Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal disorder that affects between 5 and 10 percent of American women, according to Harvard Medical School. PCOS is a disorder characterized by high levels of the male hormone, androgen, which often results in weight gain. Your doctor may prescribe oral contraceptives such as Ortho Tri-Cyclen to control androgen levels and help manage weight gain and other symptoms.
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Weight Gain Causes in PCOS
Having high androgen levels can cause weight gain, particularly around your waistline. Excess weight around your waistline can contribute to insulin resistance, another factor in weight gain if you have PCOS. Normally, the pancreas releases insulin when you eat. Insulin signals cells to take up glucose from the blood and use it for energy. When cells don’t respond to this “signal” normally, your pancreas must produce larger amounts of insulin to get the cells to respond. Ortho Tri-Cyclen does not decrease insulin resistance, but it can reduce androgen levels that can worsen insulin resistance.
Oral Contraceptive Effects
The hormones in birth control pills, which include either a combination of synthetic estrogen and progesterone or progesterone alone, can have an effect on your body’s natural hormone production. Taking birth control pills with relatively high estrogen concentration and low androgen activity reduces the high testosterone levels of PCOS, explains the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The estrogen in the pills leads to increased testosterone binding by proteins called sex hormone binding globulin, or SHBG.
Ortho Tri-Cyclen Benefits
Ortho Tri-Cyclen, like most birth control pills, uses ethinyl estradiol as its estrogen source. The progestin in this oral contraceptive, norgestimate, has low androgenic activity, according to Family Practice Notebook. This makes it a good choice for women with PCOS.
If you have PCOS and aren’t planning on becoming pregnant in the near future, birth control pills such as Ortho Tri-Cyclen may help you lose weight by reducing high androgen levels. Losing weight helps reduce insulin resistance, which makes it easier to keep weight off once you lose it. Oral contraceptives can also help with other symptoms of PCOS such as hirsutism -- hair growth on the face, thighs, back and abdomen -- and acne.
- UpToDate; Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) ; Robert Barbieri,M.D., et al.; August 2010
- Family Practice Notebook: Progestin Androgenic Activity
- News Blaze; The light on PCOS, Weight Gain and Diabetes; Caroline Cedarquist, M.D.;
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Ask Lucy-Ups and Downs
- South Asian Women's Forum; PCOS Update: The Insulin Connection;Theresa Hickey; October 2001