Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a condition characterized by multiple small benign cysts on the ovaries. Testosterone and LH levels tend to be elevated, and there may be irregular periods or amenorrhea, anovulation or irregular ovulation, acne, weight gain, or excess body hair. Not all women present with all of these symptoms.

PCOS is often associated with a hormonal imbalance brought on by insulin resistence. Reports have shown that 40% of women with PCOS have either Type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance by the age of 40.

Just before ovulation in a normal menstrual cycle, LH levels rise dramatically, causing the egg to be released from the follicle. If LH is high during the whole of the follicular phase, as is often the case in PCOS, then the LH surge does not take place and an egg is not released. High levels of LH have been implicated in both infertility and miscarriage.

Overweight women with PCOS are shown to have more fertility problems than lean women with PCOS. They seem to have much lower levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) in their blood, which results in more testosterone and worse PCOS symptoms, such as excess hair. In a study, when a group of overweight women suffering from PCOS went on a diet and lost weight, their SHBG levels rose, their testosterone levels fell, and their PCOS symptoms were improved.

Furthermore, the weight loss made a remarkable difference on ovarian function. 82% of women who were not previously ovulating showed improvements. One study found that 11 out of 12 PCOS-sufferers who had been overweight and not ovulating, conceived naturally after losing weight. In a further study, miscarriage rates were also shown to drop from 75% to 18% after losing weight.

Clomiphene citrate is administered to PCOS-sufferers who are wanting to conceive in order to trigger ovulation. However, clomiphene tends to thin the lining of the uterus, preventing the fertilized egg from implanting, and it increases the miscarriage rate by somewhere in the region of 20-30%. However, the use of Chinese herbal medicine can mitigate the effects of Clomiphene, and help maintain the thickness of the endometrium, aiding implantation.

Diagnosis and treatment with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine

In Chinese medicine, this condition is often seen as the accumulation of Phlegm (unresolved fluids) in the ovaries, which can occur as a result of insufficient Kidney Yang (the Fire aspect of the Kidney energy, responsible for the transformation of fluids).

Treatment would aim at boosting Kidney Yang, and resolving Phlegm, and, if appropriate, moving the Blood.

A combination of acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine is often the most effective method of treatment. Severe PCOS can be a difficult condition to treat, and it may take up to 6 months of treatment before good progress is made. The hormones should become more balanced, and the periods should become regulated.

Dietary and lifestyle factors also play an extremely important role in the treatment of this condition. Eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight can help lower glucose levels and use insulin more efficiently, thereby lowering testosterone and helping to restore a normal ovarian function and menstrual cycle.

Effective supplements in the treatment of PCOS include chromium, B vitamins, Zinc, Co-Enzyme Q10, magnesium and a multivitamin and mineral supplement.

See research into the treatment of PCOS with Chinese medicine