September is PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) Awareness Month. To help us all become more aware of this disorder, Caroline Jung, Dipl. Ac., MSOM, one of our acupuncturists and a women’s health specialist at Tiffani Kim Institute, has this message about what PCOS is and how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can effectively treat PCOS.
To begin, I’m going to explain PCOS, which can be a mysterious disorder to us because it doesn’t have a definitive cause. PCOS is polycystic ovarian syndrome, which is a hormonal disorder that can cause a variety of symptoms for women. The symptoms include hirsutism (excessive hair growth on the face, chest, abdomen), hair loss (male pattern baldness), acne, polycystic ovaries, obesity and infertility. Most often, symptoms first appear during adolescence, around the start of menstruation. However, some women do not develop symptoms until they are into their 20s. PCOS is the most common hormonal problem for women of childbearing age, affecting 5-10 percent of women during this time in life. Although PCOS presents early in life, it persists through and beyond a woman’s reproductive years.
Along with the symptoms mentioned above, PCOS can lead to other health issues later in life such as insulin resistance, diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease and endometrial cancer. A PCOS presentation can vary from woman to woman so it can be difficult to universally define it – however, it’s clear that all women affected with PCOS do have irregular and unpredictable ovulation patterns. It’s also clear they produce excess amounts of androgens (testosterone).
The hormone imbalance seen with PCOS includes several hormones, FSH (Follicle-stimulating hormone), LH (Luteinizing hormone), thyroid, and androgens (testosterone). It’s not yet completely understood why or how the changes in the hormone levels occur. PCOS develops when the ovaries overproduce the androgens. An overproduction of androgens can result from an overproduction of LH, which is produced by the pituitary gland.
Although it’s not completely understood what exactly causes PCOS, there are a few key factors that can play a role:
- Excess insulin
- Low-grade inflammation
- Abnormal fetal development
Testing used to determine PCOS includes a physical exam, pelvic ultrasound, and bloodwork. Treatment for PCOS includes medications to help regulate the menstrual cycle and ovulation and the reduction of excessive hair growth, and surgery, which is sometimes an option.
When we look at PCOS from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, we look at where the energetic ‘qi’ imbalance is stemming from. This is how we form a diagnosis and treatment plan. In TCM, disorder arises from excess and deficiency of the qi in our bodies. Our qi runs through the energy channels along our bodies. PCOS can result from imbalances in various channels:
- Our kidney channel, which can have a ‘yang’ deficiency.
- Our spleen channel, which will have more of a excess of damp pathogen.
- Our liver channel, which can have a blood stasis pattern.
These energy imbalances can be seen as cystic ovaries, irregular menses, infertility, hirsutism and abdominal discomfort.
Once we have determined where the imbalances of qi are, we can create a treatment plan. PCOS is effectively treated by using a variety of therapies. These include:
- Chinese herbs
- Regular exercise
- Specific food plans
- Adequate quality rest
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs work in similar fashion to treat PCOS and all of its symptoms. By using acupuncture and herbs to balance the qi that is affected by PCOS, these treatments will help to regulate the hormones that are out of balance with a PCOS presentation.
A study published in 2008 demonstrates the effectiveness of electro-acupuncture and exercise on PCOS. The study results showed a difference in adipose levels and insulin resistance after using electro-acupuncture and exercise together.
A typical TCM treatment plan for PCOS may include weekly acupuncture treatments for several months or even longer. It depends on each individual patient, her specific symptoms, how long she has been affected by PCOS, and other factors as well. We have seen wonderful results with using acupuncture and herbs to treat PCOS by helping to regulate the hormones—a healthy and happy mind, body and spirit!
A note from Tiffani Kim: In honor of PCOS Awareness month, we’re offering a special PCOS workshop with Dr. Eve Feinberg, a reproductive endocrinologist at Fertility Centers of Illinois on Monday, September 9, from 6-7:30PM. Seats are limited and RSVP is required. Please visit tiffanikiminstitute.com for more information.