Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common causes of infertility in women, affecting 6%-10% of those who are in reproductive lifetime (1). PCOS is also strongly associated with metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. PCOS is a disorder of the endocrine system which causes an imbalance of hormones secreted in a woman’s ovary. It makes a lot of follicles start to mature and build up fluid, but none of thoses can actually release an matured egg. So ovulation does not occur, therefore it is impossible to fertile and get pregnancy.
Furthermore, the remaining undeveloped cysts secrete excessive hormones called androgens, which also block follicular development and cause irregular menstruation cycles, and other disturbances like acne, excessive hair growth, stb. This process is a result of a feedback mechanism within the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovarian axis, which is crucial in controls hormon secretion and reproductive function of the body.
The current conventional treatments for women with PCOS are medications (low dose combined oral contraceptives are often the first choice), surgery and life style change in order to controlling symptoms.
The symptoms can range from mild to severe, as the following:
- Irregular, infrequent or no menstrual cycle, abdominal cramps, severe ovulatory pain, in more severe cases even infertility or recurrent miscarriages
- Skin symptoms: acne-prone skin, brown spots on the neck and body, increased hair growth on the face and the body. Hair loss, thin hair.
- Rapid weight gain, abdominal obesity. However, PCOS can also occur in thin people.
- Frequent tiredness.
- Psychiatric symptoms: sudden mood swings, stress, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances.(2)
HOW ACUPUNCTURE CAN HELP?
Acupuncture is an important part of Traditional Chinese medicine, which has been used in China and other eastern cultures for thousands years. It aims to promote and maintain good health. Its benefits are now widely acknowledged all over the world and has begun to feature more prominently in mainstream healthcare in the US, European, and the UK. It takes a holistic approach to health and aims to restore the balance and harmony of the body.
An increasing scientific evidence from Western researchs is demonstrating the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating a wide variety of health problems. From a medical viewpoint, acupuncture help stimulate the nervous system, influencing the hormones and neurotransmitters process, therefore help activate the body’s natural healing abilities, promoting physical and emotional well-being.
Acupuncture effectively treat women with PCOS thanks to these effects:
- Increase the blood flow to the ovaries to nourish the developing follicles.
- Normalizes the function of the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovarian axis to regulate the normal hormonal production, therefore improves ovarian function and egg quality.
- Help improve the insulin sensitivity and therefore effectively help lose weight.
- Help relaxes the body so that it can better cope with stress.
- Last but not least, acupuncture treatment was reported to have almost no side effects. It even helps to reduce sides effects of other treatments when combines with them.
Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically help with symptoms of PCOS by:
- Impacting on beta-endorphin production, which may affect gonadotropinreleasing hormone (GnRH) secretion (Lim 2010; Stener-Victorin 2009; Feng 2009; Manneras 2009);
- regulatory effect on follicle stimulation hormone (FSH), luteinising hormone ( LH) and androgens (Lim 2010; Feng 2009);
- Modulating the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and improving blood flow to the ovaries (Stener-Victorin 2006, 2009);
- regulating steroid hormone/peptide receptors (Feng 2012);
- downregulating the expressions of serum levels of testosterone and oestradiol (Zang 2009);
- controlling hyperglycaemia by increasing insulin sensitivity and decreasing blood glucose and insulin levels (Lim 2010);
- acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry (Hui 2010; Hui 2009);
- increasing the release of adenosine, which has antinociceptive properties (Goldman 2010), and;
- Reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors (Kavoussi 2007).(3)
It is necessary to state that acupuncture is an effective treatment option for reproductive and endocrine disturbances in women with PCOS. In general, acupuncture helps reduce the androgen levels and inhibin B, restore the hormon balance, therefore calm the exaggerated follicular growth, restore the follicle maturation process, and hence lead to ovulation. No doubt that improved menstrual and ovulatory pattern is of great beneficial for women who are trying to conceive and get pregnancy.
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- Acupuncture and PCOS, British Acupuncture Council, Novemeber 2014, www.acupuncture.org.uk
- Acupuncture for ovulation induction in PCOS: a randomized controlled trial, American Journal of Physiology Endocrinology Metabolism 304: E934-943, 2013