Author: Suzi Birnbaum
For the purposes of this Capstone project, I have decided to focus on the biochemical basis behind polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This is one of the most prevalent diseases for women of childbearing age, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services (1). Even though many women across ethnicities and races are diagnosed with it, there is still much to learn about what causes PCOS and how to treat it.
This project will be sectioned up into two major themes, each with their own subthemes
- Diagnostic symptoms and/or characteristics of PCOS
- The androgen hormones and PCOS
- Treatments for PCOS
- Commonly used, well established treatments
- Advances in treatment (clinical trials)
- Acupuncture treatment of PCOS
The first section is establish a preliminary background in the field of PCOS studies, reviewing what is known about PCOS in the field. There is a widespread consensus that the cause of PCOS is not known, and that it is most likely caused by a host of events, each specific to an individual. I will be looking heavily at endocrinology studies and endocrinology books used by clinicians in the field to establish this base, as well as looking at popular resources on the internet that are widely used by the public. There also seems to be a small component of PCOS that is linked to inheritance given by a few scattered studies, which I will also touch on.
One major factor in PCOS development is that of sex-hormone imbalances, specifically an imbalance of androgen hormones, as PCOS is closely linked to hyperandrogenism. I will be exploring the current understanding of hormone regulation in puberty and sexual maturation. The control of hormones, especially during puberty, is so complex and sensitive to any disruptions, and it is important to understand the basics of the hormones that shape us.
The second major section will be all about the treatments given for those suffering from PCOS. There many different ways to approach treating PCOS and its symptoms, including (but not limited to) lifestyle changes (namely diet), hormone therapy, and other drug therapies. Namely dietary changes that affect vitamin D pathways, and the drug Metformin are two of the most prevalent treatments, it seems, for PCOS symptoms.
I am including the specific subsection on acupuncture because literature searches will include acupuncture scattered about. There seems to be lots of discussion and disagreement about a particular study on the efficacy of acupuncture in treating PCOS (2). Acupuncture has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine and has a specific stereotypical following in the West. It is both a widely studied treatment for many diseases and ailments, yet is not wholly understood from a Western-scientific perspective. This exploration, I believe, will add an interesting dynamic to understanding how we treat intersectional health issues like PCOS.
Even though the exact causes of PCOS are not known, it is a disease that connects to many biochemical subjects including (but not limited to) hormone pathways, genetics, human reproductive development, and insulin signaling. From a broader lens it is related to issues such as the obesity epidemic, holistic medicine, and women’s reproductive rights.
- “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.” womenshealth.gov, November 29, 2016. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/polycystic-ovary-syndrome.
- Wu, Xiao-Ke, Elisabet Stener-Victorin, Hong-Ying Kuang, Hong-Li Ma, Jing-Shu Gao, Liang-Zhen Xie, Li-Hui Hou, et al. “Effect of Acupuncture and Clomiphene in Chinese Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” JAMA 317, no. 24 (27 2017): 2502–14. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2017.7217.
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