TOPIC: Acupuncture and PCOS
Teresa* is a 36 year old patient who came in to my practice seeking an alternative to conventional infertility treatments. She had been trying to conceive for the previous three years without success.
Historically, she had always experienced irregular menstrual periods and had been on birth control pills to regulate her menses since she was 20. While her gynecologist diagnosed her with PCOS, he never explained to her the possibility of being unable to conceive with the condition.
Teresa was under-informed by her gynecologist and came away thinking that PCOS was the reason why she had irregular menses, increased weight, acne, and problems with excess facial hair. Birth control pills had diminished the symptoms, so that they were manageable, but never completely solved any of the issues.
Many women who come into my office present with similar stories, and after combining acupuncture treatments, taking herbal medicine such as uterine tonics and hormone balancing herbs and making dietary and lifestyle changes, are able to conceive without going through conventional fertility treatments. Teresa was one of these women, who after 6 months of treatment, became pregnant.
Acupuncture is a 3,000 year old form of Chinese medicine that involves inserting very fine, sterile, disposable needles into specific points throughout the body. It is based on the principle that your vital energy, called "Qi," runs along 14 different pathways, or meridians, in the body. When Qi is blocked it can lead to an imbalance within your body, which presents in the form of physical, mental or emotional symptoms.
Acupuncture regulates and restores balance to the body by allowing Qi to flow smoothly throughout the meridians. Once Qi is allowed to flow freely, the body is able to function optimally and heal itself.
During an acupuncture treatment, individuals experience a wide range of sensations when the needles are inserted, such as a dull ache, a slight pinching sensation or an electrical impulse; some patients don't notice any sensation at all.
Women with PCOS often have irregular menstrual cycles. Even when they are having a menstrual cycle each month, often times they are not ovulating or are ovulating later in the cycle, with a shortened luteal phase (the time in a woman's cycle between ovulation and menstruation). Any of these factors can contribute to problems conceiving.
Acupuncture can help to regulate a woman's menstrual cycle and encourage ovulation, which is required for pregnancy to occur. According to a meta-analysis published in Gynecological Endocrinology, March 2010, the conclusion stated acupuncture to be a safe and effective treatment for PCOS without the side effects often seen with using pharmacological drugs. The study reviewed several PCOS and acupuncture studies throughout the years and concluded that acupuncture may help PCOS by increasing blood flow to the ovaries, reducing the size of ovaries and ovarian cysts, controlling hyperglycemia by increasing insulin sensitivity and decreasing blood glucose and insulin levels, reducing cortisol levels, and assisting in weight loss (1).
To me, the wonderful part about acupuncture is that it is a very individualized treatment protocol. Three women with a diagnosis of PCOS and infertility can come in for an acupuncture treatment, and all three will most likely receive a different acupuncture plan, depending on their own individualized needs and PCOS symptoms they are experiencing, as symptoms vary greatly amongst women with PCOS.
The duration of treatment also depends on the individual and can range from 6 months to two years. However, often times, once a woman does achieve pregnancy, acupuncture is still recommended as a preventive measure against miscarriage throughout pregnancy and beyond to maintain optimal health.
Acupuncture has complemented my naturopathic practice because it treats the underlying cause of a problem. This ancient form of medicine is being used increasingly in western cultures because it guides the body naturally back into balance.
(1) Gynecol Endocrinol. 2010 Mar 16., PMID: 20230329 Current evidence of acupuncture on polycystic ovarian syndrome. Lim CE, Wong WS.
* To protect the privacy of the patient, the name and other identifying information has been changed.
Dr. Ha Dang, ND, LAc