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What is the Link Between PCOS and Obesity?


Updated July 16, 2014

The relationship between PCOS and obesity is a complicated one. Experts still are not certain whether PCOS makes it easier for a woman to put on weight, or if the extra weight causes a woman to develop PCOS. Not all women who have PCOS are obese, and not all obese women have PCOS. Studies are still necessary to sort out this relationship.

What is Obesity?
What Causes PCOS?

Why Can’t I Lose Weight?

Every woman’s metabolism is unique. Our bodies process fats, calories and sugar differently. This is true of women with PCOS as well. Many women with PCOS eat a healthy diet and exercise religiously, but still have a problem with weight. Obviously, this is not a simple issue of caloric intake and lack of adequate activity. There is something about the way that their bodies process the food and calories that they consume which makes it difficult for them to maintain a healthy weight. This is incredibly frustrating. Some researchers have theorized that this phenomenon is a result of insulin resistance, which is very common in women with PCOS.

What Does Insulin Resistance Have To Do With It?

Insulin is a hormone produced by beta cells in the pancreas in response to levels of glucose in the blood. When there is glucose that is not being used, insulin stimulates the storage of glucose in the liver and muscle cells as glycogen, a more complex carbohydrate molecule. Once the maximum amount of glycogen has been reached, insulin next converts excess glucose into fat. Excess fat, of course, leads to excess weight.

Insulin resistance is frequently associated with PCOS; some studies suggest that as many as 70% of women with PCOS are affected by this issue. This occurs when the body has consistently high levels of sugar. The pancreas needs to secrete greater and greater amounts of insulin in order to keep blood sugar regulated. Eventually, the cells no longer respond to insulin and glucose begins to build up in the blood, leading to diabetes.

Will Losing Weight Improve Fertility or Other PCOS Symptoms?

Studies have shown that as little as a 10% weight reduction can be effective in restoring regular ovulation and menses. This can help reduce the level of androgens in your body and may even help reduce your symptoms and make infertility treatment more effective. Regular exercise has also been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and improve the quality of your sleep as well.

Weight Management in Women With PCOS

Lifestyle changes are your first option for weight loss. Make exercise a priority by scheduling 30 minutes to walk each day for 4 to 5 days every week. Cut back or eliminate simple sugars and eat lots of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Be mindful of how you are preparing your food -– bake or broil instead of frying, and be sparing of oil or butter, for example. Try having a salad or a big glass of water 15 minutes before each meal –- it may help fill you up so you eat less.

If you have made these changes and have been unsuccessful, you may consider taking medication or having gastric bypass surgery as an aid to your weight loss plan. Currently, a variety of weight loss supplements and diet drugs are available over the counter. Prescription medications such as Meridia and Orlistat have been successful for many women with a lot of weight to lose. However, you should not take any prescription or over-the-counter supplements without discussing it with your doctor first due to the risk of health problems associated with these drugs.

It is extremely important to talk not only to your family practitioner but also a specialist in weight loss about the risks and benefits of taking medication or having gastric bypass surgery. Many options are available, and you should find the one best suited for you and your situation.

5 Steps to Managing PCOS
Considering Weight Loss Surgery

There is a societal tendency to judge people who are overweight or obese. This often leads to people feeling embarrassed, inadequate or discriminated against. While most women state that they would like to lose weight, your ultimate goal should be health. Focus on eating healthy foods, getting off the couch and moving more, and finding effective ways to increase insulin sensitivity. After all, a healthy body can increase both the length and quality of your life.


Thatcher, Samuel. PCOS: The Hidden Epidemic. Perspectives Press; Indianopolis. 2000.

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