Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects 8% to 13% of women during their reproductive years. Common symptoms include irregular menstrual cycles, acne, excessive facial hair growth, voice changes, ovarian cysts, and challenges with conception. PCOS can also increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Unfortunately, up to 70% of PCOS cases worldwide go undiagnosed due to the lack of a specific test for diagnosis.
While the cause of PCOS remains unclear, it is believed to be a complex condition influenced by both genetics and environmental factors. The emotional toll it takes on women, particularly in relation to body image and fertility, is significant.
Recent studies have focused on the gut microbiome of women with PCOS to determine if there is a connection. These studies have found that the gut microbiome in women with PCOS differs from those without the condition. Women generally have more diverse gut microbiomes, but females with PCOS have fewer types of bacteria in their stool and a different mix of bacteria compared to women without PCOS. This lower diversity of gut bacteria is associated with higher testosterone levels, excess hair growth, abnormal cholesterol levels, being overweight, and insulin resistance – all of which are commonly seen in PCOS.
The gut microbiome can be influenced by various factors such as diet, sex hormones, sleep quality, location, and weight. While it was once primarily considered to aid in digestion, the gut microbiome is now recognized as playing a crucial role in overall health. Research has found that women with PCOS are more likely to have unhealthy dietary habits and be overweight or obese compared to women without PCOS.
One theory suggests that an unhealthy diet can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut, leading to gut dysbiosis. This imbalance may cause the gut lining to become permeable, allowing harmful substances from certain bacteria to leak into the bloodstream, a condition known as leaky gut. This can trigger the immune system, interfere with insulin function, increase insulin levels, and lead to the overproduction of male hormones in the ovaries, as well as problems with egg production.
Recent research has also identified a potential link between PCOS and specific chemicals produced when beneficial gut bacteria digest fiber from food. These chemicals influence the metabolic and hormonal aspects of PCOS, and increasing their production through fiber intake seems to improve PCOS symptoms. Additionally, a study discovered that certain types of bile acids, which play a role in fat digestion, are present in higher amounts in people with PCOS. Alterations in bile acid levels may negatively affect gut bacteria and contribute to a leaky gut, worsening PCOS symptoms.
Probiotics, which introduce beneficial microorganisms to the gut, have shown promise in restoring microbial equilibrium. A study found that the probiotic bifidobacterium lactis V9 improved gut health in women with PCOS.
As more research is conducted, a deeper understanding of the relationship between the gut microbiome and PCOS may lead to new approaches for diagnosis, treatment, and management of this complex condition.
– Source article: Polycystic ovary syndrome and the gut microbiome. Available upon request.
– Women’s Health Matters – a series about the health and wellbeing of women and girls around the world. No URL available.