Acupuncture and exercise can bring relief to women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), according to a new study.
Nearly 10pct of women of reproductive age suffer from PCOS. The syndrome expresses itself as a large number of small immature cysts on the ovaries that cause a disturbance in the production of hormones and an increase in the secretion of the male sex hormone.
Many women with the condition do not ovulate normally, and the syndrome may lead to infertility.
"We do not know for certain what causes the condition, despite it being so common. We have seen that women with the syndrome often have high activity in that part of the nervous system that we cannot consciously control, known as the 'sympathetic nervous system,'" said lead researcher Elisabet Stener-Victorin, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
"We believe that this may be an important underlying factor in the syndrome," she added.
During the study, one group of women with polycystic ovary syndrome received a specific type of acupuncture called "electro-acupuncture" for four months.
In this type of acupuncture, the needles are stimulated with a weak low-frequency electric current, similar to that developed during muscular work.
A second group of women were provided with heart rate monitors and instructed to exercise at least three times a week.
The study showed that activity in the sympathetic nervous system was lower in the women who received acupuncture and in those who took regular exercise than it was in the control group.
The acupuncture treatment brought further benefits.
"Those who received acupuncture found that their menstruation became more normal," she said.
"We could also see that their levels of testosterone became significantly lower, and this is an important observation, since elevated testosterone levels are closely connected with the increased activity in the sympathetic nervous system of women", she added.
The study appears in American Journal of Physiology - Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.