A recent study published in Acupuncture in Medicine suggests that traditional Chinese acupuncture seems to lessen the severity of hot flushes and other symptoms of menopause. While the study was small and the conclusions offered by the authors were tentative, the results they came to were encouraging, especially for women who want relief from menopausal symptoms but do not wish to resort to hormone replacement therapy.
53 women, all of whom had not menstruated for a year and were thus classified as post-menopausal, were divided into two groups. 27 of the middle-aged women were given acupuncture treatments two times per week for ten weeks. In keeping with traditional Chinese acupuncture practices, the needles were simply left in place for 20 minutes without further manual or electrical stimulation. The other 26 women were given sham acupuncture treatments.
Before the study began and again after the first and last treatments, the women's hormone levels were measured. Oestrogen levels, follicular stimulating hormones (FSH) and luteinising hormones (LH) were all included in the measurements. In addition, their somatic, urogential and psychological symptoms were measured using a standard Menopausal Rating Scale (MRS).
What the Study Found
At the conclusion of the study, researchers found the most significant reductions in MRS scores were somatic and psychological. Somatic symptoms include hot flushes, while psychological symptoms include mood swings. Of the two, the most dramatic reduction was in the severity of hot flushes. No significant urogenital changes (urinary tract infection and vaginal dryness) were noted. Also noteworthy was the fact that the effects of the acupuncture treatments appeared to be cumulative, with the strongest results being observed between the first and last acupuncture sessions.
The biological tests showed that oestrogen levels rose and LH levels fell in the women who were given the genuine traditional Chinese acupuncture treatments. Two indicators of the onset of menopause are a fall in oestrogen levels and a rise in LH and FSH levels. However, the researchers felt that hormonal fluctuations in themselves were not likely to have been responsible for the reductions in the severity or their symptoms. They suggested that perhaps a boost in the production of endorphins was responsible for the reduction in the severity of the hot flushes, acting as a stabiliser of the body's natural temperature controls.
Didem Sunay, M.D., of Turkey's Ankara Training and Research Hospital and his colleagues, while cautious about the small size of their study and the absence of other data, were nonetheless optimistic about their results. They concluded that the data they did collect indicates that “ acupuncture can be considered as an alternative therapy in the treatment of menopausal symptoms particularly in hot flushes, in women who have contraindications for hormone replacement therapy.”
Other Studies of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture
This study was not the first to examine the potential use of acupuncture in reducing hot flushes. In a 2009 study of breast cancer patients and survivors reported in Science Daily, researcher Eleanor Walker, M.D. of America's Henry Ford Hospital stated that acupuncture “offers patients a safe, effective and durable treatment option for hot flashes” and went so far as to say that “acupuncture actually has benefits, as opposed to more side effects” as compared to drug therapy.
Why traditional Chinese acupuncture works is still a mystery to Western medicine, but studies such as these strongly suggest that it does has its place in the healing arts. Perhaps further study will reveal more about how acupuncture works and help health practitioners pinpoint those areas of treatment it can most effectively be employed in.
The University of Melbourne is currently seeking volunteers in Melbourne to take part in a clinical study on acupuncture for hot flushes. Visit the university's Acupause website to find out more and to volunteer.