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Treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome

ATHENS, GREECE. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects an estimated 3.5-5.0 million women in the United States. PCOS is characterized by irregular or absent periods, abnormal bleeding, infertility, obesity, hair loss, and acne. Its main anatomical feature is enlarged ovaries with an increased number of follicles around the periphery.

The traditional treatment for PCOS involves the use of oral contraceptive pills. An international group of researchers are now questioning this therapy. They point out that PCOS patients are at high risk for developing insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, and heart disease and that these disorders may actually be more common among oral contraceptive users than among non-users. Thus, while oral contraceptives may provide some short-term relief, they could have unfortunate long-term consequences for PCOS patients.

The researchers point out that PCOS patients are insulin resistant and thus at greater risk for diabetes. They reason that drugs which retard the progression from insulin resistance to type 2 diabetes (metformin, troglitazone) may also work in the treatment of PCOS. They would be particularly appropriate in women with other risk factors for diabetes. The researchers also suggest that insulin resistance can be diminished effectively by a combination of diet and exercise.
Diamanti-Kandarakis, Evanthia, et al. A modern medical quandary: polycystic ovary syndrome, insulin resistance, and oral contraceptive pills. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Vol. 88, May 2003, pp. 1927-32

Editor's comment: Animal experiments have shown that supplementation with alpha-lipoic acid is highly effective in decreasing insulin resistance.

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