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Acupuncture may bring relief from menopausal hot flashes

Bothered by hot flashes? Acupuncture might be the answer, says new research. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials indicates that acupuncture can affect the severity and frequency of hot flashes for women in natural menopause. The research appears online since July 7, 2014 in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). The meta-analysis (article), "Effects of acupuncture on menopause-related symptoms and quality of life in women on natural menopause: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials," also will be published in the February 2015 print edition of Menopause.

Acupuncture may bring relief from menopausal hot flashes.
Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images

This new meta-analysis shows benefits of ancient Chinese method on today's menopausal hot flashes. In the 2,500+ years that have passed since acupuncture was first used by the ancient Chinese, it has been used to treat a number of physical, mental and emotional conditions including nausea and vomiting, stroke rehabilitation, headaches, menstrual cramps, asthma, carpal tunnel, fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, to name just a few. A lot of women would welcome a non-drug and no side effects approach to curtailing those hot flashes. Acupuncture works with the body's energy channels also known as meridians.

An extensive search of previous studies evaluating the effectiveness of acupuncture uncovered 104 relevant students, of which 12 studies with 869 participants met the specified inclusion criteria to be included in this current study. While the studies provided inconsistent findings on the effects of acupuncture on other menopause-related symptoms such as sleep problems, mood disturbances and sexual problems, they did conclude that acupuncture positively impacted both the frequency and severity of hot flashes.

Women experiencing natural menopause and aged between 40 and 60 years were included in the analysis, which evaluated the effects of various forms of acupuncture, including traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture (TCMA), acupressure, electroacupuncture, laser acupuncture and ear acupuncture. Interestingly, neither the effect on hot flash frequency or severity appeared to be linked to the number of treatment doses, number of sessions or duration of treatment. However, the findings showed that sham acupuncture could induce a treatment effect comparable with that of true acupuncture for the reduction of hot flash frequency. The effects on hot flashes were shown to be maintained for as long as three months.

Although the study stopped short of explaining the exact mechanism underlying the effects of acupuncture on hot flashes, a theory was proposed to suggest that acupuncture caused a reduction in the concentration of β-endorphin in the hypothalamus, resulting from low concentrations of estrogen. These lower levels could trigger the release of CGRP, which affects thermoregulation.

There's much to be learned about the cause and treatment of hot flashes due to menopause and how acupuncture may be of help

"More than anything, this review indicates that there is still much to be learned relative to the causes and treatments of menopausal hot flashes," says NAMS executive director Margery Gass, MD, according to the July 14, 2014 news release, "Bothered by hot flashes? Acupuncture might be the answer." The review suggests that acupuncture may be an effective alternative for reducing hot flashes, especially for those women seeking non- pharmacologic therapies."

A recent review indicated that approximately half of women experiencing menopause-associated symptoms use complementary and alternative medicine therapy, instead of pharmacologic therapies, for managing their menopausal symptoms. Grants from the Ministry of Science and Technology of Taiwan supported the meta-analysis.

Noteworthy also are various studies that discuss how acupuncture can be just as effective without needles. See, "Acupuncture is Just as Effective Without Needles" and "Acupuncture Just As Effective Without Needle Puncture, Study."

Founded in 1989, The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) is North America's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the health and quality of life of all women during midlife and beyond through an understanding of menopause and healthy aging. Its multidisciplinary membership of 2,000 leaders in the field—including clinical and basic science experts from medicine, nursing, sociology, psychology, nutrition, anthropology, epidemiology, pharmacy, and education—makes NAMS uniquely qualified to serve as the definitive resource for health professionals and the public for accurate, unbiased information about menopause and healthy aging. To learn more about NAMS, please visit the website.

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