Around 75% of women experience menopausal symptoms and, for some women, their symptoms can be unbearable and really adversely affect the quality of their life. Hot flushes are the symptoms that most people associate with the menopause. There are numerous other symptoms which can include night sweats, tiredness, reduced libido, mood swings anxiety and vaginal dryness.
There are various treatments available for improving menopausal symptoms and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the most effective treatment. A small proportion of women cannot take HRT for medical reasons and some women decide not to take HRT.
A recent study (1) has just been undertaken which has shown that having eight weeks of acupuncture can reduce the frequency of hot flushes. Improvement in the frequency of their hot flushes started after around three to four weeks of treatment. Around half of the women in this study reported that their hot flushes frequency reduced by 47%. A smaller proportion, 37%, reported a reduction in number of flushes by 9.6%. However, 4% of women actually noticed that their hot flushes worsened after receiving acupuncture.
Other menopausal symptoms were not monitored in this study. It is very unusual for women to experience hot flushes as their only symptom of the menopause so it would have been useful to know if other symptoms can improve with acupuncture.
Many women do not realise that the lack of oestrogen in their bodies which occurs in the menopause increases their future risk of developing osteoporosis and heart disease. Even if a non-hormonal treatment (such as acupuncture) is really effective at treating menopausal symptoms, it will not work to improve oestrogen levels in the body. This means that if a treatment works to improve symptoms it will not be able to work to strengthen bones and reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis. It will also not have an effect on reducing the risk of developing heart disease.
This all sounds very impressive. However, this study involved very small numbers of women so this means it is very hard to make concrete recommendations from it.
Many studies have shown in the past that taking a placebo can improve flushing related to the menopause. So it is difficult to know whether acupuncture is a placebo effect or whether it has a real effect on reducing hot flushes. What is known is that acupuncture is usually safe. Acupuncture may therefore have a role to play in reducing the frequency of hot flushes in women who cannot take HRT or who choose not to take HRT.
1. Nancy E. Avis, Remy R. Coeytaux, Beverly Levine, Scott Isom, Timothy Morgan.Trajectories of response to acupuncture for menopausal vasomotor symptoms. Menopause, 2016; 1 DOI: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000735
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