Chinese Medicine and Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI)

Premature ovarian insufficiency, also referred to as premature ovarian failure and premature menopause, is the loss of function of the ovaries before the age of 40. Common characteristics are the absence of menstruation and decreased sex steroid hormones (specifically estrogen) and increased gonadotropin levels (specifically FSH) causing infertility. The cause of POF is usually idiopathic. Some cases of POF are attributed to autoimmune disorders, others to genetic disorders such as Turner syndrome and Fragile X syndrome, discontinuing of oral contraceptives, thyroid dysfunction and chemotherapy. For women trying to conceive the diagnosis of premature ovarian insufficiency can be devastating and invitro fertilization (IVF) utilizing donor eggs is often recommended.

Chinese medicine views most cases of POI as a kidney yin deficiency which is often accompanied by spleen qi and liver blood deficiencies, as well as liver qi stagnation and deficient heat.  Blood stagnation can also be a part of the pattern imbalance. Like our allopathic counterparts, Chinese medicine treatment can be tricky and unsuccessful. In my clinical practice this is the most difficult diagnosis for infertility to treat but with that said a successful pregnancy and healthy baby can be all the more celebratory. 

Chinese medicine is the most effective treatment that I have encountered for POI. We utilize acupuncture, Chinese herbal prescriptions, fertility massage, vitamins and supplements, dietary therapies, exercise, and visualizations to increase ovarian function, stimulate hormones, increase blood flow to the uterus and ovaries, decrease stress and improve overall health.

A recently published small Chinese study suggests that electro-acupuncture (EA) can normalize hormone levels and induce menstruation in women with primary ovarian insufficiency.  A total of 11 women with POI were enrolled in a prospective consecutive case series study. Patients were treated with EA once a day, five times a week for the first four weeks, and once every other day, three times a week, for the following two months, and were then followed up for three months. Compared with baseline, patients’ serum prostaglandin E2 increased, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) decreased and luteinizing hormone (LH) decreased after EA treatment, and these effects persisted during follow-up. With treatment, 90 per cent of patients resumed menstruation. (Electroacupuncture modulates reproductive hormone levels in patients with primary ovarian insufficiency: results from a prospective observational study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:657234).