Surprising study finds men can develop symptoms consistent with an ovary syndrome

WASHINGTON — Perhaps some men do hail from Venus. A new genetic study finds it’s possible for men to develop symptoms quite similar to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common metabolic and reproductive disorder among women.

Obviously, men don’t have ovaries. So, study authors speculate that PCOS may not be directly linked to the ovaries after all.

PCOS symptoms usually include irregular periods, metabolism disruptions, and particularly high testosterone levels. Moreover, the condition isn’t rare. It’s estimated to effect about 10 percent of all women of reproductive age. In the long term, it can lead to heart issues, diabetes, and obesity.

Researchers say that men genetically at risk for PCOS-like symptoms are more likely to deal with obesity, diabetes, male-pattern baldness, and cardiovascular disease.

“The treatment of PCOS is limited by our incomplete understanding of the disorder,” says lead researcher Dr. Jia Zhu, of Boston Children’s Hospital, in a release. “Identifying the different causes for PCOS provides insights into the mechanisms of disease and is the first step in identifying future targets for treatment of the disorder.”

Genetic data pertaining to 176,360 U.K. men was used to reach these conclusions. Specifically, researchers looked for associations between various metabolic disorders (obesity, diabetes, etc) and male-pattern baldness.

“By demonstrating that genetic risk factors for PCOS are associated with obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and male-pattern baldness in men, we show that these genetic risk factors do not require ovaries to result in the characteristics of PCOS,” Zhu says. “Thus, at least in some cases, the reproductive dysfunction of PCOS may be caused by biological mechanisms common to both men and women. Future studies of the genetic risk factors for PCOS could help us to better understand the causes and potential treatment targets for PCOS.”

The study was presented virtually at ENDO 2021, the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting.