PCOS & Fertility–How Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Treatments Can Help*
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a complex hormonal disorder that affects fertility and has a wide range of metabolic affects. A PCOS diagnosis is defined as having two of the following symptoms: (1) persistent irregular or lack of ovulation (anovulation), (2) hyperandrogenism (elevated male sex hormones), (3) polycystic ovaries (ovarian cysts). Below, we discuss typical western medicine and natural alternative treatments, including acupuncture and Chinese herbs, as well as our advice on proper diet and nutrition. We have treated many PCOS patients who have become pregnant and are located just 20 minutes from Boston.* (Click here to read our success stories.)*
Other symptoms that are frequently present are elevated blood sugar levels, hirsutism (male pattern facial and body hair), obesity, acne, alopecia (thinning hair), infertility and enlarged polycystic ovaries (although polycystic ovaries alone do not constitute a PCOS diagnosis). PCOS, if left untreated, can at some point lead to a metabolic syndrome which involves an array of negative heath concerns, such as insulin resistance, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, diabetes mellitus and even uterine and breast cancer.
For these reasons, it is important that women with PCOS get a health work up and take appropriate measures to manage the lack of ovulation, hyperinsulinemia and hyperandrogenism.
Hormones Out of Balance
Women with PCOS exhibit a complicated hormonal picture that prevents the ovary from functioning normally. Typically, a viscous cycle ensues where elevated androgens (male sex hormones) in the ovary do not allow for the ovarian follicle to mature properly, leaving it arrested in development, unable to be ovulated.
With PCOS, it is common to see elevated insulin levels, which also promote a state of hyperandrogenism (elevated male sex hormones)–again promoting poor follicle development and numerous cysts lining the ovary.
Many women with PCOS have irregular cycles or no cycles at all. Those who do have semi-regular cycles may not be ovulating even though their ovulation predictor kits (OPK’s) come back positive. (The reason is that the OPK’s measure Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and, for many PCOS patients, LH is abnormally elevated, giving false positive readings even when ovulation has not occurred.)
Western Medical Treatment
The typical western medicine course of treatment for PCOS patients is to regulate ovulation with clomid and elevated insulin and androgen levels through the use of Metformin.
Metformin improves insulin sensitivity in the tissues, thereby assisting glucose (sugar) metabolism. For some, Metformin can be effective in reducing insulin and androgen levels, supporting ovulation and achieving pregnancy. If these conservative forms of treatment are not successful, patients will typically move on to more aggressive forms of treatment like IUI and IVF.
Chinese Medicine Treatment
Chinese medicine can be very helpful to PCOS patients, especially those who have been trying to conceive without success.* Like western medicine, our goal is to regulate the entire hormonal system affecting menstruation and ovulation.* Our first line of treatment starts with lifestyle recommendations: If you have PCOS and elevated insulin and androgen levels then care must be taken in what you put in your body.
Below are key recommendations I make to all my PCOS patients:
- Start a consistent exercise program. It should be known that exercise is helpful in regulating blood sugar levels and losing weight, both important components to helping with PCOS patients who might be overweight.
- If you have a Body Mass Index (BMI) above 27%, then it is important to focus on weight loss. The benefits of losing just 5-10% of body weight have been shown to beneficially impact insulin resistance.
- Cut out carbohydrates (e.g. pastas, breads, cereals, sodas, fruit juices)! They may be yummy, but they will exacerbate blood sugar metabolism and elevated androgen levels. Opt instead for healthy fats and proteins over carbs.
- Avoid consuming hormonally tainted animal products. Choose hormone-free and pastured sources of animal protein. Pastured animals eat foods native to their environment. An example would be grass fed cows as opposed to factory farm raised beef. Pastured sources of animal protein are healthier and provide more nutrients.
- Cut out refined sugar consumption. Sugar will negatively impact blood sugar and insulin levels leading to a cascade of hormonal problems.
- Minimize dairy consumption. In Chinese medicine, dairy exacerbates what we consider to be internal dampness. Ever feel like you have a lot of phlegm? That’s an example of a form of dampness. Dampness is something seen with obesity, ovarian cysts, cystic breasts, diarrhea, vaginal discharges, yeast infections, vaginal itching, and acne. We believe dampness to be prevalent in PCOS patients.
- Eat lots of fresh vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables.
- Use Chinese herbs to regulate endocrine function, ovulation, and menstrual cyclicity.* Studies with herbal medicine suggest that the odds of achieving pregnancy with the addition of Chinese Herbal Medicine are about three times greater than with conventional western medicine alone, using standard medication or IVF.* Also, clinical pregnancy rates of about 60% were achieved with Chinese Herbal Medicine therapy over 4 months compared with 30% using conventional fertility drug treatment, or IVF over 12 months.* In addition, Chinese herbs can assist with decreasing elevated insulin levels, elevated androgen levels, regulate LH/FSH ratios, increase estrogen levels, and decrease thickening of the ovarian capsule and arrested follicles caused by high androgen levels.*
If you are interested in supporting your fertility with acupuncture and/or herbal medicine and you have a PCOS diagnosis, it is important to note that a minimum of 3-6 months is necessary to regulate your cycles and optimize fertility.* This is important because follicles are developing over many months. To support healthy follicular growth requires that they are growing in a supportive environment. We also offer personalized diet coaching services to assist you in making our dietary and lifestyle recommendations.
Jose Ruiz is among the most experienced fertility acupuncturists in the greater Boston area. As a board certified Oriental Reproductive Medicine specialist through the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine (ABORM) (one of only 4 in Massachusetts), Jose works primarily with infertility patients on a daily basis. If you are currently struggling with infertility, or know someone who is, we offer a free 30-minute fertility consultation. Schedule your free consult today to learn about our programs and unlock your fertile potential.*
*Disclaimer: Specific results are not guaranteed. Results may vary from person to person.
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