How Insulin Affects PCOS, Acne, Hirsutism, and Periods

How Insulin Affects PCOS, Acne, Hirsutism, and Periods



What do acne, facial hair, erratic periods, and a cotton candy burrito have in common? Insulin resistance.

Wait, isn’t insulin that sugar-thing in diabetes?

Affirmative, insulin resistance is often a precursor to developing type 2 diabetes, its presence is also marked in PCOS. That sugar-thing in diabetes affects the progression of symptoms in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome. Foods like cotton candy burritos (and other desserts, treats, and carnival foods) burden the body’s ability to process all that sugar in a way that’s usable (and healthy).


Why you should care about insulin resistance.

Let’s start with, what the heck is insulin anyway and what does it have to do with my period? Insulin is a fat-storage hormone that is released in the presence of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Every time we eat something with glucose, the sugar goes from our gut to our bloodstream and insulin is released. Insulin has the great task of escorting that sugar molecule to a cell, where the cell responds by taking in the glucose and using it to make energy. Insulin resistance occurs when there is an abundant amount of insulin (to make up for the abundance of sugar intake) in the bloodstream trying to get cells to take in more sugar. Cells are smart, they don’t take on more sugar than they need; they resist when insulin comes knocking on their doors which is common in metabolic disorders, type 2 diabetes, and PCOS. So, what happens with all that excess sugar? Recall that insulin is a fat-storage hormone, adipose cells (fat cells) are ever-welcoming to insulin with an open-door policy for sugar.

How does all that insulin affect my period?

Excess insulin floating around acts on the cells of the ovaries leading to the release of immature egg cells resulting in anovulation (i.e. no ovulation=no release of an egg). Excess insulin also affects the ovarian cells to produce more androgens which contribute to the development of hirsutism, hair loss on the head, and acne. This is distressing to women who battle not only the discomfort of irregular, unpredictable periods, but also the added stress of acne reminiscent of her puberty days. Hyperinsulinemia amplifies inflammation in women with PCOS and this has a significant impact on women’s menstrual health; periods might be heavier, occur more/or/less often, or last longer.

Does everyone with PCOS have diabetes?

While not every woman diagnosed with PCOS has diabetes, it is estimated that up to 58% have insulin resistance and up to 10% have impaired glucose tolerance. Women with PCOS have an increased conversion rate of impaired glucose tolerance to type 2 diabetes.

“I think I may have PCOS, what are the first steps I should take?”

Step 1 is to monitor your symptoms- make note of the appearance of acne, increased amount or thickness of facial hair growth, are you losing more hair in the shower? How are your cycles? Are they showing up on time (every month or so) or are they slightly unpredictable? Symptoms and their frequency and severity are the way the body tells us if something is wrong. Take a good, hard, honest look at your diet: where are the sugars creeping in? Sugars are sneaky, they hide in breakfast cereals, granola bars, processed foods, even yogurt with fruit at the bottom! Awareness is the first step to wellness. It’s the key to understanding your body’s messages (symptoms) about the triggers (eg: food).

Reach out to a naturopathic doctor or GP for blood work to investigate hormone imbalance, insulin resistance, diabetes, or other underlying condition that may be contributing to your acne, hair growth, or variable periods. Understand the root cause of your symptoms is beneficial for two reasons: 1) You have actual lab values to monitor of what the heck your hormones are up to; 2) A naturopathic doctor or other health care professional can use this information to create a specific treatment plan for you based on your labs AND symptoms (AND goals).

PCOS is a common hormone condition that women have a unique degree of symptoms but it all boils down to inflammation, insulin resistance, and sex hormones. You don’t have to suffer in silence anymore, there’s a reason for your unwanted hair growth, acne, and erratic periods. Awareness is the first step to wellness!

Ready to get started and you don’t want to follow these steps alone? I am happy to help you untangle this maze of hormones so that you can get back to being your awesome, confident, self! Click here to book an appointment today!


*Appointments available for Ontario residents only. Out of province or country? No problem, contact me here and we can help you find a naturopath in your area!


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