Obesity and PCOS
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Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is defined as a state in which hormonal imbalance in the body inhibits the normal reproductive processes in women.1 This condition is characterised by improper functioning of the ovaries, metabolic disorders and increased concentration of the hormone androgen, which is responsible for male traits.2

Studies indicate that the risk of PCOS increases in adolescent girls and women who are obese. In addition, these studies indicate that some pre-adolescent girls with obesity also show features of this condition.3 Worldwide, many women might be at an increased risk of developing PCOS because of the increase in cases of obesity.4 In this article, let us learn more about the association between obesity and PCOS.

What causes PCOS, and what are its symptoms?

PCOS is commonly observed in women with a family history of this condition. Hence, genetics can be attributed as the primary cause of PCOS.1,5

The common symptoms of PCOS are:

  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Obesity
  • Oily skin and acne
  • Abnormal hair growth
  • A tendency to develop diabetes1,4

PCOS needs special attention and proper treatment as it may lead to infertility or a greater risk of uterine cancer at an early age.1

What is the association between obesity and PCOS?

Several studies indicate that almost 50% of the women who had PCOS were overweight or obese.5 The high fat distribution around the abdomen in women who have PCOS is a well-documented observation. This abdominal obesity is responsible for changes in the metabolism of androgen and insulin resistance, also associated with women who have PCOS.3

The following mechanisms are known to be responsible for the manifestations of PCOS in women with obesity:1,3,5

  • Effect on the reproductive system: Obesity leads to an increase in multiple growth and inflammatory factors that further stimulate the production of androgen. It is also associated with an increase in adverse pregnancy effects in women and may be a factor in the failure of a woman to ovulate. Infertility treatment is also seen to be less effective in women who are obese.3
  • Effect on sex hormones: Obesity affects the metabolism of the regulators of sex hormones. The level of a glycoprotein in the liver that binds the sex hormones is reduced in women with PCOS. Women with PCOS, who are obese, show a pronounced decrease in the levels of the glycoprotein.5 Obesity can also lead to the disturbed secretion of gonadotropin (a hormone that controls the secretion of sex hormone), which is responsible for reproductive functioning in women.3
  • Effect on metabolism: Studies show that women with PCOS, who are obese, are more likely to develop glucose intolerance and insulin resistance than women with PCOS who have a normal weight.5 Obesity affects the functioning of hormone-secreting glands, thereby leading to insulin resistance.3 Many women with PCOS are prone to developing diabetes1 due to insulin resistance. Furthermore, obesity also causes dyslipidaemia (an imbalance in lipid metabolism).3 Thus, metabolic abnormalities are prevalent in women with PCOS and are more prominent in women with obesity.3

Research studies conducted on both animals and women indicate that the presence of obesity in women with PCOS worsens several symptoms such as the growth of facial hair, irregular menstrual periods, infertility and insulin resistance.5 The loss of body weight has beneficial effects on the metabolism, hormones and reproductive health of women; therefore, it is evident that obesity plays a vital pathological role in PCOS.5,6 Changes in lifestyle and weight loss programmes are the best treatment options available for women with obesity and PCOS.3

It is best to maintain a healthy weight and avoid obesity since it is associated with several health conditions such as PCOS, the symptoms of which are exacerbated in women with obesity.

Stay fit, maintain a healthy weight and keep conditions like PCOS away!


  1. Cleveland Clinic. Polycystic ovarian syndrome [Internet]. [updated 2014 Nov 3; cited 2020 Jan 7]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8316-polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos.
  2. Vilmann LS, Thisted E, Baker JL, Holm JC. Development of obesity and polycystic ovary syndrome in adolescents. Horm Res Paediatr. 2012;78:269-78. doi: 10.1159/000345310.
  3. Legro RS. Obesity and PCOS: implications for diagnosis and treatment. Semin Reprod Med. 2012;30(6):496-506. doi: 10.1055/s-0032-1328878.
  4. Sheik R. Awareness of obesity as a risk factor for polycystic ovary syndrome. J Pharm Sci & Res. 2015;7(7):471-3.
  5. Gambineri A, Pelusi C, Vicennati V, Pagottod U, Pasquali R. Obesity and the polycystic ovary syndrome. Int J Obes. 2002;26:883-96. doi: 10.1038=sj.ijo=0801994.
  6. Sam S. Obesity and polycystic ovary syndrome. Obes Manag. 2007;3(2):69-73. doi: 10.1089/obe.2007.0019.

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