Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an incurable endocrine condition affecting up to one in ten women in the UK. It’s most commonly associated with hormonal symptoms, such as acne, excess hair growth, weight gain, irregular periods, and reduced fertility.
However, it is also associated with seemingly unrelated long-term health risks, like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In fact, women with PCOS are as much as 40 per cent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than women without the condition – so what exactly is the link?
According to Libby Downling, senior clinical advisor at Diabetes UK: “Ten to twenty per cent of women living with PCOS will go on to develop type 2 diabetes at some time. This is related to insulin resistance, and high levels of insulin circulating in the blood.”
Rsearchers don’t yet fully understand how or why, polycystic ovary syndrome affects women’s insulin resistance. Women with PCOS are more likely to be overweight, but even when this is take out of the equation, women with PCOS are more resistant to insulin. Many women with PCOS produce more insulin and clear it from the body more slowly through the liver. Insulin resistance may be linked in part to a problem with the insulin receptor.
And, as a result: “Women with polycystic ovary syndrome are more insulin resistant than weight-matched women who do not have polycystic ovary syndrome,” explains consultant endocrinologist Professor Stephen Franks, a spokesperson for charity Wellbeing of Women and Professor of Reproductive Endocrinology at Imperial College.