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Natural Approach to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

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Updated April 27, 2013

What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (also referred to as "polycystic ovarian syndrome" or "polycystic ovary disease") is a condition that causes numerous small cysts to develop in the ovaries. The most common hormonal disorder for women of childbearing age, polycystic ovary syndrome can lead to infertility in some cases.

Causes of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

In women with polycystic ovary syndrome, a disruption in hormone cycles inhibits the development of eggs in the ovaries. When the eggs fail to fully mature, they form ovarian cysts.

Women with polycystic ovary syndrome tend to have abnormally high levels of male hormones (called androgens). Although scientists have yet to determine what causes this hormonal imbalance, it appears that excess levels of insulin (the hormone responsible for permitting cells to use blood sugar for energy) may cause your ovaries to overproduce androgrens.

Women with a family history of polycystic ovary syndrome are at an increased risk for the disease. About half the women with polycystic ovary syndrome are obese.

Symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

In many cases, symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome develop soon after females first begin menstruating. However, the condition can also develop during the reproductive years, especially after a significant weight gain.

Signs of polycystic ovary syndrome include:

  • irregular periods (including infrequent menstruation or prolonged periods)
  • excess facial and body hair
  • severe acne
  • decreased breast size
  • infertility
  • Treatment for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

    Since polycystic ovary syndrome can lead to a number of serious complications (including increased risk of endometrial cancer, infertility, high blood pressure, and diabetes), it's important to consult your doctor if you experience any symptoms of the disease.

    Standard medical treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome includes the use of birth control pills and clomiphene citrate (to promote the production of hormones that cause eggs to mature).

    For overweight women with polycystic ovary syndrome, weight loss is typically recommended to help reduce insulin resistance and promote ovulation. Getting regular exercise may also help decrease insulin resistance.

    Natural Remedies for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

    Research on the use of alternative medicine in treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome is very limited. Here's a look at natural therapies thought to improve the condition:

    1) Acupuncture

    In a 2009 study of 20 women with polycystic ovary syndrome, researchers found that 16 weeks of electro-acupuncture treatments resulted in more regular menstrual cycles and lower levels of male hormones. Electro-acupuncture (in which needles are attached to a device that produces continuous electric impulses, and then placed at certain points on the patient's body) may calm nerve activity, which in turn might improve insulin resistance, according to the study's authors.

    2) Chinese Herbs

    Preliminary research suggests that herbal formulas used in traditional Chinese medicine (including shakuyaku-kanzo-to, changbudodam-tang, and yongdamsagan-tang) may be useful in the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome. A study published in 2009 also suggests that acupuncture combined with Chinese herbal medicine may be more beneficial than herbs alone in treating the condition.

    Sources:

    Lee JC, Pak SC, Lee SH, Lim SC, Bai YH, Jin CS, Kim JS, Na CS, Bae CS, Oh KS, Choi BC. "The effect of herbal medicine on nerve growth factor in estradiol valerate-induced polycystic ovaries in rats." Am J Chin Med. 2003;31(6):885-95.

    Shi Y, Feng HJ, Liu HR, Zhu D. "Observation on therapeutic effect of acupuncture combined with chinese herbs on polycystic ovary syndrome of kidney deficiency and phlegm stasis type." Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2009 29(2):99-102.

    Stener-Victorin E, Jedel E, Janson PO, Sverrisdottir YB. "Low-frequency electroacupuncture and physical exercise decrease high muscle sympathetic nerve activity in polycystic ovary syndrome." Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2009 297(2):R387-95.

    Takahashi K, Kitao M. "Effect of TJ-68 (shakuyaku-kanzo-to) on polycystic ovarian disease." Int J Fertil Menopausal Stud. 1994 39(2):69-76.

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