Study Links Obesity With Women's Health Issue

May 30, 2001

Exploring whether weight loss and other healthy lifestyle changes help women with polycystic ovary syndrome - which is often associated with irregular menstrual periods and infertility - is the subject of a first-ever study by a Strong Memorial Hospital physician.

No research exists on the benefits of gradual, modest weight loss, coupled with drug therapy, for patients who have PCOS. Rather, earlier studies showed that some women regained regular menstrual cycles after they were put on very restrictive, low-calorie diets. But these diets are difficult to maintain, said Kathleen Hoeger, M.D., associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who heads the new study.

PCOS occurs when the ovaries produce too much testosterone. At least half of all women who have PCOS are overweight or obese, and the extra fat tissue increases the body's resistance to insulin. Therefore, PCOS is also linked to a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease, along with abnormal bleeding, infertility, abnormal facial hair growth and acne. About 5 percent of all women have PCOS.

Traditional research on PCOS has been limited. PCOS patients have used the diabetes drug metformin, approved by the FDA in 1995, but studies have only evaluated the drug's short-term success so far.

Hoeger's study runs for 48 weeks. The long-term weight loss program, which begins June 4, might be easier for patients to achieve, she said. Some patients will receive treatment and advice for a year from nutritionists, behavioral therapists and exercise specialists through Strong's Weight Management Center. Others will receive metformin, or both therapies, or a placebo.

Enrollment for the trial began this spring. The Maestone Good Foundation funds the research. Hoeger cites evidence linking obesity to PCOS in a March article for Obstetrics and Gynecological Clinics of North America, which produced a special edition, devoted to PCOS.

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