Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the leading cause of infertility and hormone disturbances in women of childbearing age. The condition is often a result of insulin resistance, an imbalance in the sugar metabolism that is typically accompanied by fatigue, abdominal obesity (apple-shaped body), overweight, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes. It makes perfect sense to stick with a blood sugar-stabilizing diet and to include a chromium supplement that increases insulin sensitivity and helps, indirectly, regulate the hormone balance. As a bonus effect, it becomes a lot easier to obtain and maintain your ideal weight.
An alarmingly high number of couples are childless, and PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) appears to be the leading cause of failed pregnancies. Many women even feel that they are in a race against time when their biological clock ticks louder and louder.
What is PCOS?
Around 10 percent of PCOS sufferers have cysts (liquid-filled vesicles) in one or both ovaries. However, it is not considered PCOS unless the cysts are linked to hormonal changes such as:
- Lacking or irregular menstrual periods
- Prolonged menstrual cycle lasting more than 35 days
- Elevated blood levels of male sex hormone (testosterone)
Symptoms of too much male sex hormone in women include:
- A tendency to acne or pimples
- Increased male hairiness (hirsutism)
- Accumulation of abdominal fat (apple-shaped body)
PCOS appears in different ways from one woman to another. Many women even suffer from blood sugar disturbances and have difficulty with losing weight. But how can blood sugar problems affect the sex hormone balance?
Too much carbohydrate may lead to insulin resistance
The food we eat provides us with energy in the form of carbohydrate, fat, and protein. Carbohydrate has the most significant impact on blood sugar levels. After it is broken down into glucose, the pancreas produces insulin, which is the hormone that helps channel glucose into our cells. However, if we consume carbohydrates in excess – especially the refined forms such as white sugar, candy, soft drinks, bleached flour, chips, and junk food – our blood sugar shoots up dramatically, burdening both the pancreas and our cells. Over time, insulin resistance may occur. This reduces the ability of cells to take up sugar. When cells fail to absorb sugar, the pancreas responds by producing even more insulin, but because the body does not respond properly to the insulin that is released, you still feel hungry because the cells are unable to take up the sugar and convert it into energy. This may lead you to overeat, causing the body to remove the excess calories from the bloodstream and storing them as fat.
The permanently elevated insulin levels result in hormonal chain reactions with the following changes:
- The liver lowers its production of SHBG (sex hormone-binding globulin) that normally binds and inactivates excess sex hormones such as testosterone
- The elevated testosterone levels disturb the release of FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone) from the pituitary gland that is normally responsible for regulating the maturation of the egg in the follicle and the subsequent release of the egg
- With too much LH in the blood, the egg stops maturing before it is ready for ovulation. Instead, many cysts (egg vesicles) appear on the ovaries
- The chronically elevated insulin levels even cause the ovaries to produce too much testosterone
- Elevated testosterone levels in the blood cause the cells in the abdominal tissue to store energy in the form of fat. This is why women with PCOS have apple-shaped bodies
- The fat cells in the abdominal area increase insulin resistance and the risk of type-2 diabetes
- The more fat there is in the abdominal area, the more testosterone the body produces. This is a vicious cycle
Why does PCOS cause infertility?
As mentioned, insulin resistance upsets the balance between the pituitary hormones, FSH and LH. This prevents normal maturation of the egg and prevents ovulation from occurring. The hormone disturbances are complicated additionally by the insulin resistance that leads to increased production of male sex hormone. The primary goal is therefore to increase the cells’ insulin sensitivity and control blood sugar levels.
Limit your intake of fast carbohydrates and make sure to exercise
For years, American researchers studied 18,555 married women and their ability to become pregnant. They also made a note of the women’s dietary habits. During follow-up, 438 of the women had difficulty with becoming pregnant due to problems with their ovulation. The researchers found that higher carbohydrate intake was linked to more problems with becoming pregnant. The problem was primarily associated with refined and “fast” carbohydrates that have a high glycemic index. In conclusion, the amount and quality of carbohydrates seemed to affect blood sugar levels, ovulation, and fertility in this group of women. The study is published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In her book (“Kvinde, Krop og Sundhed”), Irene Hage, a Danish doctor, writes that a diet with low intake of “fast” carbohydrates such as sugar, white bread, pasta, fruit juice, polished rice, potatoes etc. – and a relatively high protein intake (e.g. meat, fish, eggs, legumes, and healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) – helps to control blood sugar levels. It is also important to exercise because it helps speed up the metabolism while increasing insulin sensitivity.
Chromium supplements help against insulin resistance and PCOS
Chromium is one of the most thoroughly investigated nutrients in relation to treating sensitive blood sugar and insulin resistance. Chromium is part of a compound known as chromodulin that enhances the effect of insulin, thereby increasing cellular glucose uptake. Chromium supplements are useful for women with PCOS. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 64 women with PCOS showed that daily supplementation with 200 micrograms of chromium had a substantial impact on insulin resistance. More specifically, the women’s elevated insulin levels went down, indicating that they responded better to the insulin they produced. The researchers also found that the women had lower levels of cholesterol and triglyceride. Normally, levels of these two substances go up in people with blood sugar disturbances. The study is published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The vicious cycle
Increased intake of sugar and stimulants increased the secretion of chromium in urine. This can easily lead to a vicious cycle, as we need chromium to control our blood sugar levels.
The body is best able to utilize chromium yeast
It is important to know chromium yeast is the chromium source, which the body is best able to utilize. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), organic chromium yeast is absorbed up to 10 times better than synthetic chromium sources such as chromium picolinate and chromium chloride.
Useful tips on how to control blood sugar levels
- Stick with three healthy main meals (possibly with in-between snacks)
- Make sure to get enough protein with all meals
- Consume healthy fats from unadulterated sources like oily fish, nuts, kernels, seeds, avocado, and virgin olive oil
- Choose coarse, fiber-rich carbohydrates
- Eat plenty of greens, preferably vegetables
- Avoid altogether or limit your intake of sugar, bleached flour, juice, and alcohol
- Avoid altogether or limit your intake of caffeinated beverages
- Try to avoid long-term stress
- Remember to exercise and include many minor physical activities in your daily routine
Chavarro, JE et al. A prospective study of dietary carbohydrate quantity and quality in relation to risk of ovulatory infertility. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009
Jamilian M, Asemi Z. Chromium Supplementation and the Effect on Metabolic Status in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism 2015
Ursula Bentin-Ley. PCO og graviditet. Dansk Fertilitetsklinik
Irene Hage. Kvinde, krop og sundhed. Gads Forlag 2007
Pernille Lund. Sådan får du styr på dit blodsukker og din vægt. Vy Videnskab 201
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