New research paves the way for designing dietary interventions to treat infertility in women with PCOS

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is the most commonly diagnosed endocrine disorder in women and is characterised by high blood levels of androgens (such as testosterone), irregular menstrual cycles and abnormal changes in the ovary. Women with PCOS are also at a higher risk of developing obesity, metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes and depression and of suffering from infertility. Researchers have postulated that dietary interventions could be an attractive option to improve the symptoms of PCOS as they would be minimally invasive, cost effective and provide a wide range of health benefits. However it can be difficult to identify the best dietary interventions as human studies can be challenging due to variability between individuals and the cost of performing large studies.

An important new study, led by Valentina Rodriguez Paris and Kirsty Walters and a team of researchers from the University of New South Wales, Charles Perkin Centre and the ANZAC Research Institute, used a new approach to examine whether, and how, the severity of PCOS is driven by macronutrient intake, i.e. diet.

The researchers used a mouse model of PCOS caused by high levels of androgens that replicates traits found in women with PCOS. By feeding normal and PCOS mice very specific combinations of carbohydrate, fat and protein, the researchers were able to study how changes in diet influence female metabolism, reproduction and physiology.

Female PCOS mice gained weight, as is observed in women, however this was not due to higher calorie intake, eating habits, food preference or activity levels, indicating that the high androgen levels in PCOS influences body weight and metabolism. Importantly, the study found a very specific diet fed to PCOS mice caused them to ovulate and resume their estrous cycle. This diet followed key principles of the Mediterranean diet that is well known to promote a wide array of health benefits.

This exciting research suggests that women with PCOS could potentially improve their fertility by following a Mediterranean-style diet. This new data is important to direct future studies on the specific dietary interventions that could improve fertility in women with PCOS.

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Written by Drs Macarena Gonzalez and Liza O’Donnell