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Polycystic ovary syndrome linked to memory, thinking problems

People with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may be more likely to have memory and thinking problems in their middle age.

Photo by Claudia Soraya from Unsplash.com

People with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may be more likely to have memory and thinking problems in their middle age. This is according to research published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study – “Associations of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome With Indicators of Brain Health at Midlife in the CARDIA Cohort” – was done by Heather G. Huddleston, Eleni G. Jaswa, Kaitlin B. Casaletto, et al.

A hormonal disorder, PCOS is defined by irregular menstruation cycle and elevated levels of the androgen hormone, with other symptoms including excess hair growth, acne, infertility and poor metabolic health.

Though still contentious, there are those who consider PCOS as an intersex variation.

According to Heather G. Huddleston, author of the research: “(PCOS) is a common reproductive disorder that impacts up to 10% of women. While it has been linked to metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes that can lead to heart problems, less is known about how this condition affects brain health. Our results suggest that people with this condition have lower memory and thinking skills and subtle brain changes at midlife. This could impact a person on many levels, including quality of life, career success and financial security.”

The research involved 907 female participants aged 18 to 30 years old at the start of the study. They were followed for 30 years, after which they completed tests to measure memory, verbal abilities, processing speed and attention. 66 of the participants had PCOS.

The researchers found:

  • In a test measuring attention, those with PCOS had an average score that was approximately 11% lower compared to people without the condition.
  • After adjusting for age, race and education, those with PCOS had lower scores on three of the five tests that were given, specifically in areas of memory, attention and verbal abilities.

At years 25 and 30 of the study, a smaller group of 291 participants had brain scans. Of those, 25 had polycystic ovary syndrome. With the scans, researchers looked at the integrity of the white matter pathways in the brain by looking at movement of water molecules in the brain tissue.

Researchers found that people with PCOS had lower white matter integrity, which may indicate early evidence of brain aging.

“Additional research is needed to confirm these findings and to determine how this change occurs, including looking at changes that people can make to reduce their chances of thinking and memory problems,” Huddleston said. “Making changes like incorporating more cardiovascular exercise and improving mental health may serve to also improve brain aging for this population.”

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