The future of women’s reproductive health is at happy hour.
Scientists love to study the effect alcohol has on the female body, and the results are oftentimes contradictory. Depending on who you ask, drinking a glass of red wine every day can increase your risk of breast cancer by seven to 12% or help stave it off altogether. For women who are genetically predisposed to develop the disease, the constant debate of “Should I or shouldn’t I indulge?” is almost enough to drive a person to drink.
Red wine: the miracle (non)drug?
Now, a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism gives women another reason to reexamine their alcohol intake. According to the study’s results, resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grapes, nuts and berries, may be able to help women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome and issues with infertility.
In the United States, approximately five million women of childbearing age suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (also known as PCOS). The disease is historically under-diagnosed, so this number is not a fair representation of all the women who might be afflicted. PCOS symptoms vary and include irregular periods, ovarian cysts, infertility, weight gain, exhaustion, excessive hair growth on the face, chest and back, acne and hair loss. Women who fulfill at least two of the three major criterion (inconsistent periods, cysts and hormonal imbalances) may be suffering from PCOS.
What is PCOS, exactly?
PCOS creates a hormonal imbalance in women, wherein the body pumps out too many male hormones, specifically: testosterone, androgens and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS). The disparity between the number of male hormones and the number of female hormones can lead to changes within a woman’s menstrual cycle, appearance and fertility.
How serious is PCOS? Well, serious as a heart attack; PCOS sufferers are four to seven times more likely to be at risk for heart failure. Over 50% of PCOS sufferers will be diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes by the time they turn 40.
How can wine help?
Enter resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grape skins, which has previously been proven to fight heart disease and multiple cancers. Antoni Duleba, the lead researcher for the study and a professor of reproductive medicine at the University of California, San Diego, hypothesized that resveratrol is capable of blocking the mevalonate pathway, which limits the number of male hormones that can be produced by a woman’s ovaries.
To test this theory, Duleba and his team assembled 30 women and randomly assigned them either a resveratrol supplement or a placebo pill. After three months, the researchers discovered that amongst the women who took the supplement, testosterone levels fell by 23.1% and DHEAS levels by 22.2%. Women who took the placebo saw increased levels of both male hormones. Resveratrol also helped lower insulin levels among the women by slowing production of androgen hormones within the ovaries.
For the five million-plus women suffering from PCOS, these results are huge. As someone who suffers from ovarian cysts, I can speak firsthand to wine’s value — I don’t know if drinking it helps prevent them, but alcohol is a cheap and reliable pain reliever.
And while it remains to be seen how the medical and scientific communities will incorporate these findings into future PCOS treatments, in the meantime, women everywhere should raise a glass and toast to continued advances in reproductive health.