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Can acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine reduce hot flashes?

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Hot flashes are extremely troublesome for many women when they enter menopause. A variety of remedies are available, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT). However, many women do not or cannot take HRT and others prefer to avoid prescription or over-the-counter medication. Acupuncture and the Chinese herbal medicine verum are available to treat hot flashes. Acupuncture entails small needles that are placed at specific body locations. Verum, commonly called Star anise, star aniseed, or Chinese star anise, is an herb that closely resembles anise in flavor; it is obtained from the star-shaped fruits of Illicium verum, a medium-sized native evergreen tree of northeast Vietnam and southwest China. A clinical study that evaluated the effects of verum and acupuncture on hot flashes and quality of life in postmenopausal women was published in the January 2014 edition of the journal Menopause.

The study group comprised 40 postmenopausal women who were currently experiencing at least 20 hot flushes per week. The women were enrolled in a randomized controlled trial; they were randomly assigned to receive traditional Chinese medicine AP, sham acupuncture, verum Chinese herbal medicine, or placebo Chinese herbal medicine for 12 weeks. The effects of the treatments were then evaluated. The primary outcome measures included hot flash frequency and severity. The severity of menopausal symptoms was evaluated using the Menopause Rating Scale (MRS) II as a secondary outcome measure.

The investigators found that, compared to sham acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture produced a significant decline in all outcome measures from pretreatment to post-treatment. A larger decrease in MRS scores persisted from pretreatment to follow-up in the traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture group. No significant differences were noted between the verum Chinese herbal medicine group and the placebo Chinese herbal medicine group. Compared to the verum CHM group, there was a significant decrease in MRS scores and a trend toward a stronger decrease in hot flash severity in the traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture group from pretreatment to post-treatment.

The study authors concluded that traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture is superior to both sham acupuncture and verum Chinese herbal medicine for the reduction of menopausal symptoms. In addition, verum Chinese herbal medicine was found to be no better for reducing hot flashes that placebo Chinese herbal medicine.

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