PCOS and Chinese Medicine

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

PCOS and Chinese Medicine, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CA

What Is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine and metabolic disorder that affects your ovaries and impacts just about every area of your body and your life. It is characterized by irregular or no periods, enlarged ovaries filled with many small cysts, excess hair growth, acne, and often obesity.

PCOS can start as early as puberty. It affects 5-10% of women of reproductive age and is responsible for 70% of infertility in women who have difficulty ovulating. Women with PCOS have a higher incidence of gestational diabetes, miscarriages, preterm deliveries, and stillbirths. According to some studies, if a mother has PCOS, there is a 50% chance that her daughter will have PCOS too. PCOS often resolves itself as women get closer to menopause.

PCOS is associated with “metabolic syndrome,” a cluster of conditions – increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels – that when occurring together, increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. PCOS also increases your risk of endometrial cancer. Early diagnosis and lifestyle changes can help you lower all these risk factors and live a happy, healthier life.

What Causes PCOS?

PCOS is due to an imbalance of hormones, which cause your ovaries to build up too much male hormones (androgens), resulting in a lack of ovulation. It tends to run in families and is often associated with obesity and insulin resistance, although some women may be lean. It may be triggered by exposure to pesticides and environmental toxins, such as dioxin and other xenoestrogens, or hormone disrupters found in food, beauty and cleaning products, and plastics.

You May Have PCOS if You Have...

  • irregular or absent menstrual periods
  • multiple cysts on your ovaries in a "string of pearls” pattern
  • excess hair growth on your face and body
  • acne
  • heavy bleeding
  • weight gain or obesity
  • difficulty losing weight
  • infertility
  • insulin resistance
  • type 2 diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • high cholesterol
  • darkened patches of skin or skin tags
  • thinning hair or male pattern baldness
  • fatigue
  • bloating
  • suppressed immune system
  • inflammation
  • decreased sex drive high
  • levels of testosterone

How Is PCOS Diagnosed?

To be diagnosed with PCOS using the Rotterdam criteria, you must have 2 of the 3 following symptoms: irregular or absent periods, excess androgens, and polycystic ovaries.

How Does Conventional Medicine Treat PCOS?

Although there is no known cure, PCOS is most often treated with hormones, drugs, diet and exercise, or surgery. Just a 5% drop in weight can lead to normal ovulation. Either electrolysis or laser hair removal is used if you have excess hair growth.

How Can Chinese Medicine Treat PCOS?

Chinese medicine can be very successful in restoring hormonal balance and ovulation in PCOS.

  • Acupuncture reduces appetite, improves metabolism, regulates hormonal balance, improves blood flow, reduces inflammation, and restores healthy body functioning.
  • Chinese herbs reduce fluid, break up stagnation, and resolve underlying patterns of disharmony.
  • Dietary and lifestyle changes stabilize blood sugar, calm the adrenals, and support the body’s innate healing wisdom.

How Can You Help Yourself?

  • An anti-inflammatory diet, rich in vegetables to help the body metabolize hormones and normalize elimination.
  • Reduce alcohol and avoid caffeine, soy, flax, legumes, sugar, wheat, gluten, corn, and vegetable oils. Add fish oils, coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, fish, grass-fed meats, and pastured eggs. Add non-dairy fermented foods, such as sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables and/or probiotics.
  • Cut out all forms of refined sugar and carbohydrates: white bread, pasta, white rice, rice cakes, most breakfast cereals, and all starchy, low-fiber foods. Avoid soda, fruit juice, and sweeteners. Limit fruit to one piece per day.
  • No cold, frozen, or raw food or drinks.
  • Moderate exercise to improve blood flow, reduce blood sugar, reduce inflammation, increase endorphins, reduce pain, and improve mood. Avoid swimming and yoga inversions during your period.
  • Regular weekly acupuncture treatment
  • Chinese herbs prescribed by a licensed herbalist
  • Bedtime by 10 pm, turning off screens 1/2 hour before bed. Sleep at least 8-9 hrs.
  • Drink at least 3 liters of water a day.
  • Use a warm castor oil pack on your lower abdomen to activate blood circulation, support the lymphatic system, and balance hormone levels. You can do this 2 to 3 times daily when pre-menstrual and during your period.
  • Maintain a positive attitude – your body is amazing and knows how to heal with just a little help!