Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – also called hyperandrogenic anovulation and Stein–Leventhal syndrome – is hormonal imbalance affecting women and is one of the leading causes of infertility and subfertility.
There are different types of PCOS presentation, however, following are some of the most common symptoms associated with PCOS:
- Infrequent, delayed or no periods
- Facial and body acne
- Excess facial and body hair
- Thinning hair or male-patterned baldness
- Cystic ovaries –
- Patches of thick, dark-colored skin on the neck, arms, breasts and thighs
- Skin tags
- Sleep apnea
- Depression or anxiety
- Insulin resistance or even diabetes
Polycystic ovary syndrome symptoms often begin soon after a woman first begins having periods (menarche), but it can also develop later in life during the reproductive years often in response to substantial weight gain.
PCOS has many symptoms all of which can worsen with obesity. That said, every woman will present a little differently depending on other health factors.
To be diagnosed with the condition, we look for at least two of the following:
- Irregular periods. This is the most common characteristic. Periods (cycles) can be nonexistent (anovulation), infrequent (8 cycles or less each year) or delayed (cycle length of 35 days or longer).
- Excess androgens (male hormones). High levels of androgens can lead to poor quality egg maturation, a less receptive uterus making embryo implantation difficult and increasing risk of miscarriages, can play a role in blocking the release of the egg from the follicle leading to anovulation or delayed ovulation, and can lead to excels facial and body hair, acne and male pattern baldness.
- Polycystic ovaries. This refers to when the ovaries become enlarged with numerous small fluid-filled sacs surrounding immature eggs.
PCOS can often be associated with:
- Excess insulin. Insulin is the hormone produced by the pancreas that helps your cells receive glucose (a sugar) so they can produce your body’s basic energy supply, ATP. If you have insulin resistance, your ability to use insulin effectively is impaired, and your pancreas has to secrete more insulin to make glucose available to cells. Excess insulin can affect the ovaries by increasing androgen production which may interfere with the ovaries’ ability to ovulate and lead to acne and excessive hair growth.
- Low-grade inflammation. Inflammation can be described as your body’s white blood cells producing substances to fight infection or to assist healing injuries, that leads to swelling. It has been shown that women with PCOS have low-grade inflammation and this can stimulate polycystic ovaries to produce androgens which again may interfere with the ovaries’ ability to ovulate.
- Heredity. If your mother or sister has PCOS, you might have a greater chance of having it too which means it may be genetic.
- Environmental pollutants. These can behave as endocrine disrupters in the body causing dysfunctional follicles in the ovaries.
I have met women who have been diagnosed with unexplained infertility but actually have a form of PCOS. They were misdiagnosed because they didn’t have the most visible symptoms of hair growth, acne and weight gain. Thin patients and others without these classic symptoms can have PCOS as well which is why it is best to test for excess androgens.
If you have been diagnosed with PCOS by your medial doctor and you are planning to have a baby or simply would like to manage your symptoms more effectively to lessen the lasting effects of a hormonal imbalance, make an appointment at AcuPlus today. We can support you to help you balance your hormones and to increase your chances of conceiving naturally, and most importantly, having a healthy pregnancy and baby.
PCOS Holistic Treatments
PCOS can be successfully treated using Chinese medicine. You want a healthy baby, but to do so you need to healthy yourself first and then have a healthy pregnancy.
We use a natural approach to restore ovulation and balance hormones so if you choose ovulation drugs or IVF then you have a higher chance of better egg quality and a uterine environment to support an on going pregnancy and a healthy baby and mom.
PCOS not only affects your fertility, but also can pose risks to both you and a developing baby. Chronic high insulin is a known cause of infertility and subfertility and can contribute to miscarriage risk. When pregnant, women with PCOS are also at higher risk of developing issues such as:
- Increased incidence of Diabetes Type II
- Gestational diabetes (diabetes only during pregnancy)
- Increased risk of heart disease
- High triglycerides
- Low bone density
- Excessive weight gain during pregnancy
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension
- Preeclampsia (condition during pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure, sometimes with fluid retention and protein in the urine)
- ‘Big Babies’ often leading to recommendation for C-section
For all of the above reasons, it is highly recommended to take a few months for Pre Conception health care before you plan to conceive either naturally or with ART procedures. If you can improve your health first, your chances of conception will increase and risks to a baby lessen.
It is common for women with PCOS to restore their ovulation and conceive naturally without ART procedures.
Pre Conception health care at AcuPlus includes:
- Review of any western medical fertility tests
- Option for additional functional medicine testing to assess reproductive hormones
- Acupuncture to increase blood flow to the uterus and ovaries, and to stimulate ovulation
- Nutritional supplementation
- Herbal formulas catered to your individual TCM diagnosis
- Dietary therapy
- Exercise suggestions
- Stress reduction techniques
Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
Acupuncture and herbal medicine are the main therapies for regulating hormones in PCOS patients. As with all Chinese medical treatments though, the recommended treatment protocol will be based on your individual TCM diagnosis as not all patients diagnosed with PCOS will be treated the same.
- Anovuation (no ovulation) – In general, acupuncture once a week is useful especially when combined with herbal therapy.
- Infrequent Cycles – Treatment timing depends on when you last experienced a cycle.
- Delayed ovulation – When ovulation occurs late in a cycle, acupuncture is done twice a week during the first two to three weeks after menstruation begins, then once a week during the rest of the cycle. The intention here is to normalise the cycle length as soon as possible.
Within two months of treatment you will likely begin to notice positive changes, such as increased mid-month vaginal discharge and normalization of your BBT Charts indicating ovulation, changes in how you experience your menstrual cycle, and improvement in mental health and many physical symptoms.
Nutrition & Diet
If you are overweight and have PCOS, losing even 5-10% of your body weight can help you restore your menstrual periods and reduce symptoms such as excess facial hair and acne. Studies have shown that a low glycemic diet combined with exercise is more powerful than drugs like Metformin in reversing pre-diabetes and improving insulin sensitivity.
General PCOS Diet Tips:
- Eat low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates such as vegetables and whole grains. It is very important for women with PCOS to avoid refined carbohydrates such as sugar, flour of any kind, and products made from them (e.g. pasta, breads, muffins, and bagel).
- Keep your blood sugar stable with a daily schedule of meals and snacks every 3-5 hours that includes some protein and good fats (for example, some nuts/nut butter, seeds/seed butter, hardboiled egg, hummus dip).
- Eat at least seven servings a day of vegetables, including two of leafy greens.
- Have a daily serving of legumes such as beans or lentils.
- Restrict your fruit intake and replace with berries which have a lower glycemic impact. If you do eat fruit, include it as part of a meal or with a protein laden food.
- Limit or eliminate milk and dairy as these can aggravate internal dampness.
- Keep portion sizes small in order to moderate glucose load and minimize insulin resistance.
*More detailed diet tips are given to you based on your individual TCM diagnosis.
Exercise and reducing the impacts of stress are very important for managing PCOS symptoms. It is generally recommended to do activities that get your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes three to six days a week. There are many ways to reduce stress and induce deep relaxation into your daily life including: journaling, listen to relaxing music, practicing meditation techniques, practicing gentle yoga and spending time in nature. Ultimately, to prepare your body to be a Happy Nest for a developing baby, you first have to prioritise your own health and well being. With a desire to become healthier and with us as your motivators, you can make significant progress in as little as three months to reduce the effects of PCOS that took many years to develop.