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No Difference Between Actual and Simulated Acupuncture for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, Study Finds

A close up of an acupuncture model with a docotor in the background.

© Bob Stockfield

Both actual acupuncture and simulated (sham) acupuncture produced similar results in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), according to a recent study. PCOS is a condition affecting approximately six percent of women of reproductive age and is characterized by missed or irregular menstrual periods, an increased ratio of luteinizing hormone to follicle-stimulating hormone, and insulin resistance. PCOS is often a cause of infertility. Previous studies have suggested that acupuncture may be effective in restoring regular menstrual periods and ovulation, and achieving pregnancy. The current study, funded in part by NCCAM, was published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Researchers from the University of Virginia and the Reproductive Medicine and Surgery Center of Virginia randomly assigned 84 women with PCOS into two groups to receive either actual or sham acupuncture. Participants in both groups had 12 actual or sham acupuncture sessions, twice each week for the first 4 weeks followed by once per week for an additional 4 weeks. Participants completed questionnaires before and after the 8-week intervention and provided biological samples weekly.

The researchers found no difference in participants’ monthly ovulation frequencies from either group. Both groups, however, had an improvement in the ratio of luteinizing hormone to follicle-stimulating hormone during the 8-week intervention. But only the actual acupuncture group significantly sustained this improvement during the 3-month followup. In addition, the researchers found that two biological factors (fasting insulin and free testosterone) were inversely correlated with the frequency of ovulation in the actual acupuncture group, but not the sham group.

Although both the actual and sham acupuncture groups produced similar responses in ovulation and hormones, the researchers noted that it is unclear whether there are different biological pathways behind the two interventions. Further investigation of the pathophysiology of both techniques is warranted.


Additional Resources

Publication Date: 
August 3, 2011

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This page last modified January 30, 2015