Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects 1 in 10 women. With PCOS, the ovaries produce an excess of male hormones which can disrupt regular menstrual cycles and make it difficult to ovulate.
PCOS is also associated with insulin resistance, where cells do not respond properly to the hormone insulin. This makes it harder for the body to use sugar for energy. The pancreas compensates by producing more insulin, promoting fat storage and increasing hunger.
Weight gain and obesity can worsen PCOS symptoms by further contributing to insulin resistance. However, PCOS itself can also make weight loss difficult due to hormonal imbalances that increase appetite and fat storage.
Losing even 5-10% of body weight has been shown to help manage PCOS symptoms like irregular periods.
Metformin improves insulin sensitivity which helps regulate blood sugar and insulin levels. This in turn reduces appetite and food cravings. Lower insulin levels also make it easier for the body to use fat for energy instead of storing it.
By limiting glucose production in the liver, metformin usage may require less insulin. This extra insulin is not available to promote fat storage.
Studies have shown that metformin therapy can lead to weight reduction in obese women with PCOS, with greater weight loss seen at higher metformin doses.
Even modest weight loss of 5% or more through lifestyle changes combined with metformin can significantly improve PCOS symptoms like irregular periods and excess hair growth.
Insulin resistance is a condition where the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin and cannot easily absorb glucose from the bloodstream. This causes insulin and glucose levels to be higher than normal in the blood.
Insulin resistance is very common in people who are overweight or obese. It is also a hallmark of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). About 70-95% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance. Excess weight and obesity can worsen insulin resistance in PCOS patients.
High insulin levels related to insulin resistance are thought to play an important role in the development of PCOS. Insulin resistance may also contribute to weight gain issues common in PCOS by disrupting the body’s normal metabolism.
Managing insulin resistance through weight loss and lifestyle changes can help reduce PCOS symptoms and health risks like diabetes. Treatment with medications like metformin has also been shown to improve insulin resistance in PCOS.
Metformin improves insulin sensitivity through several mechanisms:
It is usually started at a low dose of 500mg daily with the main meal to reduce side effects as tolerance develops. The dose is then increased gradually as needed.
In addition to restoring ovulation, metformin may aid weight loss and help manage other PCOS symptoms like excess hair growth and acne.
Metformin is recommended as first-line treatment for overweight/obese women with PCOS and may also benefit those of normal weight.
It is often taken long-term to maintain benefits, though some women only require short-term use during attempts to conceive.
Metformin can directly affect appetite regulation due to its gastrointestinal side effects like diarrhea which may lead to weight loss.
Indirectly, metformin improves insulin sensitivity which promotes fat metabolism and reduces glucose production in the liver, lowering blood sugar levels. This shift in metabolism may contribute to weight loss over time.
Studies have shown long-term use of metformin is associated with modest weight loss, though the drug itself does not directly target or reduce weight. The weight loss is likely an indirect metabolic effect of improved blood sugar control.
While metformin’s primary action is lowering blood glucose, weight loss seems to occur as an indirect result rather than being a direct target of the drug. Both direct gastrointestinal effects and indirect metabolic/hormonal changes likely both play a role.
Clinical studies have shown an average weight loss of:
However, weight loss results vary per individual. Some may lose little to no weight. The amount of weight loss also tends to decrease over time as the body adjusts.
Most studies report average weight losses under 10 lbs with metformin alone. Diet and exercise can help maximize any potential weight loss benefits.
Metformin can help reduce appetite and cravings in patients with PCOS. Here are some key points:
Metformin has been shown to potentially influence calorie burning and energy expenditure through several mechanisms:
Multiple pathways are thought to contribute to its effects on reducing body mass and fat mass, including potentially enhancing energy expenditure.
One study found that metformin decreased food consumption and induced weight loss in diet-induced obese mice, and the weight loss was associated with a reduction in calorie intake.
Some research suggests it may impart mild anorexic effects via hypothalamic actions, which could reduce calorie intake and risk of weight gain.
However, the evidence is mixed and conflicting reports exist on its impact on appetite and calorie intake. More research is still needed.
Factors like basal metabolic rate, oxidation rate, and physical activity levels also influence energy expenditure, but the exact effects of metformin are still unclear.
Metformin is often recommended as a first-line treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) when weight loss is a goal. Some key points:
Metformin is not a weight loss drug, but it can help with weight management by improving insulin sensitivity and potentially reducing appetite. Several studies show metformin use leads to modest weight reduction in obese women with PCOS over the long term.
For women with PCOS who are overweight or obese, metformin may aid weight loss efforts when combined with lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. It works best for weight loss in PCOS when insulin resistance is also a factor.
Even modest weight loss of 5-10% through lifestyle changes and metformin can help manage PCOS symptoms like irregular periods and excess hair growth. Weight loss also reduces risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Common metformin side effects like nausea usually subside over time as the body adjusts. Doctors may start with a low dose and gradually increase it to minimize side effects.
Other options like birth control pills can also help regulate periods for women with PCOS, but metformin may be preferred if weight loss or diabetes prevention is a primary goal.
Here are some factors that should be considered before starting metformin therapy:
Kidney function. Metformin is primarily excreted by the kidneys, so it should not be used in patients with impaired kidney function.
Liver function. While metformin was previously contraindicated in patients with liver disease, current evidence suggests it may be used safely with caution and monitoring in some patients with mild liver dysfunction.
Risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Long term metformin use has been associated with reduced vitamin B12 levels, so B12 levels should be monitored, especially in high risk groups.
Timing with meals. Taking metformin with food, especially high-fiber meals, can help reduce gastrointestinal side effects that are common initially.
Other medical conditions or medications that may interact. Conditions like heart failure or medications like glucocorticoids may increase the risk of lactic acidosis from metformin, so caution is needed.
Patient preferences and expected adherence. As metformin must be taken regularly, factors like dosing frequency and side effects should be considered to help patients stick to the treatment plan long term.