PCOS may be linked to memory, thinking problems in middle age

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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New research links PCOS to cognitive decline in midlife. Westend61/Getty Images
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a chronic hormonal endocrine disorder that can affect multiple aspects of health.
  • Previous research shows people with PCOS are at an increased risk for several diseases such as type 2 diabetes, endometrial cancer, and high blood pressure.
  • Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco have now found that people with PCOS may be at a higher risk of developing memory and thinking problems in middle age.

About 116 million women around the world have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) — a chronic hormonal endocrine disorder that affects the reproductive system of people assigned female at birth.

Common symptoms of PCOS include irregular or missed periods, acne, enlarged ovaries, excessive body hair, and infertility.

Previous research shows that people with PCOS are at an increased risk for other diseases, including Health">type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Health">obstructive sleep apnea, Health">liver disease, Health">depression, and Health">endometrial cancer.

Now, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco are adding to this list with evidence suggesting people with PCOS may be at a higher risk of developing memory and thinking problems in middle age.

The study was recently published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

For this study, Dr. Huddleston and her team recruited 907 female participants who were between the ages of 18 and 30 at the beginning of the study, who were then followed by researchers for 30 years.

At the end of 30 years, all participants were asked to complete tests to measure their memory, verbal learning, cognitive control, processing speed, and attention. At the time of testing, 66 study participants had a PCOS diagnosis.

Researchers found participants with PCOS had lower scores on three of the five tests given, specifically in the areas of memory, attention, and verbal abilities, when compared to those without PCOS.

Specifically for the test measuring attention, scientists reported participants with PCOS had an average score about 11% lower than those without the condition.

“We had a hypothesis that we might find evidence of lower cognitive scores with aging, based on what we already know about various health conditions that can impact the brain,” Dr. Huddleston said. “However, these study participants were relatively young (mid-life), so in some ways, I was still surprised to see the differences that we did.”

MNT also spoke with Dr. Michael Krychman, a board certified OB/GYN and medical director of Women’s Health Services at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, CA, about this study.

Dr. Krychman said he was not shocked by this study’s findings.

PCOS is really associated with a variety of metabolic health conditions like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, (and) heart health issues,” he explained. “There are changes in hormones, including androgens. So the association between PCOS and cognitive decline or memory issues is not very surprising at all.”

When it comes to talking to people with PCOS about its potential impact on their brain health, Dr. Krychman said the whole focus for PCOS really should be on a bio-psycho-social comprehensive treatment paradigm.

“So it’s not only about hormonal balance and hair and acne, but also, I think we will now incorporate primary prevention of cognitive decline into treatment paradigms,” he continued. “And what that may look like is keeping active, limiting alcohol, Healthy diet, monitoring Health">cardiometabolic issues, sugar control, (and) cholesterol control.”

“Also, the concept of cognitive enrichment, like playing games, reading a book, memory training — all those things will help enrich your life and may help preserve mental function,” Dr. Krychman added. “The concept of focusing on brain health in a multi-dimensional factor will be really important.”

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