Increase in polycystic ovary syndrome linked to obesity, environment
Environmental factors could play a part in the development of the condition
Last Updated: Friday, August 24, 2007 | 2:21 PM ET
Polycystic ovary syndrome, which affects one in 15 women globally, will increase as obesity becomes more of a problem, a new Australian study suggests.
The findings are in an article in the Saturday issue of the Lancet.
The endocrine disorder, known as PCOS, leads to irregular menstruation, excessive hair growth, acne and hair loss.
It can also lead to infertility as the body secretes too many male hormones, which can cause the ovaries to malfunction, resulting in irregular ovulation.
Obesity worsens the condition because it can lead to reproductive and metabolic abnormalities, researchers say. As well, weight gain may jump- start the syndrome in women.
Given high obesity levels in North American women, and the reduction in the quality of life of women with PCOS, the syndrome should be alleviated through weight-loss and lifestyle changes, researchers say.
Women with the syndrome also have a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes, say researchers, as they have impaired glucose tolerance, meaning the body has become less sensitive to the effects of insulin, and has to work harder to control blood glucose levels.
Syndrome linked to environment
The causes of PCOS have never been fully determined.
However, researchers believe the poor functioning of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the body are responsible for the condition.
They are also increasingly looking at environmental factors, such as exposure to androgen-like chemicals absorbed by the body.
Excessive androgens in women can lead to PCOS: 60 to 80 per cent of women sufferers have high concentrations of circulating testosterone, an androgen.
According to the report, research exists that “exposure of pregnant non-human primates and sheep to excess androgens predisposes female offspring to develop a syndrome similar to polycystic ovary syndrome.”
They theorize that fetal exposure along with poor lifestyle choices leading to obesity can cause the syndrome to develop later in life.
The end result is that more women will potentially face a lifetime of fertility issues, problems with their appearance, and a higher risk of developing diabetes, heart problems and endometrial cancer, say researchers.