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PCOS and Cortisol: Why a Relaxation Regimen Is Not Optional

Most doctors agree that the most effective first-line treatment for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is diet and exercise.  Eating a low-glycemic diet that helps regulate blood sugar levels and exercising regularly to improve glucose metabolism can help re-start ovulation in many PCOS patients.  However, at the Moon we think this “prescription” is missing something – and that something is stress reduction.

Interestingly, both overweight and normal weight patients with PCOS show altered cortisol metabolism, with PCOS patients showing an increase in circulating stress hormones likes cortisol.   Higher levels of cortisol are not optimal for either overall health or for fertility.  Cortisol can disrupt our menstrual cycle, increase appetite (particularly for sugary foods), promote weight gain, especially around our middle where it is more harmful to our health and impair our immune function.  While experts cannot yet agree why cortisol is higher in PCOS patients, they should agree that taking steps to lower cortisol is likely to improve overall health of women with PCOS as well as their fertility.

Techniques that have been shown to lower stress include:

Acupuncture:  Recent studies have found that the increased muscle sympathetic nerve activity (a sign of increased stress hormone activity) in PCOS patients can be significantly lowered with acupuncture treatment.

Exercise:  We all recognize the stress reduction component of  fertility-friendly workouts.   Exercising regularly controls stress and makes us feel better about ourselves.

Yoga/Relaxation Training:  Yoga has been shown to be as effective as cognitive-behavioural therapy at improving psychological and physiological measures of stress. 

Bottom line:  if you have PCOS, by all means continue with your healthy eating and exercise program but consider adding acupuncture to your regimen and taking at least 15 minutes a day to practice yoga stretches and breathing.