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Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome – inheritance, environment and stress.

Recently I took on a client who was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a slightly wayward insulin profile and the ‘best practice’ of oral contraceptives and Glucophage (metformin- blood sugar regulating drug) were suggested. My client had started bleeding daily and was informed that this was normal for three months but would help out with PCOS and weight gain. However this seemed at odds with my current knowledge and experience of biology and endocrinology. There are plenty of studies highlighting the diabetes inducing effects of estrogen and oral contraceptives.

Glycemia constitutes a fundamental homeostatic variable, and hence its alteration can lead to a number of pathophysiological conditions affecting the internal milieu of the human being. Since the early 1960s, the intake of oral contraceptives has been associated with an increased risk of developing disorders of glucose metabolism.(Cortés & Alfaro, 2014)

Is best practice the efforts of a global network of doctors or simply a corporate led strategy? Don’t get me wrong; the world is full of competent, passionate and well-meaning doctors who signed up to help others. But the concept of both best practice and clinical governance seem a utopian ideal when those that are responsible for drug development are companies whose primary function is to make as much money as possible, without appropriate direction.

Joseph Dumitt in his book Drugs for Life (2012) highlights that there hasn’t been a scientist at the head of a pharmaceutical company for many years and their direction being driven by economists and marketers. As there are many examples of absolutist statements regarding drugs and their positive effects on health that lack congruence over time, you’ll forgive me for sounding like a conspiracy theorist. How about hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for better health despite its negative outcomes related to cardiovascular events or cancer? Or statin therapy for decreasing unnecessary risk factors based upon skewed data and early terminated trails with no public access to trial data (Lorgeril & Rabaeus, 2016)?

Back to PCOS. I have written previously about the effects of metformin and its use in gestational diabetes, and the problems it poses trans-generationally. It’s possible to suggest that the failure to act with appropriate biological interventions perpetuates the cycle of acquired traits from parents that are passed to offspring, treated ineffectively and generations of reproductive (and other tissues) tissue conditions continue without being resolved.

The biologist Jean Baptiste Lamarck’s fourth law stated:

“ Everything which has been acquired..or changed in the organisation of an individual during its lifetime is preserved in the reproductive process and is transmitted to the next generation by those who experienced the alterations. “

It’s worth pointing out that this is not isolated to the female of the species as the factors below have been shown to be instrumental in reproductive issues (testicular dysgenesis, hypospadias etc) in males.

The environment has been shown to be instrumental in the development of reproductive tissue disorders, diabetes and cancer but more emphasis is placed on the individual and their food choices rather than acknowledgement of industrial responsibility. Positive associations between levels of polychlorinated bisphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) have been confirmed in multivariate data analysis (Yang et al., 2015). Relationships between increases of luteinising hormone (LH) PCO, hyperandrogenism, annovulation, insulin resistance and pollutants are significant and may add to issues of detection, due to the subtle long term perturbations that often affect endocrine function. Stress, other pollutants and medications contribute to further problems that burden not only reproductive tissue but also other organizational hormones such as thyroid hormone.

PCOS is defined medically by the following:
One of the main problems of treating PCOS with contraception is the many studies that clearly show a relationship between estrogen and decreased insulin sensitivity (Godsland et al., 1992)(Cortés & Alfaro, 2014). Progestin’s, the synthetic version of progesterone, also pose many problems but this has not deterred the inclusion of estrogen and progestin contraceptives as another inappropriate form of treatment. The burden of estrogen induced by the sources suggested above comes at a cost and it’s well known that an excess of estrogen can suppress thyroid function (thyroid is necessary for detoxification of estrogen and another organisational hormone progesterone.

Both thyroid and progesterone are known to improve insulin sensitivity and can create beneficial changes to disorganised tissue induced by an excess of estrogen. Thyroid nodules and uterine fibroids appear to be intimately linked by an excess of estrogen (Kim et al., 2010) and suppression of thyroid tumours can be achieved by thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) suppression by thyroxin supplementation (Grussendorf, Reiners, Paschke, & Wegscheider, 2011). An old rambling on thyroid nodules and fibroids.

Breaking the cycle requires interventions that address inheritance, environment and individual stressors. Strategies that involve adequate nutrition that build biology not reduce it, use of protective compounds like progesterone, thyroid and adequate carbohydrate can be of great benefit. Although this stands in contrast to the best practice of contraception, blood sugar medication and poorly thought out nutritional advice of restricting carbohydrates. As the environment appears to drive most of the increasing numbers of issues like PCOS, it becomes important to increase robustness, restrict exposure to what we can control and become more adaptable to what we can’t.

To find out more about coaching for these issues.


Burkhardt, R. W. (2013). Lamarck, evolution, and the inheritance of acquired characters. Genetics, 194(4), 793–805. http://doi.org/10.1534/genetics.113.151852

Cortés, M. E., & Alfaro, A. a. (2014). The effects of hormonal contraceptives on glycemic regulation. The Linacre Quarterly, 81(3), 209–218. http://doi.org/10.1179/2050854914Y.0000000023

Dumit, J. (2012). Drugs for Life. Duke University Press.

Godsland, I. F., Walton, C., Felton, C., Proudler, A., Patel, A., & Wynn, V. (1992). Insulin resistance, secretion, and metabolism in users of oral contraceptives. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 74(1), 64–70. http://doi.org/10.1210/jcem.74.1.1530790

Grussendorf, M., Reiners, C., Paschke, R., & Wegscheider, K. (2011). Reduction of thyroid nodule volume by levothyroxine and iodine alone and in combination: A randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 96(9), 2786–2795. http://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2011-0356

Kim, M.-H., Park, Y. R., Lim, D.-J., Yoon, K.-H., Kang, M.-I., Cha, B.-Y., … Son, H.-Y. (2010). The relationship between thyroid nodules and uterine fibroids. Endocrine Journal, 57(7), 615–21. http://doi.org/10.1507/endocrj.K10E-024

Lorgeril, M. De, & Rabaeus, M. (2016). Beyond confusion and controversy, can we evaluate the real efficacy and safety of cholesterol-lowering with statins? Journal of Controversies in Biomedical Research, 1(1), 67. http://doi.org/10.15586/jcbmr.2015.11

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