Acupuncture helps ease polycystic ovary symptoms

Acupuncture can help ease symptoms in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a difficult-to-treat hormonal condition affecting about one in 10 women of childbearing age, a small new study shows.

Women with PCOS have high levels of testosterone and other “male hormones,” cysts on their ovaries, irregular menstruation, and fertility problems, along with symptoms like excessive facial and body hair and acne. At present, Dr. Elisabet Stener-Victorin of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden told Reuters Health, PCOS treatments are focused on symptoms, and frequently involve hormones.

Stener-Victorin and her colleagues’ study was based on the idea that women with the condition have overactive sympathetic nervous systems, which are responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response. Reducing this activity - which has been linked to heart disease and a diabetes-like condition that is seen in women with PCOS - would help their symptoms, they figured.

The researchers assigned 20 women with PCOS to receive acupuncture for 16 weeks; to do activity that would bring their pulse up to 120 beats per minute for 30 to 45 minutes, at least 3 days a week, also for 16 weeks; or to a control group that received information on healthy diet and exercise but weren’t instructed to change their habits.

Women in the acupuncture group received 14 treatments in all, with needles inserted at points in their abdomen and the back of their knees that delivered a low-frequency electrical charge.

The results appear in the American Journal of Physiology. Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, published online of June 3.

After 16 weeks, sympathetic nervous system activity in the muscles was significantly lower in the acupuncture and the exercise groups compared to the control group. The exercisers lost weight, but the acupuncture group did not.

However, the acupuncture group did see a reduction in their waist size that didn’t occur among the exercisers. The women who received acupuncture also had a reduction in menstrual irregularities and a drop in their testosterone levels, neither of which was seen in the exercise group.

The current report is part of a larger study of 74 women, and Stener-Victorin and her team are currently conducting a more extensive analysis of the effects of acupuncture treatment on PCOS symptoms in these women, including whether it improves their quality of life.

Women with PCOS might want to see if acupuncture can help them, the researcher suggested. “There were no side effects with acupuncture. If you go on hormonal stimulation, there is always side effects,” she said. “It’s a safe treatment with few complications, so it might be worth giving it a try.”

Three or four months of treatment should be long enough to see if the treatment is helpful, Stener-Victorin added.

SOURCE: Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol, online June 3, 2009.

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