Acupuncture Research

Acupuncture reduces DHEA levels in PCOS women


DHEA is a hormone that is naturally made by the body. DHEA works in the body to make other male and female sex hormones within the body. A prescription DHEA product is available to treat thinning of vaginal tissue.

People use DHEA supplements for slowing signs of aging, improving muscle strength and athletic performance, inability to become pregnant within a year of trying to conceive (infertility), and many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.

How does it work ?

DHEA is a “hormone” naturally made in the body by the adrenal glands near the kidneys and by the liver. DHEA helps to make male and female sex hormones within the body.

DHEA levels seem to go down as people get older. DHEA levels seem to be lower in people with depression, postmenopausal patients, and many other conditions.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects a woman’s hormone levels and how a woman’s ovaries work.

The 3 main features of PCOS are:

-irregular periods – which means your ovaries do not regularly release eggs (ovulation)
-excess androgen – high levels of “male” hormones in your body, which may cause physical signs such as excess facial or body hair
-polycystic ovaries – your ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) that surround the eggs (but despite the name, you do not actually have cysts if you have PCOS)

If you have at least 2 of these features, you may be diagnosed with PCOS.

Polycystic ovaries

Polycystic ovaries contain a large number of harmless follicles that are up to 8mm (approximately 0.3in) in size.

The follicles are underdeveloped sacs in which eggs develop. In PCOS, these sacs are often unable to release an egg, which means ovulation does not take place.

It’s difficult to know exactly how many women have PCOS, but it’s thought to be very common, affecting about 1 in every 10 women in the UK.

More than half of these women do not have any symptoms.

Symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

If you have signs and symptoms of PCOS, they’ll usually become apparent during your late teens or early 20s.

They can include:

-irregular periods or no periods at all
-difficulty getting pregnant as a result of:
-irregular ovulation or failure to ovulate
-excessive hair growth (hirsutism) – usually on the face, chest, back or buttocks
-weight gain
-thinning hair and hair loss from the head
-oily skin or acne

PCOS is also associated with an increased risk -of developing health problems in later life, such as type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol levels.

What causes polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it often runs in families.

It’s related to abnormal hormone levels in the body, including high levels of insulin.

Insulin is a hormone that controls sugar levels in the body.

Many women with PCOS are resistant to the action of insulin in their body and produce higher levels of insulin to overcome this.

This contributes to the increased production and activity of hormones like testosterone.

Being overweight or obese also increases the amount of insulin your body produces.

Treating polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

There’s no cure for PCOS, but the symptoms can be treated. Speak to a GP if you think you may have the condition.

If you have PCOS and you’re overweight, losing weight and eating a healthy, balanced diet can make some symptoms better.

Medicines are also available to treat symptoms such as excessive hair growth, irregular periods and fertility problems.

If fertility medicines are not effective, a simple surgical procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD) may be recommended.

This involves using heat or a laser to destroy the tissue in the ovaries that’s producing androgens, such as testosterone.

With treatment, most women with PCOS are able to get pregnant.

The Research:

Effect of Low-Frequency Electro-Acupuncture in Unmarried Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Study


To evaluate the effect of low-frequency electro-acupuncture (EA) in unmarried women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).


A total of 54 women with PCOS were randomly assigned to either the acupuncture group (n=27) or the sham/placebo acupuncture group (control, n=27) for a total of 32 treatments over 16 weeks.

In the acupuncture group 26 patients and in the control group 20 patients completed the trial.

Outcome measures:

Main measures were androgen levels including 17-α-hydroxyprogesterone (17-α-OHP), androstenedione (A2), testosterone (T) and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) at 0, 24 and 48 hours after stimulation with a dose of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). Other measures included body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio, sex hormone levels, etc.


After treatment, there was no significant difference in the main measures between the 2 groups (P > .05), except for the DHEA level at 0 h of HCG stimulation (P = .024) and acne score (P < .05).

Comparison within the acupuncture group found that 17-α-OHP and A2 levels at 0 h and DHEA levels at 24 h of HCG stimulation after treatment were significantly decreased (P < .05), whereas T levels at 24 h were significantly increased (P < .05). Comparison within the control group showed 17-α-OHP level at 0 h and 17-α-OHP and A2 and DHEA levels at 24 h after treatment were significantly lower (P < .05). In addition, weight, BMI, HCG and Ferriman-Gallwey score in the acupuncture group and LH/FSH ratio was significantly reduced in the control group.


Traditional EA is slightly more effective than sham acupuncture in reducing DHEA secretion and the acne score. Meanwhile, sham acupuncture is not completely ineffective. The specific mechanism of the two may be different.


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About Kimberley

Kimberley, Acupuncturist and Clinic Director at Life + Lemons, is a registered TCM (Traditional Chinese Medical) Acupuncturist, passionate about helping women reclaim their feminine edge. After graduating with a First Class Honors in York, she has undertaken specialist training in the area of pain management, natural conception, IVF support, menopause + pelvic pain (endometriosis/dysmenorrhea).