Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common diagnosis given to women who suffer from irregular ovulation and menstruation. It is one of the most common endocrine disorders, affecting about 10 percent of women during child bearing age, in which the ovaries are covered with small cysts and the menstrual cycle becomes especially long or irregular. Often there is accompanying acne, weight gain, excess body hair, or difficulty getting pregnant.
These cysts, while not harmful, cause a disruption in the balance and communication between reproductive hormones resulting in an irregular menstrual cycle. All women produce tiny amounts of androgens (male sex hormones such as testosterone) but women with PCOS produce slightly more. This can result in some of the symptoms we see with PCOS such as excess body hair or possibly the thinning of hair. Because the reproductive hormones are out of whack, follicles don't reach maturity, and ovulation does not readily occur. This is why so many women with PCOS will have difficulty getting pregnant.
The cause of PCOS is not fully understood, but it seems to have a genetic connection, so your chances of having it are higher if other women in your family do. In some women it is a mild condition that goes undetected and resolves after time, but for others it may be more problematic and eventually lead to diabetes or high blood pressure. Western medicine uses birth control to help regulate the menstrual cycle in women who are not trying to get pregnant or with fertility drugs such as Clomid to induce ovulation in those who are. If a blood sugar imbalance is occurring, you might be prescribed Metformin. There are, however, other options available to help balance hormones, regulate the menstrual cycle, and manage PCOS.
Because of insulin resistance and impaired glucose metabolism found in PCOS, it is very important to modify your diet if you have this condition. Here are some dietary basics for you to follow:
- Cut out all forms of refined sugar. They're just bad all around, but especially for glucose levels.
- Avoid soda, fruit juice, or any drink that has a lot of sugar.
- Eat adequate amounts of protein, either from vegetarian sources or from lean meat that is natural and not hormone treated.
- Cut out refined carbohydrates because these are immediately turned into sugar. These include white bread, pasta, white rice, and most breakfast cereals.
- Eat only complex whole grains and foods made from them. These include brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, and barley.
- Eat all the fresh vegetables you want!
- Avoid milk and dairy, particularly if you have weight issues.
- Get plenty of fiber.
- Eat fruits which are a little less sweet than others such as berries.
Obviously this is an important one for everyone, but for women with PCOS who are also overweight, their condition responds much better with weight loss. Also, exercise helps to lower blood sugar and makes insulin in your body work better. A brisk walk after a meal can be helpful and if you aren't exercising much already, start moderately and work up to your fitness goal.
Western medicine tends to treat all PCOS patients in the same way, where Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) looks at each patient’s pattern of symptoms before making a diagnosis. TCM sees PCOS in a few different ways, depending on how it presents in your body and treatment will vary based on these variations. In treating all cases of PCOS with acupuncture, needles are placed along the acupuncture meridians related to the reproductive system. This helps stimulate the organs, improve blood flow, normalize hormone levels, and promote the proper functioning of the reproductive system.
Several studies have been conducted on the efficacy using electroacupuncture to promote ovulation in women with anovulatory cycles which have yielded mostly positive results. Electroacupuncture uses a microcurrent of electricity which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, endocrine system, and neuroendocrine system. It works much in the way of TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), if you are familiar, but instead the low current is connected to acupuncture needles related to specific organ systems. Studies have concluded that electroacupuncture has incredible effects on the reproductive system making it a standard protocol for IVF acupuncture treatment in Europe and the US.
In addition to diet, exercise, and acupuncture, many women have found the use of castor oil packs to be helpful in managing PCOS and other reproductive health issues. Take a look at one of my old posts for more information and instructions.
If you have PCOS and are trying to get pregnant or trying to manage the symptoms of PCOS and live a more healthy and balanced life, acupuncture can help you achieve your goals. Book an appointment with Sarah Johnson L. Ac.