What pregnant rats can tell us about polycystic ovary syndrome

Rat photograph

Rats like these are helping researchers understand polycystic ovary syndrome. Image courtesy of Jason Snyder via Wikipedia.

A diabetes drug and popular health supplement, taken together, may improve the health of women with a common gynecological disorder.  Polycystic ovary syndrome affects one in fifty American women, and can damage a woman’s ovaries and liver.  However, Brazilian researchers reported earlier this year that pregnant rats had healthier livers when given metformin, a diabetes drug, along with melatonin, an over-the-counter supplement.  This study may aide research into treating pregnant women with liver damage, thereby improving the health of both women and babies.

To test the drugs, researchers first altered the hormone levels of female rats to mimic symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome, such as ovarian cysts and irregular periods.  The researchers then gave metformin, melatonin, or metformin and melatonin together to the symptomatic rats.  After the rats became pregnant, researchers monitored their cholesterol levels and examined their livers for inflammation and damage.

The researchers found that both drugs together best protected the rats against liver inflammation.  Intriguingly, each drug alone restored the rats’ cholesterol to normal levels.  However, researchers would have missed the improved health of the rats treated with both drugs if they had only examined blood–indicating that pregnant women receiving only one drug may suffer from liver damage undetectable by blood tests.