PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) is a complex endocrine disorder stemming from disordered hormone signaling. In a typical menstrual cycle, only enough hormones are made for one ovary to make a follicle which will then release an egg to be fertilized by sperm each month. In a case of polycystic ovary there’s a disruption in ovulation, where an abundance of follicles are produced each month without maturing or releasing an egg. The anovulation leads to a hormonal imbalance, with the progesterone levels abnormally low and androgen and estrogen levels too high, which along with the resulting irregular periods makes PCOS the most common reproductive endocrine disorder in the world, affecting as much as 10% of women of childbearing age.
Another major problem associated with PCOS is a rise in high muscle sympathetic nerve activity causing blood vessel constriction, and underlying insulin resistance leading to excessive insulin production or inability to utilize it correctly, significantly increasing the risk of developing high blood pressure or diabetes, two key contributors to heart attack or stroke. Other symptoms of PCOS include abnormal facial and body hair growth, acne and hair loss caused by elevated androgen hormones levels, ovarian cysts, increased rates of uterine cancer, depression, and excessive weight gain.
PCOS isn’t diagnosed by just one symptom or test, but rather by the presence of several signs and symptoms. Not all PCOS patients present with acne, excess body hair or obesity, and the main criteria for a PCOS diagnosis is excessively high levels of androgen hormones, such as testosterone and DHEA-S in conjunction with irregular periods or polycystic ovary seen on ultrasound. Many times a woman is first diagnosed with PCOS because she is unable to become pregnant due to lack of consistent ovulation. The high prevalence of PCOS and the severity of the health issues associated with the condition make timely diagnosis and treatment crucial.
The Western medical approach to PCOS typically involves pharmaceutical treatment to minimize symptoms by regulating insulin sensitivity and hormone function. To that effect, women are frequently prescribed oral contraceptives to artificially regulate cycles and reduce androgens, a drug called Metformin to reduce insulin resistance and increase ovulation, and statins to address high cholesterol. Many women are also given antiandrogen treatment such as spironolactone to lower testosterone in an attempt to control acne and excess hair growth. For those attempting to conceive, the treatment includes ovulation-inducing drugs, such as Clomid or injectable gonadotropins. Such approaches to treatment, however, is often associated with unwanted side effects and does not always prevent serious long-term health consequences.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy offer a safe and natural alternative approach to the treatment of PCOS. Regular acupuncture treatments and an herbal regimen can help calm the overactive sympathetic nervous system, control hormones, regulate menstrual periods and promote ovulation. Chinese Medicine is especially effective in its treatment of PCOS when combined with necessary modifications to diet and lifestyle.
The best natural approach to managing insulin resistance and impaired glucose metabolism is adopting a low glycemic index diet. This means cutting out refined sugar and carbohydrates, including white bread, pasta, potatoes, and white rice, avoiding dairy, sodas and fruit juice, and limiting alcohol and caffeine intake, making complex whole grains, organic proteins, healthy fats, fresh vegetables, and not-too-sweet fruits and berries the mainstay of your diet. This diet can help regulate blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity. Regular exercise is another key component to successfully managing PCOS.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy in conjunction with appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes have been proven to offer a viable, effective, drug-and side-effect free alternative to correcting imbalances at the root of PCOS, helping lower the insulin levels, regulate periods, promote ovulation, alleviate acne and hair loss, and other symptoms commonly associated with the condition.
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