The Bitter Truth of PCOS & Insulin Resistance

Written by Dr. Nirvana

February 18, 2021

pcos insulin resistanceThere are several natural supplements for PCOS that can help to manage what I believe, to be one of the main root causes to PCOS, which is insulin resistance. Insulin resistance happens when your muscles, liver, and fat respond abnormally to insulin preventing the uptake of glucose from your blood. This means that glucose deposits in your organs, vessels and even at the cellular level or on the cell membrane. When this happens, it prevents vital nutrients from getting into the cell where all the magic happens! By magic I mean the assimilation of the nutrients that the body needs for optimum nourishment.

Sign and symptoms of insulin resistance

Some of my patients have had insulin resistance or PCOS for so long, that it’s difficult to discern what may be causing their symptoms. Chances are if you’re experiencing any of the below symptoms, you may have insulin resistance:

  • Abdominal weight gain, but not in all cases.
  • Fatigue after meals.
  • Developing dark skin patches usually found in neck, armpits, knuckles, knees, and elbows.
  • Higher than normal cravings for sugary foods and simple carbohydrates.
  • Waking up in the middle of the night around 1-3am.

Herbs & Spices for Insulin Resistance


1. Berberine

Berberine is a bitter compound found in the roots of several plants including goldenseal, barberry, and Oregon grape. This is one of my favorite herbs for PCOS. The reason being it can help to lower elevated blood sugar and elevated testosterone.

2. Fenugreek

The use of fenugreek originated in the Persian Empire, and was considered a beauty elixir, and spice. The seeds have a spicy-bitter flavor and are often found in Persian recipes. Fenugreek is excellent for regulating blood sugar levels. It helps regulate insulin resistance, making it more responsive and sensitive.

3. Nigella Sativa

Sometimes known as black cumin seed, Nigella has been used in European, Middle Eastern and Ayurvedic traditional medicine and is well-known for its anti-diabetic activity. This beautiful seed has been shown to enhance insulin sensitivity particularly when taken with alpha lipoic acid.

4. Turmeric

Another great natural supplement for PCOS is turmeric. The active component of turmeric is called curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric can be beneficial for those with PCOS because it helps to improve insulin sensitivity and acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory.

5. Momordica

Bitter melon or bitter gourd contains an insulin-like compound called Polypeptide-p or p-insulin, which helps to balance blood sugar naturally. It may be quite bitter to the palate, but if you’d like to make it a regular part of your diet, which I highly recommend, consider looking for it in your Middle Eastern or Asian supermarkets.

What do all these herbs have in common?

They are all bitter! Bitter foods are absoluttely wonderful on so many levels including
regulating insulin sensitivity. They can help to slow down the digestive movement of carbohydrates into the small intestine, which in turn can help reduce post-meal blood sugar spikes, or hyperglycemia. When food enters your digestive tract it is broken down into macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, and proteins) by gastric juices and digestive enzymes. The carbs that are derived from your food enters your bloodstream in your small intestine. Bitter foods or herbs work by slowing down this progression to also spread out the duration of sugar entering the bloodstream. One of the problems of a high-sugar diet is the resulting “spike” in post-meal blood sugar and people with insulin resistance and PCOS are particularly prone to these spikes.

Bitters for Appetite and Weight

Much like how bitterness can slow gastric motility to help promote appetite control and a feeling of satiety, bitter flavors can also activate the enteroendocrine cells in our digestive tract. When these cells detect bitterness, they release peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like-protein1 (GLP-1), which are the hormone-like substances that make us feel full.

This is fascinating not just because it can subdue the feeling of hunger and make us feel full, but also because the unique nature of the receptor cells means that the reaction does not have to operate through the central nervous system. This means that bitters may act directly as localized hormone triggers to control appetite and other metabolic functions in digestion. These hormonal triggers in the GI can reduce appetite and increase satiety, which leads to a reduced caloric intake and thus potential weight loss.

Bitters for a Healthy Gut

The beneficial bacteria found in our digestive tract is responsible for a number of essential functions that affect nutrient absorption, immune system health, mood, sleep, and more. Maintaining a healthy gut is foundational to overall health and wellness. Certain herbal bitters, loosely known as “nutritive bitters”, contain meaningful amounts of prebiotic starches that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and can have beneficial effects on regulatory bowel function. Examples of nutritive bitters include dandelion, chicory, angelica, and burdock.

The Bitter-Sweet Battle

When we stop eating bitters, we tend to compensate with more sweet. This seems to be the story of our Western diet, which has all but abandoned bitters in favor of sweet. Bitters help balance our cravings, particularly for sugar. In addition, sugar and bitterness seem to be at odds when it comes to our immune response. Sweetness tends to suppress the immune response. And we already know that unhealthy bacteria love sugar. As invasive bacteria consume sugar, the bitter receptors respond to the presence of these bitter chemicals and signal the immune responses in surrounding cells, therefore, helping to combat the spread of bad bacteria. This effect would be particularly important in the digestive tract, a significant part of your overall immune system as well as where some of your most important hormones are made and processed!

Hello! I'm Dr. Nirvana, A Naturopathic Doctor

I’m so glad you’re here! I’m thrilled to share with you, my approach to treating the person from the inside-out. A process focusing on natural regeneration of the body.

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