A Chinese Medicine Perspective On Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

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Approximately 10% of all child-bearing women suffer from PCOS, making it one of the most common hormonal endocrine diseases. The disease cannot be cured but it can be treated by managing hormones and insulin resistance. Methods of treatment available include hormonal treatments or alternative methods such as acupuncture and herbs, however lifestyle changes are also very important.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can be described as a disease where the ovaries become enlarged as they contain multiple cystic follicles, which are immature ovarian follicles. Hence the name ‘polycystic’, meaning many cysts. The imbalance between the hormones, luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone, prevents the ovaries from releasing an egg each month. Because of this the ova do not mature, leaving many follicles that are not completely developed. There is therefore often a problem with ovulation as these immature follicles never develop to ovulation.  Furthermore, there is a disbalance in the amount of male hormones and female hormones where the androgen male hormones are dominant. 

The Causes and Symptoms

The underlaying cause of PCOS is in fact not known although it has been suggested that it may be a metabolic problem, caused by excessive insulin, which might boost androgen production in the ovaries. It may also be hereditary, as up to 24% of women who have PCOS have a mother with the disease. 

Some of the symptoms of PCOS include depression, weight gain, increased acne and hair as well as irregular periods. It can also cause infertility and as my speciality is in infertility, this is where I tend to see women coming for help. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs help to regulate hormones and treat the other symptoms associated with PCOS. As the menstrual cycle is disrupted the menstrual bleed is often abnormal, with long cycles, fewer than 8 cycles in a year, no bleeding for more than 4 months and/or prolonged periods. Acupuncture and herbs can help to regulate the period, the hormones and address any other problematic symptoms. 

Chinese Medicine 

From a Chinese point of view the organ most effected is the Kidneys as they are responsible for reproduction as well as Jing (Essence). The excessive mucous and thickened cysts translate into damp/phlegm or Qi (Energy) and Blood stagnation. For Kidney deficiency, the therapist can prescribe Er Xian Tang or You Gui Wan. For Qi and Blood Stagnation, use the herbal formula Feng Er Zhu Wan or Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang or for Damp Phlegm accumulation, use Cang Fu Dao Tan Tang or San Ling Jian. Formulas however are patent formulas and should be modified to suit the patient.

Changing Your Lifestyle

From a lifestyle point of view patients can do a lot for themselves. Physical movement and weight control are very important as well as stress management. I also recommend to my patients that they reduce the intake of fatty, cold raw foods, dairy products and simple carbohydrates as well as drinking alcohol. If the patient chooses hormonal treatment, then yearly pelvic exams are recommended. Dealing with stress is also an important point to take into consideration when looking at lifestyle. It can further worsen the hormonal and metabolic imbalance as well as cause inflammation in the body which will ultimately exasperate the symptoms of PCOS.

Foods I do recommend include unrefined, unprocessed foods, foods high in fibre, dark leafy greens, fish which are high in omega 3, like salmon, sardines, tuna and mackerel. Also add foods which are anti-inflammatory such as blueberries, strawberries, cherries, oranges and olive oil. 

I have treated many women with PCOS against the symptoms and in particular for infertility. As it tends to be a multi-faceted disease it is not something where you will see results overnight, however, I have helped many women with PCOS become pregnant and with lifestyle changes you will be able to live with the disease as well as have a family. 

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