Lifestyle Changes Could Boost PCOS Fertility

Polycystic ovary syndrome patients may improve ovulation with exercise, weight loss


Infertility can be a big concern for some women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). But exercise and weight loss may be here to help.

A new study from Pennsylvania State University found that weight loss and exercise may prevent infertility in women with PCOS.

"The findings confirm what we have long suspected — that exercise and a healthy diet can improve fertility in women who have PCOS," said study co-author Richard S. Legro, MD, a professor of obstetrics-gynecology and public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, in a press release. "Making preconception lifestyle changes is beneficial, either alone or in combination with other pretreatment options."

PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility. The condition occurs in some women whose bodies produce excess male hormones. The resulting hormonal imbalance can affect fertility by not providing the body with enough female hormones for eggs in the ovaries to mature, which can interfere with ovulation.

Women with PCOS often take birth control pills to regulate their menstrual cycles and reduce the levels of male hormones in their bodies. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, as many as 5 million women have PCOS nationwide.

For this study, Dr. Legro and team looked at 149 overweight or obese PCOS patients ages 18 to 40.

These women were assigned one of three treatment options — 49 took birth control pills, 50 made diet and exercise changes and the remaining 50 did both.

After four months, the women ovulated four times with the help of medication.

While five women in the birth control group gave birth, 13 women in the exercise group and 12 women in the combination group also gave birth.

Overall, the women who modified their lifestyles were more likely to give birth than the women who took birth control alone.

"The research indicates preconception weight loss and exercise improve women's reproductive and metabolic health," Dr. Legro said. "In contrast, using oral contraceptives alone may worsen the metabolic profile without improving ovulation."

This study was published Sept. 24 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

The National Institutes of Health funded this research. Several study authors disclosed conflicts of interest.