Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex metabolic and endocrinological disorder that causes reproductive problems for many women. It manifests differently in various women with no uniform etiology, so it is often difficult to diagnose. In general, it is characterized by at least 2 of the following symptoms:
- Polycystic ovaries visible via ultrasound
- Disordered hormone signaling, causing oligomenorrhea (fewer than 6 menstrual periods per year) or anovulation.
- Elevated androgen levels causing inflammation (i.e. acne breakouts, hirsutism)
- Insulin resistance
Chinese Medicine Approach
To put it simply, PCOS is characterized by improper hormone signaling, insulin resistance, and inflammation. There are several diagnosis patterns associated with this in TCM, but in order to avoid confusion, I won't list them here.
When the feedback loop between your brain and ovaries is flowing smoothly, you have a regular menstrual cycle. Disruption in any part of this feedback loop leads to disruption in the entire reproductive cycle. Think of your body as a car engine: you need various parts to balance each other and keep the engine running smoothly. If the coolant is leaking, then your engine overheats. Similarly, in TCM, disruption in the feedback loop can be caused by a deficiency elsewhere in the body, or stagnation of Qi in certain meridians.
Today, the standard treatments for PCOS are hormonal birth control and Metformin to control blood sugar. If a woman is trying to conceive, Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) with hormonal drugs to induce ovulation is recommended, and the pregnancy is closely monitored. There is no other treatment in allopathic medicine.
Acupuncture and herbal medicine can help your body correct its hormonal imbalance by replenishing Qi, Blood, Yin, or Yang wherever it is deficient, and by moving Qi stagnation where it's stuck. Treatments aim to "clear Heat" in order to reduce inflammation (i.e. acne breakouts, abnormal body hair, excess sweating, etc.). Since insulin resistance is such a huge component of PCOS, treatments also focus on improving digestion and balancing blood sugar levels. Eventually, as hormone levels normalize, your cycle will become more regular, and ovulation will be more predictable. If your goal is to get pregnant and start a family, a healthy feedback loop is especially important to reduce your risk of miscarriage.
Basal Body Temperature (BBT) charting can help us identify which phase in your cycle the imbalance is. It isn't as daunting as it sounds - thanks to modern technology, there are free apps you can use!
Did You Know...
- PCOS is the most common cause of anovulatory infertility.
- It its the #1 reproductive endocrinology disorder worldwide.
- You don't need to have polycystic ovaries to be diagnosed with PCOS.
- Women with PCOS face a higher risk of miscarriage .
- Menstrual dysfunction occurs in about 75% of PCOS cases.
- PCOS is associated with insulin resistance. While its cause or effect relationship varied from woman to woman, studies show that controlling blood glucose levels have a positive impact on correcting hormone imbalances.