Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), one of the most common endocrine (hormone) disorders, affects approximately 10 million women of all races and ethnic groups worldwide. It’s the leading cause of infertility in women and can present at any life stage – from puberty through post-menopause. Most women with PCOS will have cysts on the ovaries, but as many as 30% of women will not have cysts.
Symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Women with PCOS experience an array of symptoms, including:
• irregular menstrual cycles
• pelvic pain with or without periods
• mood swings, depression or anxiety
• thinning hair on the head
• excessive body hair (hirsutism)
• fatigue and sleep problems
Because of the wide range of PCOS symptoms, fewer than 50% of women are properly diagnosed. Too often women simply accept the discomfort and don’t inform their doctors until symptoms are at their worst. Even then, they are often misdiagnosed because so many of the symptoms can be attributed to other causes. Another reason for missed diagnosis is that PCOS has long been believed to be present only in obese women; we now know that it can affect women of any body weight including those who are normal or even underweight. Additionally, PCOS can present differently based on life stage, genetics, ethnicity, age and environmental and lifestyle factors such as self-care, exercise, and eating habits.
Causes of PCOS
Obesity and insulin resistance are health issues that are linked to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and both affect hormonal function in the body. Insulin resistance relates to problems with regulating insulin, a hormone that allows the body to properly use glucose (blood sugar) for energy. When the body isn’t as responsive to insulin as it needs to be, too much of it circulates in the blood and can cause a hormone imbalance.
Another problem associated with PCOS is a rise in high muscle sympathetic nerve activity. This constricts the body’s blood vessels, which can increase a woman’s chances of developing diabetes and high blood pressure, two key contributors to heart attack or stroke.
Dr. Samuel Thatcher, an early pioneer in Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) research and treatment, was among the first clinicians to advocate for a holistic approach to PCOS treatment. With the goal of enhancing a woman’s quality of life, holistic health practitioners perform a thorough lifestyle assessment, blood tests, and dietary analysis. They then educate and guide women in using natural approaches to manage and heal from PCOS, such as:
• Lifestyle Improvements.
A whole foods diet, exercise, stress management, and proper rest are essential to PCOS treatment. These approaches can create a positive shift in blood sugar level, mood, and body weight. Approaches will differ based on a woman’s stage of life and complexity of symptoms.
• Supplement Support.
Some of the herbs and nutrition supplements that may be used for PCOS aim to balance blood sugar level as well as hormones. These can include Nettle Root, Green Tea, Flax Seeds, Saw Palmetto, Licorice Root, Chaste Tree Extract, Trace Minerals, Vitamin D3, and Chromium.
Many women with PCOS have resorted to taking a variety of medications to ease their symptoms. While these can be helpful, their side effects (malaise, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea) can be annoying. This has caused some women to turn to alternative medicine. Chief among these is acupuncture, which helps women with PCOS regulate and manage their periods. Acupuncture has also helped reduce headaches and improve mood and outlook.
A study conducted by Swedish researches at the University of Gothenburg, found that exercise and electro-acupuncture treatments could reduce some symptoms of PCOS. Swedish researchers were looking for a long-lasting treatment for PCOS without adverse side effects. During the 16-week study, nine women with an average age of 30 years underwent 14 acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture was applied to the abdominal muscles and back of the knee, points associated with the ovaries. The needles in the abdomen and leg were stimulated with a low-frequency electrical charge–enough to stimulate muscle contractions without resulting in pain or discomfort. The study found that the electro-acupuncture treatments led to more regular menstrual cycles, reduced testosterone levels and reduced waist circumference (but no drop in body mass index or weight). The authors noted that their study had some limitations, including a small sample size.