Although the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, women with PCOS tend to have sustained, abnormally high activity of the sympathetic nervous system and tend to be insulin resistant. At CNY Healing Arts, we offer acupuncture, massage, herbs and supplements that when combined with lifestyle changes such as relaxation practices, a healthy diet and regular exercise help to regulate both sympathetic nervous system activities and blood sugar levels.
The sympathetic nervous system has many functions but is best known as being responsible for our stress response, our “fight or flight” mode, where blood flow is diverted to skeletal muscles and lungs to allow for quick response to a perceived threat. With this, blood flow is shifted away from other systems deemed unnecessary at the time, including our digestive, reproductive and immune systems. Also, the rush of adrenaline from the adrenal glands signals the body to release glucose into the bloodstream to allow for a quick supply of energy. The sympathetic nervous system, once activated, is slow to deactivate and return control of bodily systems to the parasympathetic system which operates under the familiar adage, “rest and digest.” In women with PCOS, chronically high blood levels of stress hormones cause imbalances of reproductive system hormones, or sex hormones, where excessive androgens are produced, most often cited is testosterone, and production of LH and FSH is stunted such that the ovaries do not produce mature eggs appropriately and multiple cysts result. The presence of these cysts leads to a failure of the release of mature follicles from the ovaries, or anovulation. With a lack of ovulation comes amenorrhea, or a failure to menstruate. Additionally, the constant presence of high levels of glucose in the bloodstream leads to insulin resistance as the cells’ receptors to insulin become desensitized as more and more insulin is released from the pancreas in an attempt to lower blood sugar levels by ushering glucose into cells for storage.
Infertility is common in women with PCOS due to a lack of ovulation, irregular menstrual cycles, and insulin resistance that often leads to weight gain. A Swedish study published in 2009 found that acupuncture reduced the stress response brought about by chronically triggered sympathetic nervous system activity and allowed the body to more easily remain in a state of relaxation. Reducing the chronic stress response leads to lower blood sugar levels and decreases insulin resistance which often allows for weight loss.
PCOS, in Chinese medicine, is often seen as a pattern that includes Kidney deficiency with blood and qi stagnation and excessive dampness. Those with a Kidney deficiency may experience fatigue and low back and/or knee pain. Qi and blood stagnation can be caused by stress and can lead to irregular menstruation and irritability. Excessive dampness is indicated by the presence of cysts and increased body weight. The herbal formula Feminine Care 2, carried at all CNY Healing Arts centers, treats this presentation and can be an important part of a treatment plan for correcting the imbalances seen with PCOS. Additionally, supplements such as zinc and Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus) can help to regulate reproductive hormone levels and encourage ovulation.
A holistic approach to the treatment of PCOS and its resultant infertility may include several therapies. At CNY Healing Arts, we offer many different services allowing you the tools to create a customized plan perfect for your particular healing and wellness needs. Acupuncture, massage, herbs and supplements can help to de-stress and regulate menstrual cycles. Nutritional counseling can help to outline a low-glycemic diet plan that will allow for more balanced blood sugar levels. Yoga classes offer the dual benefits of exercise and relaxation. And, support groups and counseling offer tools to deal with the emotional stressors involved in the struggle of infertility.
If you would like to learn more about the holistic approach to treating PCOS at CNY Healing Arts, please do not hesitate to call or set up a consult with one of our practitioners. And, as always, please speak with a trained herbalist before beginning any herbal or supplement regimen to avoid side effects and potential interactions with fertility medications.
Kari Gardner, L.Ac. MSAOM, HHP
Acupuncturist and Herbalist at CNY Healing Arts, Syracuse