For those who haven’t tried it, the thought of acupuncture can be daunting. Beginners, perhaps working on a poor understanding of Eastern medicine, tend to imagine lots of needles and expensive treatments. Additionally, many may be skeptical of the myriad problems that acupuncture is supposed to solve.
Admittedly, I was one of those skeptics. In March, I was officially diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a chronic condition (and quite common) hormonal disorder. In my case, I suffer from prolonged periods. My doctor gave me advice on how to manage my atypical menstrual cycle, but everything seemed so generic: I was told to step up my exercise routine and given information on what foods to eat. and what to avoid, as well as a list of supplements to take. But the more I read about PCOS and the more I talked with other people diagnosed, the more I realized that no two cases were the same. Some women did not menstruate at all; meanwhile mine lasted over 15 days with continuous bleeding. How could the treatment be the same for all of us?
It was then that I decided to look into a more personalized treatment. Enter: acupuncture.
“Most people assume acupuncture is just for pain management because there have been so many studies on how acupuncture improves joint pain, muscle pain, and arthritis,” Pema Chen, BAC, DACM [Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine]a third-generation traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, says BAZAAR.com. “However, acupuncture acts to regulate imbalances in the body, including at the hormonal level.”
I decided to explore TCM, realizing that it was a more versatile approach encompassing acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition, and exercise. I knew there had to be a reason why the 3,000-year-old practice of acupuncture was gaining traction in our wellness-obsessed world.
Find a personalized treatment
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my practice, it’s that there is no such thing as a typical PCOS patient,” Lisa Mascall, CDMA, tell me. “Some may have irregular cycles and have insulin resistance – therefore difficulty losing weight – but have clear, beautiful skin. Another may have regular cycles, severe acne and unruly hair growth. ” Patients with PCOS may have one or a combination of these symptoms, so the approach to treatment must be highly specialized.
At Mascall’s clinic, she does a comprehensive initial consultation that gets to the heart of the symptoms that make up each patient’s own version of PCOS. The treatment, which includes acupuncture and herbal medicine, is then geared towards the needs of the patient. Mascall worked as a physiotherapist before changing careers after becoming dissatisfied with Western medicine, which she felt did not treat the body as a whole. Today, her work merges what she learned from modern Western medicine with ancient Eastern traditional medicine and philosophies.
She says some of the misconceptions about acupuncture and TCM are beginning to disappear. “Often people think that if acupuncture actually worked, modern medicine would know and use it, but modern medicine is starting to see the benefits of acupuncture and herbal medicine,” Mascall says. “One of the ways you see this is with the ‘integrative medicine’ centers popping up all over the place.” Unknown? “Integrative medicine is a combination of what we call medicine (commonly known as western medicine) and acupuncture (eastern medicine),” says Mascall, adding, “Together they can work very well.”
Treating my PCOS with acupuncture
To start my journey, I booked an experience at ORAan acupuncture oasis founded by entrepreneur Kimberly Ross in 2020, whose mission is to bring traditional TCM techniques into a spa-like experience.
I visited the Upper East Side site in New York (there are also spots downtown and in Bridgehampton). It really felt like a luxury spa, with a soothing aesthetic world away from the noisy city streets. My appointment was the last of the day, at 7pm, the perfect way to end a long day at work. I started with a 65-minute introductory session, which costs $145 at ORA. (ORA accepts HSA insurance; many other acupuncture practices also accept insurance.)
Personalization was also immediately apparent, with time spent going over my medical history, discussing my goals, as well as what to expect. “We see people individually. Personalized treatment, whether it’s acupuncture, herbs, or a combination of Chinese medicine methods, is created for each person’s unique needs and conditions,” said said Gabriel Sher, director of acupuncture at ORA. Many traditional acupuncturists, like Dr Shaobai Wang“begin each session with a reading of the tongue, feel the patient’s pulse, then move on to the history of his problem”, in order to determine the course of treatment.
I walked into the ORA room out of fear of needles, but left feeling the opposite. As I lay on my stomach with the lower half of my body covered with a warm blanket, the acupuncturist gently inserted hair-thin needles into my back. I felt a quick tingling sensation that dissipated within seconds. The needles were so small they twisted when touched – I could barely feel them. I felt them even less on areas with thicker skin, like the stomach and back.
Understanding exactly how PCOS can be treated with acupuncture, Sher explained how the practice can stimulate blood flow to reproductive organs, balance hormones, regulate menstrual cycles, and normalize systems that regulate ovulation, especially useful for women with PCOS. The purpose of the needles is to stimulate points to help the body’s natural healing processes.
The post-acupuncture experience was subtle but noticeable. I felt relaxed, yet more confident that I had found an experience that took my diagnosis seriously and would create a personalized treatment for me. I will continue to seek MCT treatment as it has been recommended to do six to 10 sessions for my PCOS.
Combine acupuncture with herbal medicine
It is important to note that TCM goes beyond acupuncture, with particular emphasis on herbal medicine. Consider acupuncture and herbal medicine as a whole, coming together to correct your body’s root dysfunction. “When you approach a syndrome as complex as PCOS, a multi-faceted approach is the only way to treat it successfully,” says Mascall. “Usually when someone talks about acupuncture, they’re just talking about inserting tiny needles into various places on the body, but some people forget or even don’t know that herbal medicine is an important part of this ancient practice. “
It turns out that my original doctor’s advice also matched what TCM practitioners say: exercise and nutrition also play a role. (Remember: a multi-faceted approach.) “For many women with PCOS, it’s important to make sure your BMI is at a healthy level with a nutritious diet and exercise,” Chen says. . “Insulin resistance is a common problem in people with PCOS. It can be exacerbated by overconsumption of sugar. Exercise will also help reduce stress hormones, which can suppress menstruation.”
Sher also describes the “Famous Chinese Medicine Formula,” a herbal blend used for irregular cycles. Called Yin Qiao San, it is said to help regulate hormones and blood flow, as well as balance emotions. (Note that herbs are not prescribed for women undergoing fertility treatments. Before taking any herbs, be sure to tell your GP.)
When asked why acupuncture finally became mainstream in the United States, Wang replied simply, “It’s effective.” With practices in New York and Long Island, Wang came to the United States 31 years ago as a visiting professor at Columbia University Medical School. “Traditional Chinese Medicine has been practiced in China for over three thousand years. In fact, in Oriental Medicine, TCM is not an ‘alternative’ but a default treatment.”
I will have to do six to 10 sessions to find out what kind of impact TCM can really have over too long a period. But what I know now is that the whole process gave me hope. It made me feel like someone is taking my diagnosis seriously. And it gives me new confidence to know that I have a plan created just for me, with three millennia of practice to back it up.
Disclaimer: Contact your doctor when seeking treatment for PCOS.
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