One of the most common causes of infertility in women is a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS. Despite affecting between 5% to 10% of women, this hormonal imbalance often goes undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed. About half of women with PCOS have not been diagnosed properly, and it takes on average two years and visits to three different doctors for a woman to be correctly diagnosed with this condition.
PCOS is called a syndrome, because it’s typically manifested by a number of symptoms. However, as is common with syndromes, each patient will experience it differently, and not every patient will have every symptom. PCOS is a condition of hormonal imbalance, which can cause your ovaries to become enlarged and grow a number of small, but benign cysts. PCOS can also trigger other negative hormonal changes, such as elevated blood sugar and high levels of testosterone.
Beyond ovarian cysts and hormonal imbalances, PCOS is associated with lack of ovulation, menstrual cycle irregularities, weight gain, acne, facial hair growth, and infertility. In addition, a diagnosis of PCOS carries with it some long-term health implications. Women with PCOS are at a higher risk for diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and uterine cancer.
There is no cure for PCOS. Western treatments to manage this syndrome include medications to balance your hormones, lower your blood sugar, weight control measures, physical activity, and medications or other strategies to enhance fertility.
A number of women diagnosed with PCOS have turned to acupuncture and Chinese medicine for treatment, and several research studies have concluded that this is a good choice. Researchers have found that in patients with PCOS, acupuncture can help promote ovulation, regulate menses, and help restore hormone balance.
There are a number of ways in which acupuncture works to help manage PCOS. It alters your brain chemistry—in a good way—by affecting the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, which are responsible for hormone regulation throughout your entire body. Also, acupuncture is well-known for its ability to relieve stress. It increases the circulation of feel-good endorphins in your brain to help improve your mood, engender calm, and relieve tension. When it comes to your menstrual cycle, stress alone can be a major cause of irregularities. Furthermore, stress and strong emotions cause fluctuations in the stress-related hormones cortisol, adrenalin, and insulin, which when out of balance can cause your blood sugar to spike.
Acupuncture, combined with other healing strategies can help support weight loss for patients with PCOS. Gaining weight can be a risk factor for causing PCOS and a complicating symptom of this syndrome. If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS, weight control may be an important part of your treatment plan, and Chinese medicine can help here, too. Ear acupuncture is especially useful in managing food cravings. Body acupuncture is effective in treating digestive issues, balancing metabolism, and targeting any other symptoms you may be experiencing. Your practitioner may also prescribe an herbal formula to enhance your acupuncture treatment. In addition, through dietary therapy, your practitioner can guide you in choosing the foods that are best for your specific needs and overall health.
While there is no specific cure for PCOS, there are a number of ways to successfully manage this condition. Acupuncture can be beneficial, and should be considered as a component of your PCOS treatment strategy.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.