Journal of Acuherb in Medicine


The Treatment of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) with Traditional Chinese Medicine

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Overview of Healthy Ovarian Physiology

The ovaries are two organs on each side of the woman’s uterus which contain follicles, tiny fluid filled sacs (also called cysts), that hold the eggs. Each month approximately twenty eggs start to mature but usually only one egg fully matures; when the fully mature egg is ready, the follicle breaks open to release it. The fully mature egg then travels through the fallopian tube to the uterus for fertilization and implantation.

Overview of Women with PCOS
In women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), the ovary doesn’t make all of the hormones it needs for any of the eggs to fully mature. Follicles may start to grow and build up fluid but no one follicle becomes large enough. Instead, some follicles may remain as sacs/cysts. Since no follicle becomes large enough and no egg matures or is released, ovulation does not occur.

The distinctive appearance of PCOS is a thick, shiny, white coating overlying many rows of cysts on the surface of the ovary. These ovarian changes give PCOS its name (“poly” = many, “cystic” = cysts). PCOS is believed to be the most common hormonal abnormality in women of reproductive age and affects approximately 1 in 10 women (an estimated 5 to 7 million women in the United States).

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What are the Causes of PCOS?

The cause(s) of PCOS is unknown at this time; research suggests that many women with this condition may have decreased sensitivity to insulin. When cells are resistant to insulin it means that the effect of insulin on sugar, and other functions, is deficient. More insulin than normal is required to be produced to ensure that the body cells absorb enough sugar. This leads to high insulin levels in the blood stream which, among other effects, make the ovaries overproduce male hormones, called androgens, leading to hormonal imbalances that lead to symptoms of PCOS.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of PCOS?
PCOS is considered a syndrome because it has a number of unrelated symptoms. For this reason, PCOS often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Symptoms include:

  • Irregular menstrual cycle (infrequent menstrual periods, no menstrual periods, and/or irregular bleeding)
  • Infrequent or no ovulation
  • Weight gainor obesity
  • Increased levels of male hormones, called androgens, which may lead to excessive hair growth on the face +/or body (especially the face, chest, abdomen, nipple area, or back)
  • History of diabetes, over-production of insulin, and inefficient use of insulin in the body
  • Acne, oily skin, or dandruff
  • Patches of thickened and dark brown or black skin on the neck, groin, underarms, or skin folds
  • Skin tags, or tiny excess flaps of skin in the armpits or neck area

How Does PCOS Contribute toInfertility?

In short, if you are not ovulating regularly every month, the chances of fertilizing the egg are reduced. Because the egg is not released, there is no egg ready for fertilization and implantation in the uterus. Because PCOS affects the quality of the follicle and the state of the endometrium, the result will be that menstrual cycles become more erratic and less predictable. Women with PCOS will often very long cycles and very heavy bleeding, amenorrhea (missed periods), or anovulation (no ovulation) with scanty bleeding. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs help to regulate themenstrual cycleand harmonize the hormonal cycles of the body.

How Do Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs Help PCOS?
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs provide a safe, effective, drug-free and natural whole body approach. This natural approach helps strengthen and (re)balance the hormonal systems of the body, encouraging conception and a healthy pregnancy.

Etiology of PCOS in Chinese Medicine

In traditional Chinese medicine, the treatment of PCOS is seen as an excess condition, a deficient condition, or clinically PCOS is seen as more of a combination of both an excess and deficient condition*.

Excess conditions:

  • Phlegm dampness
  • Liver qi stasis
  • Blood stasis

Deficient conditions:

  • Kidney yang deficiency
  • Kidney yin deficiency
  • Spleen qi deficiency

*It is important to note that most women will have both excess and deficient conditions as their root cause of PCOS.

Together with changes indietand exercise,acupuncture treatments and Chinese herbsare empowering women with PCOS to lead healthier and more satisfying lives.For women trying to become pregnant, either naturally or through IUI/IVF treatments, treating PCOS will help with fertility and overall balance through harmonizing hormones and regulating the menstrual cycle. While there is still no cure for PCOS, the good news is that Chinese medicine offers many effective ways to treat polycystic ovary syndrome!

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