Could Exercise and Weight Loss Improve Fertility in Women with PCOS?

By Teran61 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

According to the results of a new research study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, losing weight and engaging in exercise may improve fertility rates in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS.

PCOS is one of the most common disorders that causes infertility in women. The problem happens when a woman’s body makes too much testosterone and other androgens, which are the sexual hormones responsible for male traits. The resulting imbalance in hormones causes menstrual cycle irregularities, weight gain, excessive facial hair, acne and thinning hair.

According to statistics released from the United States Department of Human Services Office of Women’s Health, about 5 million women all over the nation are suffering from PCOS.

The Findings of the Study

One of the study’s authors, Richard S. Legro, Vice Chair of Research and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Public Health Services at Penn State College of Medicine, states, “The findings confirm what we have long suspected-that exercise and a healthy diet can improve fertility in women who have PCOS. Making preconception lifestyle changes is beneficial, either alone or with other pretreatment options.”

Females who have polycystic ovarian syndrome commonly take birth control pills to help regulate their menstrual cycle and help reduce levels of male hormones in the body. Research in the past has indicated that pretreatment using short-term birth control pills can raise pregnancy rates among women with PCOS. The study was done to compare preconceived interventions and how they impacted a woman’s fertility.

The randomizes open label study looked at the differences in pregnancy rates among 149 women with PCOS who either took oral contraceptive pills, engaged in lifestyle modifications or a combination of the two, for a period of 4-months. The women in the study were between the ages of 18 and 40 years of age. The female participants were either overweight or obese, but they didn’t have any other health conditions. After the intervention was done, the participants went through four cycles of ovulation which was induced through medication.
Of the 49 women who received the birth control treatment, five went on to have babies.

Approximately 50 women in the lifestyle modification group went on to deliver 13 babies. Twelve of the 50 women in the combination group had babies.

Women who observed lifestyle modification methods and took birth control medication were more likely to experience ovulation than women who were only taking oral contraceptives. Additionally, women in the lifestyle modification and combination portions of the study had better insulin sensitivity and lower triglyceride levels than women who took oral contraceptives.

In Closing:

Dr. Legro further states, “The research indicates preconception weight loss and exercise improve women’s reproductive and metabolic health. In contrast, using oral contraceptives alone may worsen the metabolic profile without improving ovulation. Lifestyle change is an important part of any fertility treatment approach for women with PCOS who are overweight or obese.”


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