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PCOS linked to gut problems, researchers discover

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Women suffering from the condition have less diverse gut bacteria compared to healthier women, new research has discovered.

PCOS is considered to be a problem that is essentially a hormonal imbalance – and usually from having high levels of testosterone – but researchers from the University of California at San Diego believe there’s another factor in the development of the condition, and that’s to do with the diversity of gut bacteria.

They analysed swabs from 73 PCOS sufferers and compared them to samples from 48 healthy women and 42 women who also had PCOS but didn’t have all the usual symptoms, such as irregular periods, hair loss and acne.

The PCOS sufferers who had most of the common symptoms had the least diverse gut bacteria, the healthy women had the most, and those with PCOS with few symptoms had more gut diversity than those whose illness was more advanced.

The women with the least amount of gut diversity also had the highest levels of testosterone.

The researchers say they aren’t quite sure of the sequence of events, but the problem could begin with having high levels of testosterone, which alter the gut microbiome, and which then influence the progress of PCOS.

PCOS affects up to 10 per cent of adult women, and common characteristics include increased numbers of cysts on the ovaries, known as polycystic ovaries, which is detectable only by ultrasound; raised levels of testosterone, which can cause excess body hair; and irregular or no periods.

Standard treatment includes the prescribing of the contraceptive pill, but this new insight could see prebiotics and probiotics being used as an alternative.

(Source: Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2018; doi: 10.1210/jc.2017-02153)

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