Acupuncture for fertility: PCOS, Two Patient Examples, & how Chinese Medicine Treated It
If you’re reading this post then you likely not only know what PCOS is, but you have it.
Your symptoms might include those I most typically see in my patients:
- no or very irregular periods
- no or infrequent signs of ovulation
- trouble losing weight
- increased male pattern hair growth
Many PCOS patients also have hypothyroidism, but discussing that is beyond the scope of this blog, so perhaps I’ll write about that in another post.
This post will go over two types of PCOS, how I address it in my clinic to help women get pregnant, and an overview of two recent typical PCOS fertility patient’s cases.
Both women ended up pregnant and the first recently gave birth, while the other just entered her 3rd trimester.
Typical vs. Atypical PCOS
Most women have the “typical” type of PCOS which goes hand in hand with metabolic disorder. These patients tend to be overweight and have blood sugar and insulin resistance issues. They often have a history of eating lots of processed carb-rich foods and infrequent or no exercise. Weirdly enough, these cases are often the easier type to treat.
I also see many women with atypical PCOS. These patients are actually often very thin, take stellar care of themselves and eat great. There is no metabolic dysfunction in these cases but they often have a confirmation of PCOS by Ultrasound showing the “string of pearls”.
Two PCOS fertility cases, their symptoms, treatment, and final pregnancy
(Keep in mind the explanation of this treatment process has been massively simplified for the sake of length as well as to keep it geared towards the general public with no Chinese medicine background. For anyone interested in looking at a PCOS case broken down in much more detail according to all the complex factors we were working on, check out this much more detailed blog post)
Patient symptoms and signs
- Approx 50 pounds overweight
- Excessive hair growth on her chin and neck
- 3 periods in the last year, which were extremely light flow. Finally came to me when it had been 5 months with no period.
- healthy weight
- no signs of increased male hormones
- 8 periods in the past 2 years since her son was born, and based on several months of taking her basal body temperatures (BBT), she never saw a pattern indicating normal hormone cycles or a temperature increase indicating ovulation. She finally gave up trying to track her temperatures after seeing no pattern at all. No period for a few months when she made her appointment to come in.
Acupuncture and herbal Treatment for PCOS
Before we look at these two women’s cases in more detail, let’s look at typical PCOS treatment in general.
Frequency of Acupuncture
I’ve discovered that for many PCOS patients who are rarely having periods at all, we can often get their cycles moving again by starting with a short period of very assertive acupuncture treatments. It’s like flipping a switch and turning things on again.
If patient’s schedules allow for it and they’re able to start out with maybe 4-5 weeks of twice/week acupuncture appointments, in many cases we’ve been able to get the ball rolling again and trigger a cycle to start.
Then, once the period comes we reduce to weekly appointments or whatever is appropriate to their case. During those first weeks I have them start taking their BBTs, which over time give us data to help us schedule treatments when they’re most needed, and will therefore be most beneficial. Every fertility patient also gets started on herbs as soon as possible.
This assertive treatment strategy doesn’t work in every case; some are certainly very stubborn.
So if we can’t get a period to come in those first several weeks with assertive treatment, then I expect we’re in for a longer haul and reduce the treatment schedule down to a more reasonable pace.
Which cases tend to be more stubborn, needing longer treatment for success?
The most stubborn PCOS cases I see are often the women who’ve been trying for several years to get pregnant, or who haven’t had a period for almost or more than a year. Patience is required in these cases! These patients often have to be on herbs for some months before we start seeing reliable periods and hormone cycles.
In cases where a woman needs to lose weight, this gives her time to do this as well. Even just a small 10% reduction in weight has been shown to dramatically increase the chances of success in PCOS patients with metabolic dysfunction.
My two PCOS patients
Let’s return now to these two women.
Since both patients hadn’t had periods for a long time, they both started at 2x/week acupuncture appointments.
After 4 weeks of 2x/week acupuncture and taking BBTs, there was no sign of a normal hormone cycle.
However, at the beginning, her temperatures started out wildly all over the place and by the end of the 4 weeks had dramatically stabilized. But there was no fertile mucous and no rise in her temperature indicating ovulation.
We knew the treatments were helping because of the improvement in her BBTs, but we decided to just put her on herbs and stop acupuncture until her first cycle came.
In this time she started dramatically lowering her carbs and was attempting to move towards a paleo direction.
5 weeks later she had her first period after starting treatment, and we resumed acupuncture, timing her treatments at specific phases of her cycle.
The next six months proceeded with her having periods every 6.5-7.5 weeks. Her BBTs steadily improved, and her fertile mucous began correlating much more closely with her rise in temperatures which were indicating she was ovulating.
She got pregnant the next month (after about 8 months of treatment) and had no problems with her pregnancy.
She got a period 3 weeks into the twice/week acupuncture treatment. Her BBTs started showing clear hormone cycles, but her follicular phase (the phase before ovulation) was way too long and it jumped all over the place. After she ovulated her temps would stabilize.
We continued to treat her with both herbs and acupuncture, scheduling almost all her appointments in her follicular phase. As the months progressed her follicular phase shortened.
After 5 months of regular acupuncture and herbs she got pregnant, and is due in a few months.
Summary of PCOS treatment
These cases are pretty typical of what PCOS treatment looks like in my clinic. The main variant being that it’s often the atypical type PCOS that can take longer.
Some PCOS cases take much longer than these two cases, and the shortest PCOS case is one I’m actually currently treating:
After not having a period for 8 months before coming to see me, she got pregnant the second month of treatment and just had her first ultrasound. They got a perfect heartbeat and the fetus measured 8 weeks. She’s still in her first trimester so we’re keeping our fingers crossed, but so far so good!
Do you have PCOS?
If you have PCOS and you’re not quite ready to jump into starting fertility treatment, but you want to take proactive steps now, you can do these things:
- If you have metabolic dysfunction, start reducing your carbs and work on a healthy, sustainable weight loss. Many of us in the fertility world are recommending not just paleo but a keto paleo lifestyle for women with PCOS/metabolic dysfunction. Of all the things you can do on your own, this could be the most powerful and effective.
- Start taking your BBT’s now. The more data we have as early as possible, the more precisely we can time your acupuncture appointments where they’ll be the most effective. Your BBT charts never tell us what your diagnosis is, but I definitely find them useful for giving me information I might not get by any other means. And the more months of data we have, the better we see trends, which are much more relevant than just one month. So, start now! Then if you do end up coming for treatment, you’ll have that data for me to add into the mix.
And if you feel ready to get going on treatment, you can use the button below to schedule an appointment.