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Developmental Origins of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

A recent study has revealed that the way a baby girl develops in a womb may adversely affect// chances of developing polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCO) as adults. Dr Michael Davies, senior researcher at the Research Center of Reproductive Health at the University of Adelaide, Australia headed this study. Dr Davies and his team studied a group of young women bon between 1973 and 1975. They decided to first contact the mothers from maternity hospital records and then interview the daughters. So far 544 women have been interviewed, all who are aged between 30 and 32. The study included a detailed report on the medical history as well as birth details. The details also included birth weight, placental weight, and so on. After a wide comparison Dr Davies said: "Symptoms of PCOS were relatively common. One in five women had more facial and/or body hair than normal, and one in four reported menstrual irregularity of greater than four days. Five per cent of women reported that they had an existing diagnosis of PCOS. We examined maternal weight in late pregnancy, birth weight and placental weight in relation to the symptoms of PCOS, or an existing or putative diagnosis of PCOS. Compared with their counterparts, young women without a diagnosis of PCOS but with irregular periods were heavier at birth, with larger placentas, and they tended to have mothers who were heavier in late pregnancy. In contrast, women with an existing diagnosis of PCOS tended to have birth weights that were, on average, 196g lighter than women without PCOS and smaller placentas”.

He further said, “Therefore, our data suggest that different developmental pathways are implicated in the overlapping symptoms of PCOS. One pathway may be mediated by high maternal weight in late pregnancy, which is linked to irregular periods in the daughter, and possibly obesity and weight-related reproduction problems. A second pathway may involve reduced placental and foetal growth, which is linked to the more sev ere symptoms of PCOS in the daughter, usually resulting in an early clinical diagnosis of the syndrome. A foetus that has been affected by restricted growth is more likely to have problems with insulin metabolism in later life due to an underlying metabolic problem. In women this problem appears to be associated with PCOS, and is most evident where there is a constellation of symptoms of increasing severity. Hence, I suspect there are at least two pathways that can give rise to overlapping symptoms."

Dr Davies also mentioned that events occurred by even the grandmother could affect the bearing of the foetus. "To understand the growth of a child, we need to also understand the growth of the parents and possibly the grandparents. A good predictor of one's own birth weight is the birth weight of one's mother."

The study also shows development origins of PCS’s, "There are reproductive consequences of metabolic programming events that occur during foetal development; we may need to look further back up the generations and look at more factors than previously considered; and finally, adverse events for one generation may have reproductive implications for the next.

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