Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) affects one in 10 women of childbearing age, according to the United States Office on Women's Health, yet the condition continues to puzzle many in the medical community. A single test to diagnose the syndrome doesn't even exist, with doctors having to assess a number of factors in their patients instead, like blood tests, pelvic exams, and ultrasounds. But now, finally, researchers think they may have zeroed in on a cause for PCOS, which raises hope that better treatment for the condition is possible.
Before we get to the good stuff, let's first break down the syndrome. The Mayo Clinic describes it most simply as a hormonal disorder, with symptoms including infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods or excess male hormone (androgen) levels. Additionally, it may cause the ovaries to develop small collections of fluid (follicles) and fail to regularly release eggs. The elevated hormone levels can result in excess facial and body hair, not to mention severe acne and male-pattern baldness.
Now, a study published in the journal Nature Medicine reveals there may be a link between PCOS sufferers and elevated prenatal anti-Mullerian hormone, which is secreted by cells in developing egg sacs while a child is in utero. Researchers are inclined to believe this may may reprogram the fetus, translating to PCOS in adulthood.
A team out of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research learned that levels of the anti-Mullerian hormone are 30 percent higher in pregnant women diagnosed with PCOS than typical. The condition appears to be hereditary, so researchers injected this particular hormone into pregnant mice. When their babies matured, they started showing the symptoms of PCOS. To combat this, the mice were given the drug cetrorelix, commonly used during IVF, which helped stop the related symptoms.
It's still too early to tell if the same treatment could work in humans, but the team is looking at this as a win moving forward with further studies.
“These findings highlight a critical role for excess prenatal [anti-Mullerian hormone] exposure and subsequent aberrant GnRH receptor signaling in the neuroendocrine dysfunctions of PCOS, while offering a new potential therapeutic avenue to treat the condition during adulthood,” say study authors.
Even if you are not directly affected by PCOS, chances are you know someone who is, and understand how integral these findings are to not only enhancing their quality of life but improving their chances of fertility.
Hopefully this study is the start of something big.