A very indepth scientific study was published by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Sweden (2000). It was entitled ‘Effects of electro-acupuncture on anovulation in women with polycystic ovary syndrome’. You will find a link to this paper at the bottom of this page. However, I will extract the important aspects of the paper here.
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common hormonal disorder that affects fertility. It is commonly treated with anti-oestrogenic drugs such as Clomid (clomiphene citrate). These drugs are very effective, but do have side-effects such as nausea, multiple birth, and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. In addition, long-term usage of Clomid can have an adverse effect on fertility. It can cause drying up of fertile mucus and thinning of the uterine lining.
Acupuncture can be a viable alternative to stimulating ovulation, and this paper investigates this subject. The mechanisms of polycystic ovary syndrome are not well understood and there is still disagreement whether the primary cause of this condition is located in the ovaries or the central nervous system. This Swedish research paper explains two hypotheses. One involves heightened sympathetic nerve activity in the ovaries, and the other involves insufficient ‘central beta-endorphin inhibition of a hormone called gonadotrophin releasing hormone’. Interestingly, acupuncture can influence both of these systems.
24 women with polycystic ovary syndrome participated in the study. Many parameters were measured to see what effect acupuncture would have on circulating sex hormones, and ovulation. None of the women were taking any hormonal treatment. Acupuncture treatment was given twice weekly for two weeks, and then weekly, for a total of 10-14 acupuncture treatments per person. Some points had electro-acupuncture (this is similar to a TENS machine, but using needles instead of pads), other points were manually simulated to give a sensation (tingling, achy, heaviness, etc.).
There were some very interesting findings from this paper. Of the 24 women, nine experienced a good effect (38%) and fifteen had no effect (62%). A good effect was defined as repeated ovulation (or pregnancy) during the treatment period, and in the following 3 months after acupuncture treatment. Within this group of nine good-responders, there was an increase from 4 to 31 ovulations in the period during and after acupuncture treatment.
This paper looked at this group of nine good-responders and found the following characteristics:-
Compared to the group of women with no effect, the good-responders and a significantly lower BMI (Body Mass Index).
The good-responders were less androgenic (i.e. had less hormones that create male characteristics) and had less pronounced metabolic disturbances
Two women from the group of nine good-responders showed a disappearance of the multifollicular pattern of the polycystic ovaries when ultrasound pictures were taken of the ovaries (three months after treatment).
In severe Polycystic Ovary Syndrome there is a high ration of the hormones LH (luteinizing hormone) and FSH (Folliclar Stimulating Hormone), and high concentrations of testosterone and beta-endorphins. These markers decreased significantly following electro-acupuncture. It is thus possible that additional treatments would result in an overall higher success rate (i.e. include the women with more pronounced metabolic disturbances).
Inducing ovulation by acupuncture does not cause serious side-effects or multiple pregnancies and is a viable alternative to drugs such as Clomid.
Seven out of the nine good-responders were Clomid resistant. Acupuncture may serve as an alternative to second line therapies (ovarian drilling and sex hormone treatment) to induce ovulation.
The best results were obtained in women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome who have minor metabolic disturbance.
More prolonged treatment may increase the overall success rate, to include the more difficult cases.
To read the whole research paper, click here.
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