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Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for Endometriosis

EndometriosisEndometriosis is a common menstrual disorder manifesting with a wide range of symptoms such as painful periods, spotting before periods, pain during intercourse, and infertility.  The disease is defined by the presence of endometrial (uterine) tissue outside the uterus, which can respond to the cyclic hormones involved in the menstrual cycle to cause bleeding and pain.

Endometriosis impairs natural fertility for a variety of reasons.  It can physically obstruct ovulation and the transportation along the tube.  The presence of endometrial tissue also activates immune cells (macrophages) which attack sperm cells and release substances (cytokines) that are toxic to sperm and embryo. Endometriosis is also associated with a higher incidence of ovulatory disturbance, leading to unruptured follicles and/ or low progesterone levels in the luteal phase, the latter leading to a non-receptive uterine wall (endometrium).

The Research

Western medicine’s treatment of endometriosis in women who try to become pregnant is limited.  Surgical removal of the endometrial tissue is used to debulk severe endometriosis.  The chances of conception after surgical interference are about 50% after 2-3 years.  It is however difficult to remove all the tissue, and some small unpigmented lesions may be left that still produce secretions that interfere with normal fertility.  Hormonal medication is often used to suppress the menstrual cycle for 3 to 9 months to 'starve' the endometrial tissue into disappearing.  Artificial fertilisation is also used to circumnavigate the damaged areas.

Chinese medicine approaches this multifarious disorder in a different way.  Apart from treating the outmost manifestation (the congealed blood at places other than the uterus), we try to establish the underlying reason for why this disorder develops.  This is different in each patient.

Studies in China confirm that the treatment of endometriosis with Chinese herbal medicine can substantially diminish the pain as well as the size of ectopic mass or cysts.  Research into the mechanism shows that Chinese herbal medicine improves the microcirculation of the lower abdomen as well as modulating the immunologic disturbances associated with endometriosis.  Reproductive function is preserved or even increased with Chinese herbal medicine.

Endometriosis ResearchThis very thorough review discusses the treatment of endometriosis with acupuncture and Chinese medicine. These treatments are shown to be effective and without the side effects that accompany hormonal drugs and surgery (click here for the abstract).

The References

Kong S et al. Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Endometriosis: A Review of Utilization and Mechanism. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014, Article ID 146383, 16 pages.