen levels) and physical traits (excessive hair growth and obesity) of women with PCOS.


Though PCOS can be a chronic disorder in women, it can be treated naturally to reduce or eliminate the symptoms. This can be accomplished through a proper low-carb or ketogenic diet with wholefoods, supplements to overcome nutritional deficiencies, and exercise to reverse hormonal issues such as insulin resistance which drives PCOS and weight gain.


Dr. Abby Campbell
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