Lifestyle changes in women with polycystic ovary syndrome

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019 Mar 28;3(3):CD007506. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007506.pub4.


Background: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects 8% to 13% of reproductive-aged women and is associated with reproductive and metabolic 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 methods: We searched the Cochrane Gynaecology and Fertility Specialised Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, CINAHL and AMED (date of last search March 2018). We also searched controlled trials registries, 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 (RCTs) 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 evidence quality and risk of bias, and extracted data. Our primary outcomes were live birth, miscarriage and pregnancy. We used inverse variance and fixed-effect models in the meta-analyses. We reported dichotomous outcomes as an odds ratio and continuous outcomes as a mean difference (MD) or standardised mean difference (SMD).

Main results: We included 15 studies with 498 participants. Ten studies compared physical activity to minimal dietary and behavioural intervention or no intervention. Five studies compared combined dietary, exercise and behavioural intervention to minimal intervention. One study compared behavioural intervention to minimal intervention. Risk of bias varied: eight studies had adequate sequence generation, seven had adequate clinician or outcome assessor blinding, seven had adequate allocation concealment, six had complete outcome data and six were free of selective reporting. No studies assessed the fertility primary outcomes of live birth or miscarriage. No studies reported the secondary reproductive outcome of menstrual regularity, as defined in this review.Lifestyle intervention may improve a secondary (endocrine) reproductive outcome, the free androgen index (FAI) (MD -1.11, 95% confidence interval (CI) -1.96 to -0.26, 6 RCTs, N = 204, I2 = 71%, low-quality evidence). Lifestyle intervention may reduce weight (kg) (MD -1.68 kg, 95% CI -2.66 to -0.70, 9 RCTs, N = 353, I2 = 47%, low-quality evidence). Lifestyle intervention may reduce body mass index (BMI) (kg/m2) (-0.34 kg/m2, 95% CI -0.68 to -0.01, 12 RCTs, N = 434, I2= 0%, low-quality evidence). We are uncertain of the effect of lifestyle intervention on glucose tolerance (glucose outcomes in oral glucose tolerance test) (mmol/L/minute) (SMD -0.02, 95% CI -0.38 to 0.33, 3 RCTs, N = 121, I2 = 0%, low-quality evidence).

Authors' conclusions: Lifestyle intervention may improve the free androgen index (FAI), weight and BMI in women with PCOS. We are uncertain of the effect of lifestyle intervention on glucose tolerance. There were no studies that looked at the effect of lifestyle intervention on live birth, miscarriage or menstrual regularity. Most studies in this review were of low quality mainly due to high or unclear risk of bias across most domains and high heterogeneity for the FAI outcome.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • 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