When she was a young teen, Grace Pickering was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. According to researchers, it's a condition that affects one out of fourteen women worldwide. It causes hormone imbalances and irregular periods.
"What that means for ladies is they start to accumulate access body fat in regions that they don't want it and they develop insulin resistance," explained researcher Dr. Leanne Redman. "But, what happens that's probably the most important for women is that they can become infertile."
While there seems to be some genetic factor in determining who is at risk for PCOS, Redman explains that little is known about why some women develop the condition. Because it is also linked to high body fat and insulin resistance, she theorizes that high rates of obesity and diabetes may play a role in the increase of PCOS cases over the years.
PCOS usually appears at puberty in the form of irregular periods. Redman says most women don't become concerned about it until they have difficulties conceiving later in life.
At 26 Pickering is not quite ready to start a family, but she is concerned about how her PCOS would affect her ability to have kids.
"I knew that when I was ready it would be an issue. My mother also had PCOS and she had lots of issues getting pregnant with me," said Pickering.
Because of that, the Denham Springs resident enrolled in the PULSE study at LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center. The six month study looks at how different treatments can improve a woman's reproductive health.
Researchers know that changes in diet, exercise or insulin sensitivity can restore a woman's menstrual cycle and ovulation. Redman, who heads up the study, wants to figure out why.
"I developed this program with the NIH [National Institute for Health] to try and understand what happens to the body when start to get your cycles back. What's changing in your brain? What's changing with the hormones?" said Redman.
Participants are randomly assigned to one of four treatment programs: an exercise program, a diet program, an insulin medication program, or the control group.
The study needs 50 women, ages 20-40, who have an irregular period or have been diagnosed with PCOS. The study also requires a BMI of 25 or above.
Beyond the PULSE study, Redman hopes more women will embrace the many studies at Pennington that are focused on improving women's health.
Others include a study to prevent gestational diabetes and a study to help women maintain a healthy pregnancy weight.
"We have an opportunity because we're offering a program of lifestyle change, diet change, exercise and those things to really help change behaviors of women for their family members and themselves," said Redman.
If you are interested in the PULSE study, or any study at Pennington, click here.
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