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Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs for PCOS


Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine disorder among female in reproductive age. The name of the condition comes from the appearance of numerous small cysts along the outer edge of each ovary and enlarged ovaries. In PCOS, the eggs in these follicles do not mature and are not released from the ovaries; instead, they can form very small cysts in the ovary.

Women are usually diagnosed when in their 20s or 30s, but PCOS may also affect teenage girls. The symptoms often begin when a girl's periods start. Women with this disorder often have a mother or sister who has symptoms similar to those of PCOS. The main features are obesity, anovulation or amenorrhea, acne, and excessive hair growth. It is thought to be one of the leading causes of female infertility.



In TCM, development of PCOS is attributed to deficiency of Kidney Yang and to Phlegm-Damp accumulation. The kidney is the organ system that is regarded with any genetic disorder and considered the root cause of PCOS. Long-term Kidney Yang deficiency is often accompanied with deficiency of Spleen which fails to perform its function of transforming and transporting fluids in the lower abdomen leading to damp- phlegm accumulation. It is Phlegm-Dampness that causes the formation of small cysts in the ovaries, while the deficiency of Kidney Yang leads to irregular menstruation, amenorrhea, or infertility. In many cases, there is also Qi (vital enegy of the body) and Blood Stagnation.

The factors that may cause PCOS are:

  • Congenital weakness, early marriage and/or excessive sexual activity consuming the Kidney Qi
  • Excessive consumption of greasy and rich food or improper dietary habits impairing of the spleen and stomach function and producing phlegm-dampness
  • Emotional stress or retention of the blood after delivery developing stagnation of Liver Qi as well as blood stasis
  • Internal heat / fire from prolonged stagnation leading to disharmony between Qi and Blood

TCM treatment for PCOS

TCM treatment for PCOS mainly concentrates on nourishing the kidney; strengthening the spleen to regulate Qi and resolve phlegm; soothing the liver to relieve depression and reduce fire; and promoting blood circulation to resolve stasis and regulate menstruation. Treatment can be modified to address underlying imbalance of each patient.



Acupuncture for PCOS

Acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for PCOS. Acupuncture treatments can help regulate menstruation and relieve symptoms of PCOS by increasing blood flow to the ovaries, promoting the proper functioning of the reproductive organs, and contributing to normalizing hormone levels. Additionally, acupuncture treatments can assist in weight loss and help with hyperglycaemia through increasing insulin sensitivity and decreasing blood glucose and insulin levels, and reducing cortisol levels.

Studies have found that acupuncture and low frequency electro-acupuncture affect PCOS symptoms and regulate ovulation via modulation of endogenous regulatory systems, including the sympathetic nervous system, the endocrine system and the neuroendocrine system.1

Several studies showed that acupuncture significantly increases β-endorphin levels for periods up to 24 hour and may have regulatory effect on FSH, LH and androgen. β-endorphin increased levels secondary to acupuncture affects the hyperthalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis through promoting the release of ACTH through stimulation of its precursor pro-opiomelanocortin synthesis.2


Chinese Herbal Medicine

For most gynecological disorders, Chinese herbal medicines are recommended to increase the effect of acupuncture treatments and to correct imbalance of the body. Each patient will receive different herbal formulas according to the constitution and presenting signs and symptoms of PCOS.

According to the research result analyzing 125 clinical trials of using Chinese herbal medicine for treatment of PCOS, either alone (54 studies) or in combination with conventional drugs (71 studies), majority of the identified trials reported promising effects of Chinese herbal medicine. Potential mechanism of herbal medicine in PCOS may be related to regulation of hormones such as LH, FSH, estrogen and testosterone.3


Nutritional Advice

Because of the insulin resistance and impaired glucose metabolism found in PCOS, nutritional modification is necessary in preventing and treating signs and symptoms of PCOS. The best natural management for insulin resistance and impaired glucose metabolism is to lower the level of sugar intake from the diet, and eliminate the ingestion of any food substance that the body can utilizes as simple sugar. It is also important to eat regularly to moderate glucose load and minimize insulin resistance; having small meals, including some protein and good fat, every 3-5 hours is recommended.


What to Eat
  • More vegetables, fruits, whole grains
    These foods have low glycemic index (GI) and rich in fibers. Leafy greens, such as kale, broccoli, collard greens, bok choy, cabbage and rapini, contain indole-3 carbinol which helps the liver in regulating glucose and hormone metabolism. Fruits are lower on glycemic index and high in anti-oxidants. Whole grains, such as oat, barley, brown rice and quinoa, have complex carbohydrate which is more beneficial in stabilizing the blood glucose level.
  • Bitter melon, fenugreek, cinnamon
    They can help regulate blood glucose and reduce insulin resistance.
  • Legumes
    Beans, peas, lentils, and edamame are naturally low in fat and high in dietary fiber. They also are high in folate, phosphorus, potassium, iron, zinc, calcium, and selenium. Legumes have many of the B vitamins and are rich in antioxidants which can prevent cell damage.
  • Protein
    It is important to include adequate protein with every meal, by adding seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds. It is safe to have organic and grass-fed meat since it changes the fats from healthy omega 3 fats to omega 6’s when meat has been grain-fed.


What to Avoid
  • Refined carbohydrates
    The body immediately turns refined carbohydrates into glucose. Therefore, it is very important for women with PCOS to avoid refined carbohydrates to stabilize the blood glucose level. Foods with refined carbohydrate include: sugar (from soda, candy, syrup and artificial sweeteners), white flour and products made from them (pasta, breads, desserts, etc.), white rice, most breakfast cereals, rice cakes, and popcorn. Artificial sweeteners are shown to affect the insulin levels the same way sugar does.
  • Dairy products
    Milk and dairy products are considered as 'damp' foods in TCM and may exacerbate the problem. Try substituting unsweetened almond milk as an alternative to cow's milk.
  • Alcohol and Caffeine
    Excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption can impair the function of the liver in regulating glucose and hormone level.
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