A new study conducted at Northwestern University found that the infant daughters of women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) show markers of the disease. In this study, data revealed that baby girls born to moms with PCOS produce higher levels of an enzyme that activates the hormone testosterone. Previous studies in animal models have shown that exposure to testosterone in early infancy increases the risk of developing PCOS-like symptoms like insulin resistance in exposed animals.
These findings open new opportunities for treatment of this complex disease, which places women at risk for obesity, pre-diabetes, infertility and other chronic health conditions like heart disease. Currently, PCOS cannot be diagnosed prior to puberty, when it manifests in different ways, including delayed or irregular menses, acne and excess hair growth on the face and body. PCOS also increases the risk of depression and anxiety, which coupled with the physical symptoms, create social and emotional challenges. PCOS is often underdiagnosed because symptoms mirror many of the changes associated with puberty. Many women do not learn they have PCOS until they try unsuccessfully to become pregnant.
Proactivity is key with PCOS. Once diagnosed, PCOS responds extremely well to lifestyle interventions like diet and exercise, which are often enough in themselves to improve insulin sensitivity and jumpstart ovulation and menstruation. Understanding the genetic link to PCOS represents a giant leap in our understanding of this condition and the potential to manage, and even prevent, serious health consequences in a generation of young women.