By Margarita Nahapetyan
A new evidence has demonstrated that exercise and electro-acupuncture treatment can reduce sympathetic nerve activity in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common endocrine disorders, that affects an estimated 10 per cent of women of reproductive age. Among the problems that are linked to the condition are increased levels of androgens (including testosterone, the 'male' hormone that can be found in both sexes), ovarian cysts, irregular menstrual cycles and infertility. PCOS is also associated with higher sympathetic nerve activity in the blood vessels, part of the 'fight or flight' response that leads to constriction of blood vessels. Chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system can be a risk for developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
The new study by the investigators at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, involved 20 female participants with an average age of 30 years. All women were randomly split into three groups, with 2 groups receiving either low-frequency electro-acupuncture treatment or exercise therapy, and the third group acted as untreated control group during the 4-month-long experiment.
The women in the electro-acupuncture group received fourteen treatments with needles placed in abdominal muscles and back side of the knee and stimulated with low-frequency electrical charge, which was enough just to cause muscle contraction, but not actual pain. The participants in the exercise group were instructed to take up brisk walking, cycling or perform any other aerobic exercise for at least half an hour on a daily basis. They were provided with pulse meters and were asked to maintain a pulse frequency rate above 120 for the 30-45 minute duration.
As to women in the control group, all of them received information about the importance of physical activity and a healthy diet, the same information the other two groups received, but were not specifically instructed to do anything differently. The investigators measured the muscle sympathetic nerve activity at the start of the study and after the 16-week period.
Following treatment, the results revealed the following:
The participants in both, the acupuncture and exercise groups demonstrated significantly reduced muscle sympathetic nerve activity, when compared to the participants in the control group.
Women in the acupuncture group showed a drop in waist circumference, but not a reduction in body mass index (BMI) or weight.
The participants in the exercise group experienced a drop in weight and body mass index but not in waist size.
Women in the acupuncture group had fewer menstrual irregularities but the exercise group did not experience any effect on the irregular menstrual cycles.
The electro-acupuncture treatments were associated with reduced testosterone levels. This is an important finding because the strongest independent predictor of high sympathetic nerve activity in women is the level of testosterone.
This is the first study to show that repeated low-frequency electro-acupuncture and physical exercise can bring down high sympathetic nerve activity seen in women with PCOS, wrote the study authors. "Furthermore, both therapies decreased measures of obesity while only low-frequency electro-acupuncture improved menstrual bleeding pattern." The researchers said that their study has some limitations, such as a small number of participants, and that is why further research is necessary in order to support the new findings.
The study was published in June 2009 issue of the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.