Welcome to the PCOS Party!
Published 12th January 2024
Welcome to the magical world of PCOS – where all your hormones like to get together and have a wild party with sugar and stress to create an unpredictable journey of ovulation – Sounds like fun doesn’t it?!
Well not quite! Not so pleasant to experience, especially if you are trying to get pregnant. But a fascinating syndrome to watch and learn about. And I’ll let you into a little secret, PCOS patients are one of my favourites to work with. Their symptoms are easily measured, so I can see that we are improving them – and they tend to react quickly to the treatments. Usually ovulation returns regularly following a treatment plan of 2 acupuncture treatments per month, plus changes to the diet and lifestyle if necessary.
PCOS has lots of little quirks with various symptoms, not all of which are present in each case. Some ladies have been diagnosed in their early teens, and some are still struggling to get a diagnosis even when their symptoms are extreme.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, commonly known as PCOS, is a hormonal disorder involving oestrogen, insulin, adrenalin and testosterone. This imbalance in reproductive hormones can lead to a variety of symptoms and health issues, but is only usually treated in the UK if fertility is affected.
The Signs and Symptoms of PCOS
The symptoms of PCOS can vary widely from one woman to another, making it a somewhat challenging condition to diagnose. However, there are several common signs that women should be aware of:
1. Irregular Menstrual Cycles: One of the most common signs of PCOS is irregular or prolonged menstrual cycles. This irregularity can range from infrequent periods (fewer than eight in a year) to prolonged periods or even a complete absence of menstruation. However, it is more than possible to have regular periods – every 26-32 days and have PCOS.
2. Excessive Androgen Levels: High levels of male hormones, known as androgens, are another hallmark of PCOS. This can lead to physical signs such as excessive facial and body hair (hirsutism), severe acne, and sometimes male-pattern baldness. A higher than average testosterone level plus irregular cycles can often be the basis from which a diagnosis is made.
3. Polycystic Ovaries: As the name suggests, PCOS often involves the development of numerous small, fluid-filled sacs (cysts) in the ovaries. These cysts can cause the ovaries to enlarge and fail to function regularly.
4. Weight Gain and Difficulty Losing Weight. Many women with PCOS experience weight gain, particularly around the waist. This can be accompanied by difficulty in losing weight, despite efforts through diet and exercise. This is the typical description of a PCOS patient, however I often see women who have PCOS and are the opposite – lean, thin, struggling to put weight on despite eating loads. Quite often these women are anxious type personalities. If you are slim, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have PCOS.
5. Insulin Resistance: A significant number of women with PCOS have insulin resistance, meaning their bodies can’t use insulin effectively. This can lead to higher blood sugar levels and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Adopting a sugar free and gluten free diet is highly recommended.
6. Struggling to conceive: PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility in women due to the impact on ovulation. However, this is more than possible to overcome. Some women I see have been told that they are infertile because of PCOS, this is simply not true. It is common for women with PCOS to react strongly to fertility drugs such as clomid and can often overstimulate if doing IVF. There are often loads of eggs, it’s just a case of eliminating the cysts so they can pop out.
7. Emotional and Mental Health Concerns. Women with PCOS may be more prone to experience emotional and mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and mood swings, partially due to the hormonal imbalances and the stress of dealing with chronic symptoms. Please don’t be afraid to ask for help – your GP is a good place to start to discuss mental health worries.
As you can see from the chart, there are quite a lot of interactions taking place in a PCOS patient. The body’s difficulty in regulating the blood sugar levels, because of a resistance to insulin, causes an imbalance of the androgen (male) hormones. Both the increase in blood sugar (which causes weight gain – which then makes the insulin resistance worse) – and the increase in androgens – create a situation in which ovulation is difficult.
With any complex hormone interactions, the solution is not straight forward either. Metformin is a medication often given to women with PCOS as it helps with the insulin resistance. However, studies have shown that metformin has a 57% success rate in achieving ovulation. This % is lower than the success rate of the combination of exercise, low GL diet and weight loss. Inositol is a supplement typically used by body builders, but can also be effective at balancing blood sugars.
PCOS is a condition that a patient has for life, so whilst metformin and clomid are temporary medications which can be prescribed for fertility, they are not long term solutions and nor do they reduce the chances of miscarriage.
By the age of 40, 40% of women with PCOS will develop type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is an extremely serious disease, with 80% of people dying from it. So for long term health, a low GL diet, exercise and healthy weight are much preferable choices.
I know that this is not always great news to hear, as for many people, diet and weight are difficult subjects to tackle. But in my clinic, I see huge improvements in health, weight and ovulation when patients adopt a gluten free, dairy free, sugar free (and don’t forget alcohol and caffeine) diet. It can sound extreme, but once your fridge and cupboards have been stocked with the new products, it can be simple to stick to.
The TCM approach
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, PCOS is known as a cold, damp condition. The excess damp contributes to the cyst formation as the body is not warm enough (yang deficient) to transform the damp. Quite often, PCOS patients will record quite cold temperatures when tracking BMT for ovulation – around 35 ish degrees centigrade.
In my clinic, I use a combination of points to nourish the Kidney Yang, the Spleen and transform the damp. There are various treatment strategies which can help to
- Start ovulation when it has stopped completely or periods are more than 3 months apart
- Regulate ovulation if periods are coming but erratically
- Maintain ovulation once it has been established and is regular.
I also recommend that patients follow the diet and exercise recommendations mentioned earlier. But also making sure that all food is warm, nothing cold straight out of the fridge or freezer. Ideally incorporating Chicken bone broth 3-4 times a week.
If you’d like to have a chat about how Acupuncture can help you with PCOS, I offer clinic appointments in Wilmslow, Cheshire or online zoom consultations which can be booked via the website.