Demystifying Acupuncture: How an ancient form of medicine can help you overcome PCOS
Guest post by Megan Joyce, LAc (FABORM)
You would have to be crazy to like needles. I know I don’t look forward to getting shots, or having my blood drawn. I believe I would be hard pressed to find anyone who would willingly get stuck with needles just for the fun of it. And yet, as a woman in my early twenties I was in bad shape, and at a point of desperation I did just that. I had terribly irregular periods, struggled with weight gain, had bouts of anxiety and depression, and my PMS… well, let’s just say it was bad. I had exhausted all of my resources from doctor’s visits to the birth control pill, medications for depression and regular visits to a psychologist. Feeling worse and worse I eventually broke down and tried acupuncture. I continued for a few months, and noticed my periods coming more regularly. I noticed less breast tenderness, less mood swings, and more energy. Before knowing the illness I was battling, I learned about the cure: Acupuncture. Six months after starting treatment I finally found an OBGyn who was able to give me a diagnosis: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
Since that day in 2001, I have become an Acupuncturist and have specialized in women’s reproductive issues, including PCOS. Over the last 13 years I have seen acupuncture be an essential part of treatment plans to effectively combat the endocrine disorder that now affects 1 in 10 women. During this time, we have also seen more fascinating research to explain why and how acupuncture can help PCOS. Recent studies comparing women who received acupuncture in their abdomen and ear had higher ovulation and pregnancy rates than their peers who received 5 days of clomid. The acupuncture group did not experience negative side effects such as ovarian hyperstimulation, headaches, nausea, or night sweats (Lim et al.). One might assume that the downside to acupuncture would be the pain of being stuck with multiple needles. This, however, is not the case. In acupuncture we use needles that are as thin as the hair on your head. We carefully insert the needles into special points on the body that can increase good-feeling endorphins and decrease the stress response. The stimulation of these points work to increase blood circulation throughout the body, but especially to the uterus and ovaries. The most common side effects that my patients report are better sleep, and increased feelings of wellbeing.
Another study of interest was performed on rats with polycystic ovaries. The researchers found that electroacupuncture helped to reduce circulating androgens, increase estrogen levels, and normalize the tissue of the outer layer of the ovaries, which is much thicker and more fibrous in the polycystic ovary (Sun et al.). Those positive effects can translate to normalized ovarian function and regulated hormone levels. “But what is electroacupuncture?” you may ask. Although it can sound a bit scary, the experience is actually quite pleasant. In this treatment, the acupuncture needles are connected to a gentle electrical current from a machine very similar to the TENS unit used in most physical therapy offices. This too, is not painful, but rather feels like a tapping sensation on the belly. The stimulation of the ovaries in this way causes the breakdown of the thick thecal layer, allowing for ovulation to occur more easily. As well, enzymatic changes occur in the blood allowing for the increased conversion of testosterone to estrogen, helping to increase fertility and decrease hair growth and acne.
For those of you who may still be a bit apprehensive about trying acupuncture, I would encourage you to do some research into the acupuncturists working near you. It is best to work with someone who is relatively close by, as treatment is most effective when done on a regular basis. I recommend finding an Acupuncturist who is certified by the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine (www.aborm.org), ensuring a higher level of knowledge and expertise in women’s health issues. I personally have found it useful to get to know my patients a bit before they commit to a round of treatment. When there is trust and mutual understanding, the patient and practitioner can have a better experience and improved treatment outcomes. So don’t feel shy about going and meeting with an acupuncturist to get a feel for his or her energy. Do you feel calm in that person’s presence, or a bit nervous? These are just some of the things to consider when incorporating acupuncture into a holistic approach to overcoming PCOS.
Sun, J., J. M. Zhao, R. Ji, H. R. Liu, Y. Shi, and C. L. Jin. “[Effects of electroacupuncture of” Guanyuan”(CV 4)-” Zhongji”(CV 3) on ovarian P450 arom and P450c 17alpha expression and relevant sex hormone levels in rats with polycystic ovary syndrome].” Zhen ci yan jiu= Acupuncture research/[Zhongguo yi xue ke xue yuan Yi xue qing bao yan jiu suo bian ji] 38, no. 6 (2013): 465-472.
Lim, CE, Wong WS. “Current evidence of acupuncture on polycystic ovarian syndrome”. Gynecology Endocrinoly. 2010 Jun;26(6):473-8.
Megan Joyce, LAc (FABORM) is an Acupuncturist, philanthropist, and women’s health warrior. She is a co-founder of the One World Health Project, which serves underserved communities to increase education and access to alternative medicine. Her passion is helping women make peace with PCOS. You can contact Megan at http://www.joycewellness.com/