Do you experience irregular or abnormally heavy periods? Maybe you’ve gained a lot of weight recently without any change to your diet. Or perhaps you’re noticing excess facial hair when you look into the mirror? If so, you may have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
PCOS is a complex hormonal and/or metabolic disorder that affects between 5 to 10 percent of women of reproductive age. Women with PCOS can suffer from self esteem issues due to weight gain, acne, and thinning hair. Others experience troublesome periods and pelvic pain. Many women frequently find it difficult to get pregnant. Long-term PCOS sufferers can go on to develop serious conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
You may have PCOS if you experience:
- Irregular, infrequent, prolonged or abnormally heavy periods (these are the hallmark of PCOS)
- Excess hair on the body or face
- Severe acne
- Thinning hair or male-pattern baldness
- Reduced immunity due to low-grade inflammation (PCOS can alter the ability of white blood cells to fight infection)
- Depression, anxiety, or mood swings
- Insomnia or sleep apnea
- Eating disorders
- Acne and/or dark spots under skin folds (eg under arms, the breast or groin area)
- Immature ovaries or ovaries with multiple cysts
Many times the signs and symptoms of PCOS show up shortly after a girl starts menstruating, however females can develop this disorder later in life following substantial weight gain. These symptoms are typically more severe when you are obese.
Complications – Left untreated, PCOS can result in:
- Infertility, miscarriage, or premature birth
- Pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure or gestational diabetes
- Fatty liver and/or severe liver inflammation
- Pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes
- Uterine cancer
The different types of PCOS
PCOS can be classified into four categories, depending on the cause of the condition.
When a woman is insulin-resistant, it means she has high insulin levels circulating in the blood. This condition is also known as metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance that results in a cluster of symptoms including high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high triglycerides, and/or high blood sugar levels). High insulin levels increase your androgens.
The majority of PCOS sufferers (about 70%) are insulin-resistant.
Some women can experience PCOS symptoms shortly after coming off birth control pills. This happens because the withdrawal of the hormones in the pills can create a temporary surge in androgens. Women with post-pill PCOS are usually not insulin-resistant.
Walking around with chronic inflammation can result in PCOS when overstimulated ovaries start making too much testosterone. Chronic inflammation can result from environmental toxins, marked stress or, more frequently, exposure to certain foods one has a sensitivity to, such as dairy or gluten. These women are not insulin-resistant, have not recently come off birth control, and experience one or more common inflammation signs (eg abdominal issues, joint pain, fatigue or skin issues) routinely.
About 20% of PCOS cases are the result of elevated DHEA/DHEAS and androstenedione due to an abnormal stress response. Women under chronic stress – for example, from a high-pressure job or PTSD – have higher adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) levels. Elevated ACTH levels stimulate the adrenal glands to produce excess androgens. These women can be normal weight or even underweight, and tend to develop PCOS later in life.
A quick note: PCOS can also run in families. Research suggests certain genes that can predispose you to developing PCOS.
PCOS and Acupuncture
In Chinese medicine, PCOS is frequently diagnosed as Kidney Yang deficiency with damp accumulation. Yang deficient patterns are linked to slower metabolism and the Kidney Organ system is closely linked to sexual hormone health.
PCOS can also manifest as Liver Qi stagnation leading to localized damp accumulation. In Chinese medicine, the Liver is responsible for the flow of Qi and blood in the body; it is also highly influenced by stress. Blood that does not circulate well can produce heat which contributes to acne. Excess blood will also lead to overfed hair follicles, causing unwanted hair.
Dampness in Chinese medicine is an accumulation that is created when the body does not burn off or transform moisture well. This condition is behind a lot of illnesses such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and cancers. It is also behind the weight gain and development of ovarian cysts in patients with PCOS.
Acupuncture is a wonderful tool to improve the body’s metabolic processes, reduce dampness, help regulate periods, and improve ovulation.
A study by the University of Gothenberg in Sweden found acupuncture helped improve hormone levels and menstrual bleeding patterns. In the study, women with PCOS were divided into three groups: the first group received regular acupuncture for four months, the second one exercised three times per week with heart rate monitors, and the third, or “control” group, was given information about the importance of a healthy diet and exercise without any further instructions. The results of the study revealed the women who received acupuncture had a reduction in their high levels of testosterone and experienced more regular menstruation and ovulation.”
Acupuncture results are strengthened when you add Chinese herbs to the treatment. These powerhouse plants can further regulate hormones, reduce ovarian cysts, increase insulin sensitivity, assist in weight loss efforts, and calm down an overactive nervous system.
This interesting large-scale study out of Taiwan used the databases of the Taiwanese National Health Insurance Program to analyze Chinese medicine usage among women with PCOS during 1997 – 2010, with 6,682 subjects selected and followed until December 2013. It was found that the top five Chinese herbal formulas used with PCOS patients helped to improve glucose tolerance, decrease cholesterol, reduce depression and anxiety, and help women start ovulating. Some of the herbs also showed a protective effect on the liver.
Suffering from PCOS? Here are some things to try:
- Lose weight – even a 10% loss of body weight can help reduce symptoms and improve ovulation
- Cut the carbohydrate cord by replacing your high-carbohydrate foods like bagels and pastas with healthier carbs such as whole grains and quinoa to better balance your blood sugar levels
- Eat a diet rich in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats and essential fatty acids
- Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of brisk exercise per day to boost your metabolism
- Reduce stress through meditation, yoga, chanting, or stretching
- Take N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) to help reduce high levels of testosterone, triglycerides, cholesterol, and insulin circulating in the bloodstream
- Try Vitex; this Mediterranean shrub fruit, also known as Chasteberry, helps to balance ovulation hormones and reduce estrogen dominance in cases of progesterone deficiency
Schedule a healing treatment at Wellnest Acupuncture + Holistic Medicine. We will create a custom treatment plan including: acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and dietary recommendations, to help balance your hormones, regulate menses, increase your fertility, and much more!