Lifestyle changes in women with polycystic ovary syndrome

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Jul 6;(7):CD007506. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007506.pub3.


Background: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects 4% to 18% of reproductive-aged women and is associated with reproductive, metabolic and psychological dysfunction. Obesity worsens the presentation of PCOS and weight management (weight loss, maintenance or prevention of excess weight gain) is proposed as an initial treatment strategy, best achieved through lifestyle changes incorporating diet, exercise and behavioural interventions.

Objectives: To assess the effectiveness of lifestyle treatment in improving reproductive, anthropometric (weight and body composition), metabolic and quality of life factors in PCOS.

Search strategy: Electronic databases (Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library), MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, AMED) (date of last search 7/9/2010), controlled trials register, conference abstracts, relevant journals, reference lists of relevant papers and reviews and grey literature databases, with no language restrictions applied.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials comparing lifestyle treatment (diet, exercise, behavioural or combined treatments) to minimal or no treatment in women with PCOS.

Data collection and analysis: Two authors independently selected trials, assessed methodological quality and risk of bias and extracted data.

Main results: Six studies were included with n=164 participants. Three studies compared physical activity to minimal dietary and behavioural advice or no advice. Three studies compared combined dietary, exercise and behavioural interventions to minimal intervention. Risk of bias varied with 4/6 having adequate sequence generation and clinician or outcome assessor blinding and 3/6 having adequate allocation concealment, complete outcome data and being free of selective reporting. There were no studies assessing the fertility primary outcomes of pregnancy, live birth and miscarriage and no data for meta-analysis on ovulation or menstrual regularity. Lifestyle intervention provided benefits when compared to minimal treatment for secondary reproductive, anthropometric and reproductive outcomes. These included endpoint values for total testosterone (mean difference (MD) -0.27 nmol/L, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.46 to -0.09, P = 0.004), hirsutism or excess hair growth by the Ferriman-Gallwey score (MD -1.19, 95% CI -2.35 to -0.03, P = 0.04), weight (MD -3.47 kg, 95% CI -4.94 to -2.00, P < 0.00001), waist circumference (MD -1.95 cm, 95% CI -3.34 to -0.57, P = 0.006) and fasting insulin (MD -2.02 µU/mL, 95% CI -3.28 to -0.77, P = 0.002). There was no evidence of effect of lifestyle for body mass index, free androgen index, sex hormone binding globulin, glucose or cholesterol levels; and no data for quality of life, patient satisfaction or acne.

Authors' conclusions: Lifestyle intervention improves body composition, hyperandrogenism (high male hormones and clinical effects) and insulin resistance in women with PCOS. There was no evidence of effect for lifestyle intervention on improving glucose tolerance or lipid profiles and no literature assessing clinical reproductive outcomes, quality of life and treatment satisfaction.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Fat / anatomy & histology
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Life Style*
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / complications
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / rehabilitation*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Virilism / therapy
  • Waist Circumference
  • Weight Loss