Acupuncture: How does it regulate menstrual cycle and hormones

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Acupuncture and the menstrual cycle

Acupuncture can help women who suffer from the all too common, irregular menstrual cycle, including anovulation (failure to ovulate) and PCOS by helping correct hormonal imbalances.  Research shows that acupuncture can influence hormonal secretion from the pituitary, hypothalamus, thyroid, adrenals and ovaries. Specific acupuncture treatments are directed at each phase of the menstrual cycle in order to regulate the menstrual cycle, reproductive hormones and any underlying imbalances.

Research has shown acupuncture is able to normalise the dysfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis which is responsible for regulating reproductive hormones.  It is thought that it acts by normalising the secretion of hormones such as GnRH, LH and E2 (Oestrogen). Acupuncture has also been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, and promote blood flow to the uterus and ovaries.  The exact mechanism is not understood however it has been suggested that certain effects of acupuncture are mediated through endogenous opioid peptides in the central nervous system, particularly endorphins.  Various studies have now shown that individual acupuncture points cause unique responses and acupuncture point specificity is the key to clinical outcomes.

Acupuncture looks to re-establish a natural rhythm of the menstrual cycle and treating any underlying imbalances according to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine, the foundation of acupuncture theory) differential diagnosis . Treatments are not focused on balancing hormones as such, even though studies show the direct effects acupuncture has their regulation and normalisation.  The cycle is traditionally broken down into four distinct phases: menstrual, follicular, ovulation and luteal phases.Weekly treatments are are not only directed at underlying imbalances but to coincide with the specific physiological changes of each of the phases of the cycle:

PHASE 1: Menstruation (Day 1-5):Day 1 of the cycle is marked by full flow of blood (not spotting), the shedding of lining of the uterus (endometrium). The pituitary signals for the production of the hormones FSH and LH to stimulate growth of new follicles (eggs).  Acupuncture treatment during this phase is focused on moving blood to ensure the lining built up from the previous month is fully shed. Treatment during this phase also helps in the reduction of cramping and clotting.
PHASE 2: Follicular Phase (Day 6 - pre-ovulation):Oestrogen builds during this phase of the cycle. The increase in oestrogen thickens the lining of the uterus and increases cervical fluid.  Acupuncture treatment during this phase is focused on improving uterine and ovarian blood flow to aid follicular development, the thickening of the endometrial lining and increase cervical mucous.
PHASE 3: Ovulation:
The release of an egg from the dominant follicle is triggered by a surge in the hormone LH. The cervix is open and fertile "egg-white" cervical mucus increases just before ovulation occurs.  Acupuncture treatment during this phase is focused on helping the release of the ovum.

PHASE 4: Luteal Phase (Post Ovulation):
Progesterone increases in this phase of the cycle and is secreted from the corpus luteum.  Progesterone is responsible for the increase in body temperature at this stage. The egg travels down the fallopian tube into the uterus after ovulation. If fertilization has occurred the embryo will hopefully implant in the uterus. Acupuncture treatment during this phase is focused on assisting implantation and securing the embryo to prevent miscarriage

It can take three to six months for a cycle to regulate, and depends on underlying imbalances.  Ovulation disorders and PCOS require additional treatment in phase 2 (follicular phase) to help bring about an ovulation.  Generally electro-acupuncture is used during these treatments.

Dr Sharmaine Nicholson – Bump

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