Written by Yoppie
11 Mar 2022
First, a reminder of PCOS symptoms you might encounter…
How is PCOS treated?
What is metformin?
What has insulin got to do with it?
Sounds great! What can metformin help with for PCOS?
What are the side effects of metformin?
Is metformin right for me and my PCOS?
Wait… but isn’t metformin a medication to treat type 2 diabetes? Why, yes it is! It’s also been found to be effective for people who suffer from PCOS, so we’re doing a deep dive on it here. What is it? What are the benefits and side effects? Is it right for you?? Let’s explore…
PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) is a hormone-related condition where people produce higher levels of androgens than what is considered ‘normal’, causing a range of symptoms. It’s thought to be very common, affecting around 1 in 10 people with periods in the UK.
Symptoms of PCOS can include irregular or skipped periods, heavy bleeding, fertility issues, hair growth on the body, hair loss on the head, weight gain, acne, and more. Some people with PCOS could have fertility issues and therefore not even know they have the condition (an estimated 70% of people with PCOS have not been diagnosed), while others will experience severe symptoms that will negatively affect their lives.
PCOS cannot be cured, so it’s all about managing the individual symptoms that arise for each person, for example, if the main symptoms causing you problems are acne and weight gain then you may be given medication to specifically help with these issues.
If irregular or missed periods are a problem for you, your doctor may recommend hormonal birth control to regulate these, but one of the most interesting medications being used to help with the symptoms of PCOS is metformin. Is it a cure-all? Unfortunately not. But could it have a potentially life-changing effect on your symptoms? For some, yes.
Metformin is mainly used to treat type 2 diabetes, and if you read our previous post on the links between PCOS and type 2 diabetes, then you may already know why it’s relevant to this condition, too; Metformin helps to relieve insulin resistance, and since this is a characteristic of PCOS, it can help those with this condition by improving insulin sensitivity. The medication usually comes in liquid or tablet form and can be taken by mouth with a meal as many times a day as directed by your doctor.
Insulin is a key factor when it comes to PCOS, since the condition affects the endocrine system, causing insulin resistance in some cases. Insulin resistance means high levels of insulin are produced by the pancreas, but researchers are still unsure of why this happens.
Metformin works by decreasing glucose production in the body, enabling cells to absorb and utilise glucose that's already present and available in the body. It does this by suppressing the liver's production of glucose, making the liver, muscle, fat and cells more sensitive to the insulin made by the body, and decreasing the absorption of carbohydrates consumed.
It’s exciting to discover a medication that could make a massive difference to the symptoms affecting your life. While metformin isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of PCOS treatments, it has certainly helped people who suffer from some of the worst symptoms. For example, studies have found metformin to be effective for enhancing ovulation in those who have not seen success with (or experienced resistance to) other medications.
Several studies have also found that treatment with metformin for at least 8 weeks resulted in reduced fasting glucose, reduced fasting insulin, weight loss (which can be beneficial for PCOS symptoms), and more. In addition, the use of metformin for up to 6 months was found to reduce hirsutism (hair growth on the body) by significantly reducing levels of the hormones androgen and testosterone.
Overall, metformin has been found to be highly effective for tackling some of the main symptoms of PCOS, and according to research, could be even more effective when combined with hormonal birth control. Your doctor can suggest the best combination of medications for your specific situation.
As with any medication, side effects do exist for metformin, and it’s always good to know about them just in case it doesn’t work for you and you need to check back in with your doctor. The most common side effects of metformin are primarily gastroenterological, such as issues with bloating, abdominal discomfort, nausea and diarrhoea.
In many cases these side effects can be fixed by adjusting the dosage or starting on a low dosage to work your way up slowly, so don’t be afraid to speak to your doctor if you do experience side effects as it may be a very easy, quick fix.
If you suffer from any of the above PCOS symptoms, then there’s certainly potential for metformin (or other medications like it) to help improve your situation. Start by speaking to your doctor to find out if it’s an option for you, and they can tell you more about how it works, suggest the best dosage for you, and monitor your progress with the medication to make sure it’s working for you and - fingers crossed - improving your PCOS symptoms at long last!
Got a question about metformin that we haven’t covered here? We’re always happy to help if we can, so feel free to chat inside our Full Stop FB group, or shoot us over a question via DM on Instagram at @itsyoppie, and we’ll do our very best to get you the answers you need. Don't forget that our personalised menstrual care subscription can get PCOS supplements, organic tampons and much more delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox, to help keep at least some of that PCOS pain under control each month.
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