Medical management of metabolic dysfunction in PCOS

Steroids. 2012 Mar 10;77(4):306-11. doi: 10.1016/j.steroids.2011.11.014. Epub 2011 Dec 13.


Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is associated with metabolic derangements including insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, systemic inflammation and endothelial dysfunction. There is a growing need to develop pharmacologic interventions to improve metabolic function in women with PCOS. Medications that have been tested in patients with PCOS include metformin, thiazolidinediones, acarbose, naltrexone, orlistat, vitamin D and statins. Metformin decreases hepatic gluconeogenesis and free fatty acid oxidation while increasing peripheral glucose uptake. Early studies in PCOS suggested that metformin indirectly reduces insulin level, dyslipidemia and systemic inflammation; however, recent placebo-controlled trials failed to demonstrate significant metabolic benefit. Thiazolidinediones act primarily by increasing peripheral glucose uptake. Most studies in PCOS have demonstrated that thiazolidinediones reduce insulin resistance; however, effects on dyslipidemia were disappointing. Use of thiazolidinediones is associated with weight gain and major complications. Acarbose reduces digestion of polysaccharides. Studies in PCOS yielded inconsistent effects of acarbose on insulin sensitivity and no significant improvement of dyslipidemia. Naltrexone reduces appetite and modulates insulin release; its use in PCOS may reduce hyperinsulinemia. Orlistat decreases absorption of dietary fats; studies in PCOS suggest beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity. Vitamin D may improve insulin sensitivity but mixed results on lipid profile in PCOS have been reported. Statins are competitive inhibitors of the key enzyme regulating the mevalonate pathway; their effects are related to reduced cholesterol production as well as anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. In women with PCOS, statins reduce hyperandrogenism, improve lipid profile and reduce systemic inflammation while the effects on insulin sensitivity are variable. Use of statins is contraindicated in pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Diseases / complications*
  • Metabolic Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / complications*