How can acupuncture help with PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is an endocrine (hormonal) disorder and is diagnosed if a woman has two of the three following criteria

1. Delayed or no ovulation and/or menstruation
2. High levels of androgenic hormones (i.e. testosterone and DHEA-S)
3. Polycystic ovaries on ultrasound
(Rotterdam 2003)

It’s important to know that there is a wide range of severity of the condition- some patients with PCOS have only slightly irregular periods as the only obvious symptom, while others may have never before gotten a period on their own and have every other symptom such as obesity, excess hair and acne.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

• Insulin resistance resulting in the body being unable to process sugars and carbohydrates
• Irregular or no menstrual cycle
• Hair loss
• Hirsuitism
• Acne
• Weight gain and an inability to loose weight
• Tiredness
• Difficulties getting pregnant
• Mood changes
• High cholesterol
• Heart Disease
• Infertility
• Increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes

How is PCOS treated?

Often really badly! Many women turn to alternative therapies as a last ditch, desperate attempt to do something that will help. Many report being misunderstood by GPs and doctors, with the overwhelming advice being “loose weight”, “go on the pill” or “ it will be better once you’ve had children”. For many, as discussed above, this is so frustrating as they find it impossible to loose weight and many have tried every diet going. Taking the pill can be good in the short term, in that a regular cycle can be induced, but ultimately it will not be addressing the underlying causes and in fact when it is stopped it will be probably be worse. Finally having a child is not so easy when you’re not ovulating or infrequently ovulation with no idea when this is occurring. So many women with PCOS come for acupuncture feeling at a loss as to what they can do, often thinking this is the way their body and their life is always going to be.

How can acupuncture help PCOS?

Scientific reviews have found that acupuncture can increase blood flow to the ovaries, reducing the number of ovarian cysts; it can help the body increase insulin sensitivity and improve the endocrine and metabolic function of patients.
Alongside acupuncture the correct diet and exercise are key to successful treatment. Studies have show that a reduction in 5 to 10% weight in overweight patients can help reduce the number of cysts and help promote a normal ovulation.

But the right diet is essential and this is one that is low in carbohydrate and sugar, the complete opposite of what women with PCOS usually crave. For many women who are overweight and have PCOS every day is a continual battle against hunger. The need for carbohydrates can be overwhelming and although women know this is not really what they should be eating they cannot resist. Women then blame themselves, feel they should have more will power, more self control, but in fact it is their biology that it working against them, making it impossible to make better choices. Everyone is saying if you loose weight you’ll feel better and the PCOS will right itself. However this is a PCOS trap. Because PCOS means the endocrine and metabolic systems are out of whack. It is highly likely that alongside insulin resistance and an inability to regulate blood sugar levels, there is also too much leptin. Too much leptin means the brain becomes desensitised to hunger signals, therefore it can feel like you are starving and the brain is telling you to eat more and store more fat, it’s screaming for carbs and sugar. Nobody’s will power can over ride this. It is estimated that up to 20% of women in the UK are affected by PCOS and it is one of the main causes for infertility. Of those women up to 50% are considered to be overweight.Here Nutritionist Kirsty Harrison outlines a brief description of the best advice on how women with PCOS should approach eating (without dieting!).

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