Lifestyle changes and a medication regimen helped this Lafayette woman overcome PCOS-related insulin resistance to achieve pregnancy
Sarah and Brent know first-hand how PCOS-related insulin resistance can interfere with trying to get pregnant. Studies suggest that polycystic ovarian syndrome, PCOS, is due to an underlying metabolic problem known as insulin resistance which causes the body to produce too much insulin.
High insulin production causes the ovaries to produce high amounts of male hormones (androgens). This unhealthy environment in the ovary has a negative effect on egg follicles, resulting in a woman being unable to ovulate. These high insulin levels can also set into play a vicious cycle that makes weight loss extremely difficult. But, a healthy lifestyle plus medication can help lessen the effects of insulin resistance, helping women lose weight and get pregnant.
Irregular periods and weight gain can be signs of PCOS-related insulin resistance
Around three or four years ago, Sarah started experiencing small changes in her monthly cycle. In her mid-twenties at the time and newly married, she noticed her period starting 2-4 days later than normal, which was unusual for her, and then getting further and further apart, up to 8 to 11 days later. She was also frustrated with extra weight she couldn’t figure out how to lose.
Sarah, who works at a Lafayette middle school, and her husband Brent, who works for an oilfield supplier, were ready to start a family. She wasn’t too worried initially about her irregular periods, but after trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant she made an appointment with her obstetrician to check things out. The next six months were a whirlwind of tests, ovulation induction cycles and surgery to fix a uterine septum. But she still wasn’t pregnant.
After their last attempt to get pregnant with ovulation induction didn’t work, this time using a different medication, Sarah and Brent were feeling exhausted and frustrated. “I felt like we couldn’t figure things out and it was just one hill after another,” says Sarah. Her obstetrician, too, was at the end of his fertility expertise and decided it was time he referred her to Dr. John Storment at Fertility Answers.
Learning about Sarah’s past failed ovulation induction cycles and her symptoms of irregular periods and weight gain, Dr. Storment suspected PCOS-related insulin resistance. He ordered a glucose tolerance test so they could get a better indication of how Sarah’s body was producing insulin. Needed by the body to convert glucose into energy, insulin is a vital hormone produced by the pancreas. But for women with insulin resistance, the pancreas produces too much insulin. This extra insulin makes its way into the ovaries and disrupts ovulation.
Diet and exercise can drastically improve PCOS-related insulin resistance
PCOS-related insulin resistance can be treated through exercise and diet, plus medication, if needed. Exercise, even moderate, has been medically proven to lower insulin levels. The drug Metformin is widely used to improve insulin resistance in women with PCOS. And, most importantly, a low-carb PCOS-focused diet is a key part of treatment and one that Fertility Answers can help patients coordinate through our preferred dietician Rachel Brandeis.
“I loved working with Rachel!” says Sarah. “She provided weekly encouragement and really helped me stay on track and focus on what was important.” Through Rachel’s PCOS diet program, Sarah was able to communicate with her through phone, email and Zoom to talk about what she needed to change in her diet and what her goals should be. Using the program’s app, Sarah was able to track what she was eating, log her weight, and communicate with Rachel to tweak her diet. Her specific diet prescribed eating smaller meals more often, watching sugar levels, and lowering her intake of high carb foods.
“Once we figured out I was insulin resistant, everything made sense and things started to come together,” says Sarah. Through the diet program and a daily regimen of Metformin, Sarah was able to lose over 25 pounds. Her periods became more regular and overall she felt so much better with more energy. “It seemed everything I was doing was helping immensely.”
With her weight loss and insulin under control, Sarah and her husband Brent decided it was time to move on to the next step – getting pregnant. They underwent two intrauterine inseminations in early 2021 and Sarah is now pregnant with their first baby due in November 2021. When Sarah found out she was pregnant, she had another call with Rachel to go over what she needed to change in her diet and what her pregnancy weight goal should be. “I’ve done extremely well with my pregnancy weight goal I set with Rachel, so I feel really good about where I am,” says Sarah. “And, I plan to get fully back on track with Rachel after the baby is born.”
Sarah and Brent would eventually like to have two more children and knowing the pathway they need to take helps them feel more confident they can make it happen. As for now, they are finishing up the nursery and counting down the days. They’ve decided to wait to find out whether this baby is a boy or a girl. “We want to be surprised,” says Sarah.