From a Chinese Medicine perspective Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Polycystic ovaries (PCO) certainly won’t stop you from regular periods, it won’t stop you from regaining your hormonal health and it won’t stop you from having babies, it however can be an obstacle. Combining Chinese medicine treatments, supplements, and your diet and lifestyle changes will be aimed at gaining better hormonal balance, regaining your natural cycle and wellbeing.
The most important part of the treatment is to achieve regular ovulation and therefore regular periods. Adapting your diet and lifestyle in order to achieve optimal hormonal balance will help here. When these changes are combined with Acupuncture great results can be achieved. Researchers in several countries have clinically shown that acupuncture can improve ovary function, increase ovulation frequency and can normalize levels of insulin, testosterone, and luteinizing hormone.
Keep in mind that just because you are not getting a period is not enough to diagnose PCOS. Many women with absent period do not have true PCOS but one of the various types or other conditions such as high cortisol, high or low body fat and/ or systemic inflammation which can all cause absent periods.
Types of PCO and PCOS
In Chinese Medicine we recognise that there are 5 different and unique types of PCO / PCOS, they are as follows;
Type 1 or Classic – High androgens, irregular or absent ovulation and an ovary of polycystic appearance
Type 2 or Hyperadrogenic anovulatory – Excess androgens with irregular periods or absent ovulation with no cysts on ovaries
Type 3 or Ovulatory PCOS – Excess androgens and polycystic ovaries with no ovulatory dysfunction
Type 4 or Non-hyperandrogenic PCOS – Irregular periods or absent ovulation with ovaries of a polycystic appearance but no excess androgens
Type 4 or obesity induced PCOS – Insulin resistance leading to testosterone and/or oestrogen excess with facial hair, acne and irregular cycles
Diagnostic tools for diagnosis
Alongside an ultrasound your doctor may run the following blood tests to help you diagnose if you indeed have PCO or PCOS, and which subtype;
- SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin)
- TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone)
- PRL (prolactin)
- Morning 17-hydroxyprogesterone [If elevated, follow-up with an adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulation test to confirm diagnosis.].
- FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone)
Long term effects of PCOS
Its not just all about your fertility and making babies, but untreated PCO or PCOS may have some other long term side effects on your health including;
- Glucose intolerance/type 2 diabetes – Because PCOS is associated with abnormal insulin metabolism, the lifetime risk of developing diabetes is significantly higher in women with PCOS. Evaluation for glucose abnormalities is therefore recommended at the time of PCOS diagnosis and periodically thereafter. The gold standard for assessing glucose tolerances is a 2-hour oral glucose challenge test.
- Lipid abnormalities – Dyslipidemia, including elevated triglycerides and decreased HDL cholesterol, is common in PCOS. Measurement of serum lipids and screening for cardiovascular disease risk factors should be performed upon diagnosis of PCOS and at periodic intervals.
- Lowered bone density – If you are not having periods and have low oestrogen levels then it could lead to lowered bone density because oestrogen stimulates bone density, suppresses bone re-absorption, inhibits osteoclast activity and is responsible for the expression of Vitamin D receptors in bones (For more information see this post by The Holistic Nutritionalist)
Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine for PCOS
A study conducted at Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine researchers investigated ovulation and pregnancy rates. Group one received acupuncture, herbal medicine, and therapeutic exercises. Group two received cyproterone acetate / ethinylestradiol tablets and metformin. The acupuncture, herbs, and exercise group slightly outperformed the drug group, keeping in mind that this is not individualised treatment.
The combination of acupuncture, herbs, and therapeutic exercises produced higher rates of ovulation and pregnancies in PCOS patients. The combined Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) protocol produced a 46.92% ovulation rate and a 32.16% pregnancy rate. The medication protocol had a 40.61% ovulation rate and a 30.16% pregnancy rate.
Acupuncture promotes proper hormonal balance and regulates the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovarian axis by stimulating blood flow to the reproductive organs and the brain. It also relaxes the body and reduces stress levels (elevated stress can prohibit ovulation by blocking blood flow to the reproductive organs and causing an imbalance in hormonal production).
Chinese herbal medicine is highly individualized, assists with ovulation and helps build the uterine lining and adjust the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovarian axis. This rebalance helps regulate and improve the body’s natural hormonal production which in turn aids in proper ovulation and therefore more regular cycles. For more information on Chinese Herbal Medicine see our FAQ’s page.
Exercise in the study was a slow intensity walk or run for 30 minutes 5 days per week. However exercise can be also be changed to 3 X 30 minute interval sessions and slow walks 2 days per week for weight loss.