A Chinese study has found that a Chinese herbal formula compares favourably with drug therapy for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The formula was composed of Shu Di Huang (Radix Rehmanniae), Zhi Mu (Rhizoma Anemarrhenae), Yin Yang Huo (Herba Epimedii brevicornus), Huang Jing (Rhizoma Polygonati Sibirici), Dang Gui (Radix Angelicae sinensis), Tao Ren (Semen Persicae), Shi Chang Pu (Rhizoma Acori tatarinowii), Gui Jia (Carapax et Plastrum testudinis), Bu Gu Zhi (Fructus Psoraleae), Hu Zhang Gen (Radix Polygoni cuspidati) and Ma Bian Cao (Herba Verbenae officinalis). A total of 47 PCOS outpatients were randomly divided into three groups. Patients in group A were given herbal medicine, patients in group B were given metformin, and patients in group C were given Dianette (ethinyl estradiol plus cyproterone acetate, an oral contraceptive with anti-androgen activity). All were treated for three months. At the end of the treatment period, compared with pre-treatment data, group A patients showed decreased levels of serum testosterone (T) and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), and a reduction in free androgen index (FAI), fasting insulin (FINS) and ovarian volume. Their serum dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEA-S) levels also increased, while their fasting blood glucose (FPG) levels showed no significant change. Comparing the three groups, the effects of herbal medicine on hyperandrogenism were not as significant as Dianette, but more effective than metformin, and herbal medicine did not affect hyperinsulinaemia as much as metformin, but more than Dianette. The authors conclude that TCG can treat PCOS by regulating ovarian function and reducing blood insulin levels, without inhibiting the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis. (Efficacy of Chinese patent medicine Tian Gui Capsule in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Zhong Xi Yi fie He Xue Bao. 2011 Sep;9(9):965-72).

Low-frequency electro-acupuncture (EA) can improve hyperandrogenism and menstrual frequency in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), according to a Swedish study. Eighty-four women with PCOS were randomised to 16 weeks of low-frequency EA, physical exercise or no intervention. After 16 weeks of treatment, levels of circulating androgens were found to have decreased significantly in the EA group (testosterone -25%, androsterone glucuronide -30%, androstane-3a and 17(3-dio1-3glucuronide -28%). In addition, menstrual frequency in the EA group increased to 0.69 per month from 0.28 at baseline. After 16-weeks of follow-up, acne scores had decreased by 32% in the EA group. Both EA and exercise improved menstrual frequency and decreased androgen levels at week 16 and at 16-week follow-up, compared to no intervention, but EA was found to be superior to physical exercise. (Impact of electroacupuncture and exercise on hyperandrogenism and oligo/amenorrhoea in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A randomized controlled trial. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Jan;300(1):E37-45).

A review article has evaluated the use of acupuncture to prevent and reduce symptoms related to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Reporting on experimental observations in rat models of polycystic ovaries and clinical data from studies in women with PCOS, the Swedish authors suggest that acupuncture can affect PCOS via modulation of the neuroendocrine system (in particular the sympathetic nervous system) and can exert long-lasting beneficial effects on the metabolic and endocrine systems and on ovulation. (Acupuncture in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Current Experimental and Clinical Evidence. J Neuroendocrinol. 2007 Nov 28 [Epub ahead of print]).