Women with PCOS can reduce type 2 diabetes risk with contraceptive pills: Study

Women with PCOS can be at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and this risk could be mitigated using contraceptive pills, indicates a new study.
PCOS and contraceptive pills
Using birth control pills may affect the skin adversely. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Team Health Shots Updated: 30 Oct 2023, 13:51 pm IST
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Oral contraceptives are known to be one of most common ways to manage symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Now a new study led by the University of Birmingham indicates that contraceptive pills can even reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by over a quarter in women with the PCOS.

According to the research findings published in the journal Diabetes Care, women with PCOS are at twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes (dysglycemia). This presses the need to find treatments to cut this risk, and a second study investigated the impact of the pill on type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes. The scientists found that the use of combined oral contraceptives reduced the odds of developing type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes in women with PCOS by 26 per cent.

PCOS and contraceptive pills
PCOS is more common among women than you think. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

PCOS affects 10 per cent of women worldwide, according to reports. Apart from the risk of type 2 diabetes, it can also lead to long-term issues such as endometrial cancer, cardiovascular disease, and non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

The symptoms of PCOS include:
  • Irregular periods or no periods at all, which can lead to fertility issues
  • Many suffer from unwanted hair growth, known as ‘hirsutism’ on the face or body
  • Hair loss on the scalp
  • Oily skin or acne
  • These symptoms are caused by high levels of hormones called androgens in the blood of women with PCOS.

Weight gain is also a common symptom of PCOS, and the cells in the body of women with the condition, are often less responsive to insulin – the hormone that allows the body to absorb glucose (blood sugar) into the cells for energy.

This can lead to elevated blood glucose levels and can cause the body to make more insulin, which in turn causes the body to make more androgens. The androgens further increase insulin levels.

PCOS and contraceptive pills
Birth control pills are often prescribed to manage PCOS symptoms. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock
PCOS and diabetes

As PCOS and diabetes are closely interconnected, it is recommended that women with PCOS should undergo screening for type 2 diabetes, says Dr Uma Vaidyanathan, a senior consultant at obstetrics and gynaecology department, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh.

Here are some symptoms of diabetes to look out for
  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Blurry vision
  • A frequent urge to urinate, particularly at night
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Dark patches on the skin
  • Cuts that tends to take longer time to heal
  • Numbness in the hands or feet
  • Use of contraceptive pills to reduce risk of type 2 diabetes in women with PCOS

Also Read: Struggling with PCOS? Try these workouts to manage the syndrome better

PCOS and contraceptive pills
Obesity is a real concern among women with PCOS, and can lead to more health-related issues. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Dr Michael O’Reilly, Health Research Board Emerging Clinician Scientist and Clinical Associate Professor at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, the joint first author on the study, said: “We hypothesise that the pill reduces the risk of diabetes by dampening the action of androgens. How does this work? The pill contains oestrogens which increase a protein in the blood called sex hormone-binding globin (SHBG). SHBG binds androgens and, thereby, renders them inactive. Thus, if the pill is taken, SHBG increases. This decreases the amount of unbound, active androgens, lowering their impact on insulin and diabetes risk.”

(With Inputs from ANI)

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