Diabetes Drug may Prevent Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

JUNE 29, 2011
A recent study has discovered that early, long-term treatment with the diabetes drug metformin may prevent or delay the development of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in adolescent girls.

PCOS is the leading cause of infertility in women in the United States, as it affects 7% to 10% of females of childbearing age—an estimated 5 to 6 million women in the United States alone.

"PCOS often presents in adolescence, with irregular menstrual cycles, acne, or too much body hair," said the study's senior author, Lourdes Ibáñez, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics at the University of Barcelona in Spain and lead author of the study. "But we believe the critical years for PCOS development may be during childhood and puberty when excessive amounts of fat are stored. That excessive weight gain overexposes the ovaries to insulin, causing them to stop ovulating and start releasing male hormones, resulting in PCOS."

The researchers studied thirty-eight girls who had low birth-weight and presented with early puberty. They compared the efficacy of early versus late treatment with metformin to prevent adolescent PCOS.

A group of nineteen girls were treated with daily doses of metformin, beginning at the age of eight-years-old, for four years; a second group of nineteen girls waited five years before receiving daily doses of metformin, beginning at age thirteen, but this group continued to receive the treatment for only one year. 

The findings showed that early metformin therapy prevented or delayed the development of hirsutism, androgen excess, and PCOS more effectively than the administration of late metformin treatment.

"Metformin, when given across the potentially critical window of puberty, may have the capacity to reprogram metabolism toward less abdominal and liver fat," Ibáñez stated. "In the years ahead, the focus of attention should shift from late treatment of PCOS and its complications, toward the early and large-scale prevention of PCOS, with measures such as diet, exercise and metformin in young girls."

The study will be published in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

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