Acupuncture and exercise may help women better handle the symptoms and risks that come with hormone imbalances caused by certain ovarian cysts, Swedish researchers report.

About one in 10 women of reproductive age have polycystic ovarian syndrome, a condition that can start in the teen years and cause irregular menstrual cycles and infertility. Small immature cysts on the ovaries disrupt hormone production, causing excessive secretion of testosterone, the male sex hormone. In addition to infertility, it can increase a woman’s odds of becoming obese and developing type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease, the study authors explained.

While the syndrome’s cause remains mysterious, researchers believe it is linked to a highly active sympathetic nervous system, part of the body’s internal controls that regulate several functions one cannot willingly manage, such as how wide one’s pupils dilate.

In the study, women with polycystic ovarian syndrome were separated into three groups: one group received regular electro-acupuncture, in which weak electric current is sent through the needles; another group was given heart-rate monitors and told to exercise three or more times per week; the last group was given no additional treatment or instructions. After a four-month period, women in the acupuncture and exercise groups ended up with lower sympathetic nervous system activity, though the acupuncture group received additional benefits, the researchers found.

Those who received acupuncture found that their menstruation became more normal. We could also see that their levels of testosterone became significantly lower, and this is an important observation, since elevated testosterone levels are closely connected with the increased activity in the sympathetic nervous system of women,” study author Elisabet Stener-Victorin, an associate professor who has led the research at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, said in a news release issued by the institution.

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