Menopausal women each have their own experiences of this challenging time. However, most women do not enjoy the hot flashes and night sweats. What can they do to minimize the disruption? Some women take hormone replacement therapy, and others try herbal remedies. New research confirms previous studies showing that acupuncture can help ease the symptoms of menopause.
Menopausal Women Turn to Acupuncture:
The most recent study included 70 women in Denmark (Lund et al, BMJ Open, Feb. 19, 2019). The investigators randomly assigned half the volunteers to receive five 15-minute acupuncture sessions weekly over six weeks. The other women went on a six-week waiting list for acupuncture. The family physicians conducting the acupuncture had undertaken more than 150 hours of acupuncture education, on average, and had years of experience. One woman dropped out of the treatment group and three dropped out of the control group.
In this study, the menopausal women who got acupuncture treatments reported fewer hot flashes and night sweats as well as less trouble sleeping. They also had fewer emotional ups and downs and were happier with their skin and hair. None of them experienced serious adverse effects from the acupuncture.
The researchers conclude:
“A standardised acupuncture treatment gives women suffering from moderate-to-severe menopausal symptoms a clinically relevant reduction in HFs [hot flushes], DNS [day and night sweats], GS [general sweating], MSSP [menopausal-specific sleeping problems], EM [emotional symptoms], PHY [physical symptoms] and SH [skin and hair symptoms]. Acupuncture for menopausal symptoms is a realistic option for women who cannot or do not wish to use HT [hormone therapy].”
Medical Consensus Advisory
Scientists recognize that for some women, night sweats disrupt sleep and hot flashes make them miserable. The standard treatment for menopausal women is hormone replacement therapy (estrogen, plus progesterone for any woman with a uterus). While this can be effective against hot flashes, the hormones may have long-term consequences, increasing the risk for blood clots. Women on hormone therapy also have a slightly greater chance of developing breast cancer. Investigators frequently point out that symptoms such as hot flashes respond well to placebo treatments.
Previous Studies of Acupuncture for Menopausal Symptoms:
This is not the first study to show that acupuncture can be helpful during menopause. A previous well-controlled study included 209 women 45 to 60 years old. These participants reported hot flashes or night sweats at least four times a day (Avis et al, Menopause, June, 2016). The scientists randomly assigned the volunteers to get acupuncture treatments during the first or second half of the study year. The participants were allowed up to 20 acupuncture sessions in six months from experienced, licensed acupuncturists practicing in the community and approved by the investigators. All the women kept daily diaries about their symptoms.
Hot Flashes Dropped by One Third:
The women who were in the first group to get acupuncture treatments reported relief. The frequency of their hot flashes dropped by 36.7 percent, on average. At the same time, those who were waiting for acupuncture treatments were suffering even more. They had 6 percent more hot flashes during those first six months.
During the second half-year, the women who waited for their acupuncture sessions finally got relief. At this point, they had 31 percent fewer night sweats and hot flashes. Those in the first group maintained their benefits despite no longer actively receiving acupuncture treatments. They reported a 29.4 percent drop in frequency of symptoms from what they had experienced before the experiment began.
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Acupuncture as an Alternative Therapy:
None of the women reported side effects from their acupuncture treatments, which is an advantage over most of the drugs used to ease hot flashes. The researchers conclude that acupuncture from a licensed acupuncturist may offer an attractive non-hormonal treatment for many women dealing with horrible hot flashes. If you would like to hear a report on this research, you may wish to listen to our interview with investigator Remy Coeytaux, MD, PhD. It is Show 1042: How Acupuncture Can Help You Overcome Health Challenges.
Differences in Response to Acupuncture for Hot Flashes:
In another publication, the investigators reported that the menopausal women in their study reacted in different ways (Avis et al, Menopause, Feb. 2017). A few of the women responded very strongly, with 85 percent fewer hot flashes after acupuncture. In addition, nearly half of the women reported that their hot flashes were down by 47 percent on average. Just over a third of the women experienced a very mild reduction in hot flashes, by less than 10 percent. And seven of the women suffered an increase in their hot flashes.
Women’s individual reactions to menopause can differ greatly. As these reports demonstrate, no single treatment, including acupuncture, is the right path for all menopausal women. In a recent review, scientists found that both acupuncture and participation in yoga classes can reduce hot flashes by 35 to 40 percent on average (Avis et al, Menopause, April 2019). In conclusion, if a woman finds that one intervention is not completely satisfactory, she should be encouraged to seek out another.
Readers Report Their Reactions:
Helen reacted to surgically-induced menopause:
“I had a hysterectomy when I was 49. When the doctor came to see me the next day, I was in the middle of my first post menopause hot flash and barked at him; he left the room at a run. A few minutes a nurse came in with a shot and said the doctor wanted me to have an estrogen shot. Knee jerk reaction common to the times, almost 30 years ago. I stayed on HRT, estrogen patches which were supposed to be closer to human estrogen, until I weaned myself off when I was 65.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a lumpectomy right around my 70th birthday. The surgeon attributed the breast cancer to the HRT. My hot flashes have never gone away; but I no longer wake up at night with a wet nightgown that needs to be changed. Now, as I have aged, I have gotten colder and the hot flashes are milder, do not need any treatment.”
Martina prefers acupressure wrist bands:
“Someone suggested motion-sickness bracelets. I bought them and find that they help me go to sleep when hot flashes wake me up. My breathing through the nose gets better too, for some reason. Placebo or not, I feel better to have them ready.”
Debby is pleased with an herbal remedy:
“I had terrible hot flashes, sweats, and mood swings during menopause. Totally by accident, I discovered maca…an all natural supplement from a plant that grows in the Andes Mountains of Peru. After about 2 or 3 weeks of taking maca, ALL of my symptoms disappeared! I have recommended maca to many of my friends who are going through menopause and they experienced the same amazing results! I highly encourage anyone suffering from menopausal symptoms to try maca…it’s like a miracle!”
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. Read Terry's Full Bio.
Download the 8-page Guide to Menopause with steps for managing hot flashes, hormonal and non-hormonal approaches, and home remedies for menopausal symptoms.
Lund, KS, et al, "Efficacy of a standardised acupuncture approach for women with bothersome menopausal symptoms: A pragmatic randomised study in primary care (the ACOM study)." BMJ Open, Feb. 19, 2019. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-023637
Avis, NE, et al, "Acupuncture in Menopause (AIM) study: A pragmatic, randomized controlled trial." Menopause, June 2016. DOI: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000597
Avis, NE, et al, "Trajectories of response to acupuncture for menopausal vasomotor symptoms: The Acupuncture in Menopause study." Menopause, Feb. 24, 2017. DOI: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000735
Avis, NE, et al, "A pooled analysis of three studies of nonpharmacological interventions for menopausal hot flashes." Menopause, April 2019. DOI: 10.1097/GME.0000000000001255
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