One of my favorite systems in our wonderful bodies which I had the pleasure of studying was the endocrine system. Now, if you want to understand what it is; just imagine this scenario. Six or seven year old you, lost in a Costco that has no intercom system. Oh yea, and there are also no free samples. (Insert blood curdling scream). In a nutshell, the endocrine system is your body’s communication system. It’s how it communicates what needs to be done, integrating and controlling all the system’s unique and complex parts and also checking itself. Even your own system know’s no man should have all that power. (Yes, I’m a pre-breakdown Kanye fan).
There are times when that signaling can go wrong, and the body is receiving too many signals or not enough. Enter PCOS. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), also known as polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a health problem common to women between the ages of 18-44 caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones. The hormonal imbalance creates problems in the ovaries. The ovaries make the egg that is released each month as part of a healthy menstrual cycle. With PCOS, the egg may not develop as it should or it may not be released during ovulation as it should be.
PCOS can cause missed or irregular menstrual periods. Irregular periods can lead to:
- Infertility (inability to get pregnant). In fact, PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility in women.
- Development of cysts (small fluid-filled sacs) in the ovaries
Some of the more common symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular menstrual cycle. Women with PCOS may miss periods or have fewer periods (fewer than eight in a year). Or, their periods may come every 21 days or more often. Some women with PCOS stop having menstrual periods.
- Too much hair on the face, chin, or parts of the body where men usually have hair. This is called “hirsutism.” Hirsutism affects up to 70% of women with PCOS.
- Acne on the face, chest, and upper back
- Thinning hair or hair loss on the scalp; male-pattern baldness
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Darkening of skin, particularly along neck creases, in the groin, and underneath breasts
- Skin tags, which are small excess flaps of skin in the armpits or neck area
So why does it happen? As scientists, we really don’t understand what causes PCOS. However, we think several factors, including genetics, play a role. One theory is that your body, as a female, has basically OD’ed on androgens, which are sometimes called “male hormones.”
Although all women make small amounts of androgens, when their levels rise, that could spell complications. Androgens control the development of male traits, such as male-pattern baldness. Women with PCOS have more androgens than normal. Higher than normal androgen levels in women can prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation) during each menstrual cycle, and can cause extra hair growth and acne, two signs of PCOS.
Another theory is that if your body is not overdoing it on androgens, then it’s graduated to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that controls how the food you eat is changed into energy. Insulin resistance is when the body’s cells do not respond normally to insulin. As a result, your insulin blood levels become higher than normal. Many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, especially those who are overweight or obese, have unhealthy eating habits, do not get enough physical activity, and have a family history of diabetes (usually type 2 diabetes). Over time, insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments are popular with many women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). CAM treatments may include acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) herbs, and mindfulness practices such as meditation. Currently, acupuncture is the only CAM therapy that has been studied in clinical trials as treatment for PCOS or infertility. Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice that has been used for thousands of years to treat a wide range of illnesses.
During an acupuncture treatment, you will lie still on a table. A trained acupuncturist or TCM practitioner will insert fine needles into the skin or connective tissue just beneath the skin. The needles are left in the skin for up to 30 minutes. Different regions of the skin are targeted during acupuncture depending on the condition being treated. The practitioner may gently twist or move the needles. Heat or electricity may be applied to the needles. Acupuncture is usually painless. At this time, acupuncture is the only CAM therapy that has been studied in clinical trials as treatment for PCOS or infertility.
There are so many resources out there for women who suffer from PCOS, I encourage you to speak with your health care professional today about possible treatments, including acupuncture.
Until next time tribe,