PCOS: the insulin link

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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a condition characterised by irregular or no periods, acne, obesity and excessive hair growth. It is estimated that it affects between 6% to 10% of women. It is believed that PCOS sufferers are at a higher risk of developing uterine cancer, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

The symptoms of PCOS are associated with abnormalities in some of the hormones that control the menstrual cycle, which typically include higher than normal levels of LH (Luteinizing Hormone) and of androgens, and below normal levels of FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) and progesterone. The most important androgen is testosterone, which is produced in all women by the ovaries, and is converted within the ovarian follicle, to oestrogen, which is the main female hormone.  Generally, women with PCOS produce higher than average amounts of testosterone from the ovaries, and it is this that results in many of the symptoms of the condition.

It is also believed insulin may be involved in the development of PCOS. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to regulate the level of glucose in the blood. Many women with PCOS have been found to have a condition known as insulin resistance, in which the body’s tissues are resistant to the effects of insulin (particularly on the ability of insulin to get glucose into muscle tissue), so the body has to produce more insulin to compensate. It seems that these high levels of insulin then affect the ovaries, contributing to the abnormal hormone environment.

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