Understanding Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and How It Affects Fertility
PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility in women, affecting six percent of pre-menopausal women and 90% of all women with irregular menstrual cycles. PCOS is a disorder of the endocrine system which causes an imbalance of hormones secreted in a woman’s ovary needed to fully mature her follicles into eggs. The follicles may start to mature and build up fluid but no one follicle becomes large enough to be released for ovulation. Since no follicle becomes large enough and no egg matures or is released, ovulation does not occur and the hormone progesterone is not made. Without progesterone, a woman’s menstrual cycle is irregular or absent.
Furthermore, the remaining undeveloped cysts secrete male hormones called androgens, which also block follicular development, causing follicles to degenerate and making ovulation unlikely. This process is thought to be a result of an altered feedback mechanism within the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovarian axis which controls hormonal secretion in the body. Causes are unknown. Common symptoms include:
- Excessive hair growth, appearing on the chin, upper lip, neck, sideburn area, chest, nipple area and the lower abdomen along the midline
- Irregular or infrequent periods
- Abnormal levels of insulin as well as insulin resistance
- Late or absent ovulation
- High prolactin hormone levels (hyperprolactinemia)
- Prolonged premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, such as bloating, pelvic pain, headaches, mood swings and/or depression
- Excessive weight gain
- Acne and/or oily skin
- Polycystic ovaries or enlarged ovaries containing more than 12 follicular cysts
- Darkening of the skin around the areas of the neck, arms, breasts, or thighs and is usually indicative of insulin resistance
- Skin tags, which are small pieces of excess skin around the armpit or neck area
In the 1990’s a study in Europe was conducted on anovulatory women with PCOS. This study showed that using electro acupuncture could restore ovulation in 33% of the test subjects. It, also, showed that acupuncture reduced many of the endocrine indicators of PCOS, including follicle size, LH, FSH, and Testosterone.
How Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Treat PCOS
Chinese medicine is a safe, effective, drug-free and natural approach to restore optimal function of the hormonal and sympathetic systems and to rebalance the nerve and blood supply to the ovaries. Many patients experience restored ovarian function and pregnancy by following Nurture Acupuncture’s nutritional advice, herbal recommendations, and by receiving reproductive organ massage monthly. Each part of the protocol is customized for each patient to treat PCOS and to improve overall patient health.
Acupuncture increases the blood flow to the ovaries to nourish the developing follicles and create better egg quality and stronger embryos. It also normalizes the function of the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovarian axis to regulate and improve the body’s natural hormonal production which in turn improves ovarian function and egg quality. And, acupuncture relaxes the body and reduces stress levels (elevated stress can prohibit conception by blocking blood flow to the reproductive organs and causing an imbalance in hormonal production, thus resulting in irregular menstrual cycles, lack of ovulation, high FSH levels, poor ovarian production, and diminished egg quality).
Chinese herbs build strong, nutrient-rich blood for the ovaries which will better nourish the developing follicles and create better egg quality and stronger embryos. The herbs also normalize the function of the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovarian axis to regulate and improve the body’s natural hormonal production which in turn improves ovarian function and egg quality. And, Chinese herbs nourish the spleen, liver, and kidney systems which are responsible for our reproductive health.
Reproductive organ massage (ROM) is a highly specialized form of therapeutic massage that manipulates the fascia of the pelvic cavity and breaks down adhesions and cysts in order to restore pelvic blood flow to the area. This increases egg quality, hormonal production, and warms the uterus.
Nutritional guidance is customized for each patient based on the health of her kidney, liver, and spleen functions, which control our reproductive health and underlie our metabolic processes. The diet emphasizes low glycemic foods and foods rich in Vitamin B and omega’s to influence overall health and well being.
How Western Medicine Treats PCOS
Weight management to address obesity or unwanted weight gain. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of total body weight may help women resume normal ovulation. In addition, a healthy diet and regular exercise are the best ways to prevent long-term consequences of PCOS such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Quit smoking because it increases the risk of complications associated with PCOS like heart disease. Get regular gynecological examinations to detect early signs of either ovarian or uterine cancer.
For Women with PCOS Who are Trying to Conceive, Treatment Varies and May Include the Following Options
- Ovulation drugs are used as the first line of treatment for women with PCOS. The most common drug is Clomiphene Citrate (Clomid). A second, more aggressive therapy which may be used, involves injectable drugs called gonadotropins.
- Antidiabetic agents are medications that increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Normally prescribed by your physican is metformin (glucophage).
- Laparoscopic ovarian drilling is a surgery that stimulates ovulation, regulates the menstrual cycle and increases a patient’s chances of becoming pregnant. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is another option for women with PCOS.
For Women Not Trying to Conceive, Treatment Usually Involves Restoring a Normal Menstrual Cycle and May Include the Following Options
- Birth control pills are used to regulate the menstrual cycle and to reduce the risk of endometrial and uterine cancer.
- Corticosteroids are used to suppress androgen production by the adrenals.
- Anti-androgens like spironolactone and flutamide block the effect of androgens and can prevent unwanted hair growth and acne.
- Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists (luprolide) suppress production of sex hormones and induce a temporary menopause in pre-menopausal women. These types of medications also reduce skin problems such as acne, and may cut down on hirsutism for as long as they are taken.
Research and Related Articles on PCOS
Effects of electro-acupuncture on anovulation in women with polycystic ovary syndrome
Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica. 2000 Mar;79(3):180-8.
Current evidence of acupuncture on polycystic ovarian syndrome
Gynecological Endocrinology. 2010 Jun;26(6):473-8. doi: 10.3109/09513591003686304.
Effects of acupuncture on the outcome of in vitro fertilisation and intracytoplasmic sperm injection in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome
Acupuncture in Medicine. 2013 Jun;31(2):151-6. doi: 10.1136/acupmed-2012-010198. Epub 2013 Feb 1.
Influence of Acupuncture on Infertility in Rats with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine