by Fiona McCulloch, ND
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a complex condition involving multiple hormonal components. Treatment of this disease therefore must be multifold: low glycemic index diets, exercise, therapies to reduce excessive tissue androgens and estrogens, enhancement of insulin resistance and antioxidant status, and improvement of luteal phase health and progesterone balance. In this article I will discuss one newly studied therapy for PCOS : resveratrol. It can greatly effect the health of the ovary in PCOS and can be an excellent addition to an overall protocol for the treatment of this condition.
Different women will present with different symptoms, degrees, and signs of PCOS, and each woman will require very customized treatment. In women with PCOS and especially in those who have enlarged ovaries or multiple cysts in the ovaries, the theca-interstitial cells of the ovary are especially prone to growing excessively. These cells do not undergo the normal cycle which allows the cells to die off and get replaced by new cells (known as apoptosis) .
The theca interstitial cells of the ovary are responsible for producing male hormones which are normally required for healthy ovarian function. However in PCOS , the large amount of these cells causes a large amount of male hormones to be produced, causing problems with normal ovulation. This often results in delays in ovulation (and therefore in menstruation) or lack of ovulatory cycling altogether in more severe cases. These hormonal changes also greatly reduce egg quality and health.
There are two causes for the excessive overgrowth of these theca interstitial cells of the ovary 1) high levels of oxidative stress and 2) high levels of insulin in the local tissues. Both of these factors play a great role in the pathology of polycystic ovarian syndrome.
A new study just released in April 2010 indicates that resveratrol (a antioxidant compound found in grapes) has powerful benefits in this type of condition. Although other forms of grape antioxidants have long been used to treat infertility, it is the oligomeric proanthocyanadin (also known as OPC) component that has been traditionally used. The effect of resveratrol however is different from the effects of OPCs, which are both antioxidants and pro circulatory compounds. Resveratrol does reduce oxidative stress like many other types of antioxidants, but importantly, it is also an antiproliferative compound which is well known to reduce growth of and induce cell death in cancer cells (another form of cell which proliferates excessively and out of bounds of healthy control).
This study, completed by the University of California School of Medicine, Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, investigated the effect of resveratrol on the theca interstitial ovarian cells of rats. The cells were cultured with and without resveratrol and/or insulin. This was done in order to gauge the effect of resveratrol on these abnormally growing cells without other factors, and also in the presence of insulin, a factor which is high in patients with PCOS and which is known to further stimulate unhealthy cellular growth.
The results showed that the ovarian cells cultured in resveratrol alone showed a potent, concentration dependent decrease in the abnormal growth of cells. In the ovarian cells cultured with both resveratrol and insulin (mimicking the common conditions of PCOS) it was found that the resveratrol was able to counter the negative effects of the insulin on the ovarian cells and allow them to undergo the normal cell death process required for healthy ovarian function.
This versatile and powerful compound found in grapes may be a promising new treatment for PCOS (this disease coincidentally, often causes a ” bunch of grapes ” appearance of the ovaries when examined by ultrasound, due to the large number of cysts or accumulated follicles). Resveratrol may prove to be a very effective part of multi faceted protocols to enhance ovarian health and restore normal ovarian hormone production for the millions of women worldwide with PCOS.
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