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What are my Options for Treating Insulin Resistance?


Updated April 28, 2014

The best way to promote insulin sensitivity is weight loss. Changing your diet to include lots of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can be beneficial, as can adding exercise. While insulin resistance is not often cured in this way alone, making these types of changes will go a long way towards reducing its effects.

If dietary changes are not sufficient and insulin resistance has been confirmed through testing, you may want to discuss adding an insulin-altering medication with your physician. Many women have found great success in weight loss by combining medication with lifestyle changes. It is important to know, however, that these drugs have not been approved by the FDA for use in treating PCOS.

Metformin is usually the first choice of most doctors, assuming that the woman is a candidate for taking the medication. It works by increasing the cell's sensitivity to insulin and also suppresses the production of glucose by the liver. For many women, taking this medication can help restore regular ovulation and periods. It is important to know that metformin can take up to 4 months before you see an effect.

Glitazones (like Avandia and Actos) are another class of drugs that are sometimes used, either alone or in conjunction with metformin. These medications directly decrease insulin insensitivity and often have fewer gastrointestinal side effects than metformin. Also, women taking glitazones may actually gain weight instead of losing it.

Several studies have shown chromium picolinate, an over-the-counter dietary supplement, to be an effective insulin sensitizer when combined with diet and exercise. According to Samuel Thatcher, author of PCOS: The Hidden Epidemic, chromium plays a vital role in insulin action, improves glycemic control, and has lipid-lowering effects. However, this does not mean that women with PCOS should start supplementing their diet with chromium. As with all vitamin and mineral supplements, more does not equal better. Taking dietary supplements indiscriminately can not only harm your health, but actually make the problem worse. If you are concerned about a chromium deficiency, ask your doctor about being tested, and add natural sources of chromium into your diet. Examples include bananas, carrots, oranges, strawberries, green beans and cabbage.

Managing insulin resistance can be key in helping women with PCOS lose weight. By making a few important lifestyle changes, you can help your body increase its response to insulin, and possibly decrease androgen production. This may help reduce symptoms, restore regular ovulation and make it easier to conceive.


Thatcher, Samuel S. "PCOS: The Hidden Epidemic." Indianapolis: Perspectives Press, 2000.

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