Electro-Acupuncture May Help Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder in women of child-bearing age. It is typically indicated by an increased level of androgen hormones in the body, leading to disturbances and alterations in the menstrual cycle. Also the patients frequently have multiple cysts in their ovaries. A study was conducted to examine the effect of low-frequency electro-acupuncture (EA), as compared to that of exercise or no treatment at all, in decreasing androgen levels and improving oligo/amenorrhea (infrequent or no menstruation). It was found that low-frequency EA, as well as physical exercise, improved hyperandrogenism symptoms and menstruation more successfully than no therapy at all.

PCOS is an endocrine disorder where abnormally high levels of androgen hormones (mainly seen in normal healthy males) lead to physical characteristics similar to males, namely abnormal distribution of body hair on the face, chest and arms, or development of acne. Blood tests show high levels of androgen hormones, mainly testosterone or its precursor, as well as different by-products through breakdown of testosterone in such patients. Though medicines like oral-combined contraceptive pills are routinely used for the management of PCOS, lifestyle modifications in the form of diet control and physical exercise are also recommended for obese patients, as obesity is an independent risk factor for PCOS. Alternative therapies including acupuncture improve the ovulatory function of the diseased ovaries and increase the chances of conception. The authors, therefore, investigated whether acupuncture delivered by a low-frequency electric current would decrease the androgen levels, thereby improving the outcome more successfully than physical exercise or no active treatment in women suffering from PCOS.

* Women (18 to 37 years old) with polycystic ovaries (as diagnosed by ultrasound) together with either oligo/amenorrhea and/or clinical signs of hyperandrogenism (hirsutism or acne) were recruited for the study. Each participant underwent a 12-week observation period, followed by a baseline assessment (BMI, hyperandrogenism, presence of acne, endocrine hormonal analysis).
* The women were randomly divided into three groups: Low-frequency EA group, Physical Exercise group and Control group.
* The EA and physical exercise groups underwent sixteen weeks of corresponding intervention, either low-frequency EA or physical exercise. The control group underwent no active intervention for the sixteen-week period.
* Improvements were compared between the two interventional groups at weeks 16 and 32; comparisons were also made between the interventional groups and the control group, at the specified time periods.

Key findings
* At the end of the sixteenth week, significant improvement was observed in terms of better menstrual regularity, decreased level of male hormones, reduced number of acne breakouts etc., with low-frequency EA as compared to physical exercise.
* No difference was observed between the interventional groups, at a later follow-up (week 32).
* Both interventional groups showed significant improvement against control group (no active intervention) in symptoms and hormonal changes at both time periods, week 16 and 32.

As placebo effects could be anticipated with acupuncture studies, direct comparisons between acupuncture and standard treatment needs to be evaluated. Additionally, earlier studies have shown that acupuncture improves aerobic capacity and performance in athletes. Hence, a further study needs to validate the effect of EA and physical exercise versus physical exercise alone on PCOS symptoms.

In this study, electro-acupuncture delivered by low frequency current reduced androgens and acne and improved menstrual cycle disturbances in women with polycystic ovary syndrome more effectively than physical exercise. Interestingly, both low-frequency EA and physical exercise showed the improvement in hormonal levels as well as the physical changes, when compared with the no intervention group. This form of complementary medicine can therefore lead to a potential benefit, when combined with oral contraceptives. By combining the two different forms of treatment, greater results can be anticipated, whereby controlling the androgen levels effectively can lead to proper ovulation and chances of pregnancy.

For More Information:
Impact of Electro-Acupuncture and Physical Exercise on Hyperandrogenism and Oligo/Amenorrhea in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial
Publication Journal: American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism, January 2011
By Elizabeth Jedel; Fernand Labrie; Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden; Laval University Research Center in Molecular Endocrinology, Oncology and Human Genomics, CHUL Research Center, Quebec, Canada

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.
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