Electro-acupuncture can have a very powerful effect upon PCOS symptoms achieving the same results as regular aerobic exercise but with even greater success according to a Swedish study. While this is not an invitation to abandon your exercise routine, for some women exercise - however intensive - is not enough to address their PCOS. Electro-acupuncture can help such women significantly and when exercise is continued alongside acupuncture even greater success might be expected.
This novel study (1) compared the effect of regular low-frequency electro-acupuncture treatments to regular exercise to see which was more effective in treating women with PCOS. The end goal of the study was to increase the frequency of menstruation and decrease androgen levels.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), is the most common endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age and often causes infertility; PCOS is characterized by high levels of male hormones such as testosterone and DHEA (hyperandrogenism) and irregular or absent menstruation (oligo/amenorrhea). Ultrasound examination often reveals ovaries covered in multiple small cysts (polycystic ovaries) and in some women glucose / insulin imbalances are evident from blood tests.
The study randomized 84 women with PCOS - aged between 18 and 37 years - to receive 16 weeks of a specific low-frequency electro-acupuncture treatment, regular physical exercise, or no intervention at all.
After sixteen weeks of acupuncture treatment testosterone levels fell by 25%, other androgens such as androsterone glucuronide fell by 30%, and levels of androstane-3α,17β-diol-3-glucuronide - another androgen - fell by 28%. In the acupuncture group menstrual frequency increased significantly, more than doubling from 0.28/month at baseline to 0.69/month after treatment.
At the 16-week follow-up acne scores decreased by 32% in the electro-acupuncture group. In both the acupuncture and exercise groups there was improved menstrual frequency and decreased levels of several sex steroids both at the end of the treatment phase, and at the 16-week follow-up when compared with no intervention. The researchers concluded that:
"Low-frequency EA and physical exercise improved hyperandrogenism and menstrual frequency more effectively than no intervention in women with PCOS."
"Low-frequency EA was superior to physical exercise and may be useful for treating hyperandrogenism and oligo/amenorrhea."
If you would like to receive this kind of acupuncture treatment for PCOS you will need to find an acupuncture fertility specialist who is familiar with the specific treatment protocol used in the study. You could choose an ABORM (American Board Of Reproductive Medicine) acupuncturist or other practitioner who genuinely specializes in fertility.
Don't forget that while this study shows that acupuncture can achieve many of the benefits of regular exercise, combining this treatment *with* exercise may give even greater benefits to women trying to conceive.
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1. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Jan;300(1):E37-45. Epub 2010 Oct 13.
Impact of electro-acupuncture and physical exercise on hyperandrogenism and oligo/amenorrhea in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Jedel E, Labrie F, Odén A, Holm G, Nilsson L, Janson PO, Lind AK, Ohlsson C, Stener-Victorin E.