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Higher levels of testosterone in women increases risk of the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

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Posted April 3, 2018

Some women just happen to have higher levels of male hormone testosterone. That causes a variety of health effects. Polycystic ovary sindrome, which affects 10 % of all women, is typically associated with higher levels of testosterone. Now scientists at the University of Birmingham have found that higher levels of testosterone in PCOS results in women being more likely to develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease causes liver cells to hold more fat. Image credit: Nephron via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, causes irregular periods, impaired fertility, male-pattern body hair growth and acne. It is characterized by typically higher testosterone level, which explains part of the symptoms. Meanwhile the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is an umbrella term for a range of liver conditions affecting people who drink little or no alcohol. It is exactly what it sounds like – liver cells start accumulating more fat than they are supposed to – this disease has been associated with obesity. Obesity is actually a common variable between PCOS and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, but is there a link?

Scientists found that women with PCOS are two to three times more likely to develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Furthermore, this effect can be observed even without the patient being obese, which makes the testosterone the main suspect, especially having in mind a huge data pool. Scientists compared health data of 63,000 women with PCOS to 120,000 women of similar age, body weight and background. Some women with PCOS are actually a normal healthy weight, even if they have increased levels of testosterone. However, they are still significantly more likely to develop the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

But what implications this study has? Well, until this link has been discovered and described, doctors didn’t screen women with PCOS for the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Now that it has been proven that they are more likely to get this condition, some prevention methods can be implemented. Professor Wiebke Arlt, one of the authors of the study, said: “Our research shows that PCOS does not only affect fertility but also comes with significantly increased rates of metabolic complications. This means that women with PCOS need integrated health care throughout their life and not only when planning pregnancy”.

Believe it or not, some women actually take testosterone to increase their muscle power. They do that in order to gain advantage in some sports competition or just for their own personal ambition. However, the link between high levels of testosterone and the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is yet another reason to advise them against such practice.

Source: University of Birmingham

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