Researchers agree there’s a link between polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Though not all PCOS patients will develop a fatty liver condition, enough do that some scientists are pursuing a link, and possible solution to the problem.
One study, posted to the in the World Journal of Gastroenterology 2014, offers some intriguing possibilities. The first – that PCOS’ link to obesity is the lead-in to NAFLD – my seem obvious. But another could offer a non-lifestyle habit piece of the puzzle: the excess of androgen, a hormone usually found in far greater quantities in men than in women, in PCOS patients may be a factor, the study shows.
A Hormonal Link?
The androgen hypothesis is interesting because NAFLD already appears to be heavily influenced by hormones and hormonal imbalance. Indeed, other hormone-related conditions, such as hypothyroidism and Type II diabetes, appear to have a link to NALFD, according to some studies.
Androgen, informally known as a “male” hormone but found also in the female body (indeed, “male” and “female” hormones are both found in men and women), can dominate when a woman has PCOS. This imbalance throws off other hormones and can affect the body in other ways, including thinning hair on the head, hair growth on the body, and more serious conditions such as diabetes or high cholesterol.
Nurture v. Nature
One part of the researchers’ findings may be within a PCOS patient’s control, at least to an extent: as with other studies, the most current research found that obesity appeared to play a role in the development of NAFLD.
Unfortunately, weight gain can spiral out of control for women with PCOS. This too may be partially due to the influence of hormones. In fact, obesity or overweight/non-obese status is seen in a significant proportion of PCOS patients, most researchers agree. PCOS’ negative influence on typical insulin function may be a factor, according to at least one study.
Nevertheless, lifestyle changes may positively affect one’s weight and health even in PCOS patients, so don’t give up yet – follow your doctor’s instructions to lose weight or maintain a normal weight. This can certainly be harder in women with PCOS, but any change may be a move in the right direction, according to researchers.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome – PCOS – is a hormonal disorder which, as the name implies (“syndrome”), comprises more than one factor.
In PCOS, a woman of pre-menopausal, reproductive age produces many small cysts on her ovaries rather than maturing a single egg cell (or possibly two) in approximately the middle of any given menstrual cycle.
Unfortunately, PCOS can lead to infertility, excessive hair growth, “skin tags” (small bits of skin hanging slightly from the body) and has been linked to high cholesterol, diabetes and other unhealthy conditions.
Scientists still aren’t sure exactly what sets off a PCOS condition. Approximately 7% of women of childbearing years in the U.S. will struggle with PCOS.
Should You See Your Doctor?
Yes. If you suspect PCOS, or any other reproductive/hormonal condition, see your doctor. PCOS symptoms vary from individual to individual but may include:
- Irregular periods (most often, women with PCOS will experience very long cycles/”skipped” periods or a cessation of periods altogether, but this can vary)
- Excessive hair growth, particularly in traditionally “male” areas, such as the face, but also on other parts of the body (this condition is known as hirsutism)
- Thinning of hair on the head, generally assumed to be due to an excess of male hormones/an atypical male:female hormone ratio on the body
- Fatigue, mood changes, headache or sleeping problems/insomnia
- Skin tags (these look like fleshy-colored moles and hang slightly from the body)
- In some patients, pelvic pain
- Inability to get pregnant/infertility
Because PCOS can come with a host of problems (not just NAFLD), it’s important to see your physician if you experience any of the above symptoms. They may not be PCOS, but whatever discomfort and irregularity you’re experiencing warrants a visit to the doctor to find out exactly what’s going on.
In the Meantime
Continue to practice good health, including eating a variety of whole foods, exercising regularly and going to sleep at the same time each night. While awaiting test results from your doctor, continue to take any medications s/he has already prescribed.
Getting a handle on your health now may help you to avoid an NAFLD diagnosis in the future, or if you’ve already been diagnosed, can give you the information and tools to make changes and get on the road to good health today.