5 Ways Acupuncture Heals PCOS
What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the most common female endocrine disorder. In the U.S., as many as 5 million women, teens, and girls (5%-10% of all females) have received this diagnosis.
When a woman has PCOS, the capsule of her ovaries is thicker than normal and has a waxy texture. Many fluid-filled cysts exist inside the ovary, which are eggs (follicles) that tried to develop properly but couldn't because of low levels of FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone). These cysts and the connective tissue around them produce androgens (male hormones).
Because testosterone and estrogen have a similar chemical make-up, the brain detects the circulating levels of hormones and thinks the LH and FSH surge (which initiates ovulation) has occurred. Because the body believes it has already ovulated, it inhibits further ovulation. Which, for the woman with PCOS, means no ovulation occurs at all.
PCOS Symptoms & Risk Factors
The excess androgens can cause acne, excessive hair growth (face or body), skin tags, darkening of the skin around the armpits and chin, male pattern baldness, and weight gain. PCOS increases the risk for insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and an increased risk of cardiovascular conditions and mental health issues later in life.
Most, but not all, women with PCOS are overweight. "Skinny PCOS," which occurs in women who are thin, is harder to diagnose because these ladies often do not display the typical PCOS symptoms listed above. Standard western medical interventions often are less effective, because they often do not have elevated androgen levels or blood sugar regulation issues. Luckily, Chinese medicine has an excellent strategy for treating these women.
How Acupuncture Helps PCOS
As you can see, PCOS can affect your fertility, your health, and your self-image. Western medicine has some treatments to offer, but often they don't result in the ultimate goal of most women who receive this diagnosis: having a baby.
The Western Explanation
Acupuncture stimulates the nervous system, and can instigate the release of hormones which balance and heal the reproductive system, as well as the whole body.
1. Acupuncture regulates FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone). Your pituitary gland secretes FSH, which stimulates your ovaries to begin maturing an egg in preparation for ovulation. A high quality egg will then release estradiol and inhibin, which lower the FSH level. This is why a high FSH level indicates a potential low reserve of eggs or low quality eggs.
To trigger ovulation your body produces a strong surge of Lutenizing Hormone (LH) and FSH. Women with PCOS often don't have enough FSH to effectively support LH and the androgens it produces in kicking off ovulation.
2. Acupuncture regulates LH (Lutenizing Hormone) and harmonizes the LH/FSH ratio. The amount of Lutenizing Hormone your body produces, and when it produces it, significantly impacts when and if ovulation occurs. As mentioned above, women with PCOS produce more LH than necessary and less FSH than is ideal.
LH produces androgens which cause a multitude of symptoms, including poor follicle development, hardening of the uterine lining (making implantation difficult), excess body or facial hair, skin tags, darking of the skin around the armpits and chin, and male pattern baldness.
Acupuncture reduces the amount of LH and increases the amount of FSH a woman with PCOS produces.
3. Acupuncture steps down the expressions of serum levels of testosterone and estradiol.
As mentioned above, when the brain perceives high levels of sex hormones in the bloodstream it tells the pituitary to stop insigating their production. In women with PCOS, this can mean that they do not ovulate at all. Acupuncture can reduce the serum levels of testosterone and estradiol, preventing the body from prematurely halting hormone production before ovulation has occurred.
4. Acupuncture improves glucose tolerance and insulin abnormalities (which increases the frequency of ovulation).
Impaired glucose tolerance and insulin abnormalities are a factor in many cases of PCOS, When a woman becomes insulin resistant, her cells have a hard time receiving the insulin produced by the pancreas. This creates a situation where more insulin is circulating in the bloodstream, which stimulates enzymes that help manufacture androgens in the ovary. Additionally, excess insulin in the blood stream can cause the androgen receptors to become overstimulated, leading to developing eggs to degenerate and be reabsorbed, leading to fewer available eggs for ovulation.
5. Acupuncture modulates sympathetic nervous system activity and improves blood flow to the uterus.
The sympathetic nervous system is in charge of your fight-or-flight response and regulates the automatic functioning of your heartbeat, breathing, etc. The sympathetic nervous system works in close conjunction with the parasympathetic nervous system to create homeostasis, or balance, within the nervous system and whole body.
When the sympathetic nervous system becomes overactive from chronic stress or trauma, it can cause insulin resistance. And insulin resistance, as we read above, can inhibit ovulation.
There are many more reasons to use acupuncture for PCOS: stress relief, pain relief (these women often have painful menstraul periods), excessive menstrual bleeding, and more. If you haven't tried acupuncture yet, I strongly encourage you to give it a try. I have seen so many women benefit and have the baby of their dreams, and you could be one of them.
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