Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is as mysterious as it is complicated. Among the leading theories behind the cause of this endocrine disorder that can wreak havoc on every reproductive stage in a woman's life, centers around the otherwise pretty boring anti-Müllerian hormone.
PCOS affects 1 in 10 women of reproductive age. It is a beast to contend with! Not only does this hormonal imbalance significantly raise the risk for diabetes, hypertension, obesity, mood disorders, and endometrial cancer, but its primary consequences hit the very core of women ages 20-35:
- Fertility -- an egg isn't released every menstrual cycle, making it more difficult to conceive;
- Pregnancy -- the hormone imbalance raises the risk of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and therefore cesarean delivery;
- Breastfeeding -- the hormone imbalance can cause chronically low breast milk supply.
Related: Low Breast Milk Supply? It May Be Mammary Hypoplasia.
As you can imagine, PCOS can be a difficult condition to live with. Considering how common it is and how substantially PCOS can influence newborn health, any breakthrough as to its cause could mean a big domino effect on the well-being of future families.
We now know that PCOS has two prominent features to its characteristic hormonal imbalance:
- High levels of androgens -- Generally known as "male hormones," all women make small amounts of androgens such as testosterone. Women with PCOS make higher amounts.
- High levels of insulin -- A hormone that regulates metabolism, higher levels of insulin can put women with PCOS at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Ever heard of it? Probably not, because its most life-changing function exists for such a short time in human development -- the first 8 weeks in-utero -- though its impact is lifelong and extremely significant. Anti-Müllerian hormone is responsible for turning your embryo into a boy or a girl.
Related: 11 Goals to Aim for When Raising Your Son
So what does this matter to PCOS? Well, anti-Müllerian hormone shuts down the otherwise automatic development of an embryo's female reproductive tract so that male gonads develop instead. The theory is that women with PCOS were exposed to an imbalance of anti-Müllerian hormone when they were embryos so that their female reproductive organs developed but also the propensity for higher androgen levels.
Exactly what causes the imbalance of anti-Müllerian hormone is unknown, but it seems the research is pointing toward it being a genetic component of PCOS. This would explain why PCOS tends to run in families.
This may seem like bad news when the hope is find the problem and fix it. Yet hope is definitely not lost here. Every piece of the PCOS puzzle counts. We're always one step closer to finding a better treatment and maybe, one day, a cure.
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