What is PCOS?
PCOS stands for Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome and is one of the most common disorders of menses amongst Canadian women, as approximately 1.4 million women are affected. This is seen as a genetic disorder with symptoms of an irregular menstrual cycle and infertility caused by the inability to ovulate. Most women may not even know they have PCOS until they are diagnosed or begin the process of trying to conceive.
According to Western Medicine, most women who have PCOS will have one of the primary symptoms that are listed below:
Irregular or absence of menstrual periods
Excessive facial and body hair growth
Acne & skin problems
Male-pattern scalp hair thinning
Insulin resistance; higher risk of developing diabetes
Mood changes – Depression, anxiety, easily stressed out
Women with PCOS only get a few periods a year, typically fewer than 8 per year or have cycles that are more than 35 days and generally do not ovulate regularly. On an ultrasound, the ovaries will be packed full of immature follicles. Unfortunately, these follicles usually do not get big enough and mature enough and no egg will pop out of the ovary.
Phases of a Regular Menstrual Cycle
Phase 1: Blood
First day of full bleeding, not spotting. This means that the blood is now red in colour and no longer brown.
Old blood & lining is being pushed out.
It is common to experience: pain, cramping, breast distention, and blood clots. Clotted blood means that the blood is stuck an cannot be pushed out so it coagulates.
Treatment: In this phase, we aim to move and boost blood.
Phase 2: Yin
After your period, the endometrium lining has to be nourished since the old one has been shed.
Estrogen & nourishment are considered "Yin" in nature.
The bodies "Yin" will keep growing until ovulation happens.
Treatment: In this phase, we aim to nourish Yin.
Phase 3: Yang
This is when yin grows to the max and turns into yang when the egg pops out of the follicle.
Progesterone & BBT are considered "Yang" in nature.
If you get pregnant, the cycle will stay in Phase 3, if you do not get pregnant, the cycle will continue to phase 4 to prepare for the new cycle
In this phase, we aim to boost Yang.
Phase 4: Qi
Prepping for a new cycle.
In PCOS, irregular periods may be due to Qi (energy) deficiency. This means that there is no energy to push the blood out.
In this phase, we aim to boost or move Qi.
Q: Is it possible for ovulation not to occur at all?
A: Yes, but why?
There are two main reasons that ovulation may not occur:
Yin energy is not able to reach yang, Phase 2 to Phase 3, thus no ovulation.
Yang energy is too weak so the egg does not mature and/or cannot pop out of the follicle to be fertilized.
PCOS & Their Associated Organs: Deficient Organs That Cause PCOS
In TCM, the Kidneys are the powerhouse, which supply Qi to the body. The symptom of having irregular or absent menstrual periods, along with the absence of ovulation is considered a Kidney deficiency. This is the organ system that is responsible for genetic disorder, thus, considered the root cause in PCOS.
Foods to help balance your Kidneys:
Water, salted raw sauerkraut or kimchee (Korean cultured vegetables) black beans, kidney beans, blueberries, blackberries, mulberry, fish, shrimp, seaweeds,flax, pumpkins, sunflower, black sesame, walnuts and chestnuts
In TCM, the Spleen is the central organ for digestion and is responsible for transformation dn transportation of food. Therefore, the spleen is in charge of metabolizing vitamins and minerals from the food we eat, this can pose as a problem for those who have PCOS and that this function is unable to be properly carried out since the food is relative to those who experience insulin resistance.
Foods to help balance your Spleen:
Sesame, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, legumes, kidney beans, lightly cooked vegetables, small amounts of lean meats, figs, coconuts, grapes, cherries, dates, potatoes, sweet potatoes, brown rice, oats, rice, ginger, spring onions and pu'er tea
The less sugar, the better!
In TCM, we recognize the Liver as the organ that regulates the smooth flow of blood and Qi. The pattern of Blood Stagnation happens, when the Liver in unable to carry out its function. This is seen as a blockage as blood is what nourishes the body, hair and nails. When there is stasis, there is an abundance of blood that over nourishes the hair follicles and this is what creates coarse, unwanted hair. This is consistent with Hirsutism, which affects about 70% of women with PCOS.
Foods to help balance your Liver:
kale, collards, bok choy, nappa cabbage, watercress, mustard greens, leek, daikon tops, carrot tops, radish greens, turnip tops, dandelion greens, sprouts, mushrooms, beans, whole grains like brown rice, barley, millet, quinoa, spelt, kamut oats, avocado, banana, wheat berries, lemon, fatty fish, and nuts.
Treatment for PCOS
The main goal for treatment with PCOS is to improve fertility, leading to proper ovulation. During a treatment, we would address all three organs, the kidneys, spleen and liver to tackle all angles of possible deficiency. In addition to acupuncture, I use other modalities such as electro-acupuncture, moxibustion and herbs.
Supplements That Aid PCOS:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Omega 3
*please note that all mentioned supplements are simply suggestions, I by no means am prescribing any given herb; it is up to the reader to do their own research into supplements and to consult a TCMP or Naturopath to be prescribed herbal medication*