Acupuncture & PCOS

By Lili Cai, Lic. M. Ac.
Co-Director of Acupuncture Services
The Domar Center for Mind/Body Health


I’ve seen quite a few PCOS patients seeking acupuncture treatment at the Domar Center while going though fertility treatment at Boston IVF.

PCOS (it’s believed that approximately 10% of women are sufferers) is a condition in which a women’s hormones are out of balance. Some of the symptoms: irregular menstrual bleeding, weight gain, acne, excess hair, and low energy level are easier to notice. However, more serious health consequences such as diabetes, hypertention, and hyperlipidemia might be involved and effect your fertility.

Acupuncture has been seen to profoundly effect the reproductive organs through mechanisms in the sympathetic nervous system, endocrine system, and neuroendocrine system. When needles are inserted into certain points and stimulated in a specific manner, it produces a neurological reflex transmitted to the organ correlated with that nerve pathway. For example, needles inserted into the leg muscles below the knee, lower back, or abdomen in specific regions cause a response which measurably affects the ovary. In addition, the nervous system will transmit a signal to the brain, and the brain then emits a response which affects the organ from a central mechanism. These effects have been investigated through measurements of hormones, neuropeptides, and circulatory changes on humans receiving acupuncture.

For treating people with PCOS, the main goal of acupuncture is to improve hemodynamics, or blood flow, to the ovaries and uterine lining. This is a very important part of the process because blood carries hormones, electrolytes, oxygen and nutrients to target tissue and upon its return, takes debris or dead cells away from the target tissue. Acupuncture enables an increase in the patency of blood flow to any tissue (any time, not just during the period of preparing for pregnancy) and this means a healthier tissue and a better performing organ system.

A study at Goteborg University in Sweden showed that acupuncture may help some PCOS women to ovulate. In this study, electro-acupuncture was used. Twenty-four women with PCOS and infrequent or absent periods were included in this study:  After 10-14 treatments for 2-3 months, nine women (38%) experienced regular ovulation. 

In another current study, published in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, a group of women with PCOS were given acupuncture where the needles were stimulated both manually and with a weak electric current at a low frequency that was, to some extent, similar to muscular work. A second group was instructed to exercise at least three times a week, while a third group acted as controls. All were given information on the importance of regular exercise and a healthy diet. Of the two treatments, the acupuncture proved more effective. Women with PCOS have a highly active sympathetic nervous system, the part that isn’t controlled by our will, and that both acupuncture and regular exercise reduced levels of activity in this system compared with the control group, which could be an explanation for the results. The study included 84 women aged 18 to 37 years with PCOS, for 16 weeks.

We usually recommend women with PCOS to start acupuncture treatment as soon as possible whether they are planning on starting fertility treatment  or if they are currently undergoing fertility treatment.  The duration of acupuncture treatment varies depending on the patient. Good luck, everyone!!

Source: Stener-Victorin E et al, Effects of electro-acupuncture on anovulation in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2000 Mar;79(3):180-8 Source: Paulus, WE et al, Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy, Fertility and Sterility, April 2002, 77(4):721-724

About Lili Cai, Lic. M.Ac.

 Before joining the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health, Lili received her medical degree from the Shanghai College of Traditional Medicine in 1983 and is a Diplomate in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology with the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists.

She has practiced traditional Chinese medicine in China and Japan. She provides services at the Chinese Natural Health Clinic in Brookline and is on staff at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston. She has taught at the Zhejiang College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and at the New England School of Acupuncture. Her expertise lies in the areas of fertility, gynecological conditions, chronic pain, and gastrointestinal problems.