For women going through menopause, hot flashes can be one of the most uncomfortable symptoms. But a new study suggests that acupuncture may help to reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes among menopausal women.
Hot flashes, also known as hot flushes, are a sudden feeling of heat over all or parts of the body. They may also cause redness on the face and neck, red blotches on the arms, back and chest, and heavy sweating or cold shivers. Many health conditions can cause hot flashes, but they are most common among women going through menopause.
The most effective treatment for hot flashes is hormone therapy - the use of medication that contains estrogen or progesterone. However, such treatment can increase the risk of other health conditions, including stroke, heart disease and cancer.
In this latest study, recently published in the journal Menopause, researchers wanted to see how acupuncture affected the regularity and severity of hot flashes a woman experienced while going through natural menopause.
Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that is more than 2,500 years old. It incorporates a number of procedures that stimulate anatomical points on the body as a form of healing. The most common form of acupuncture involves the use of thin, metallic needles that penetrate the skin.
Acupuncture 'reduced severity and frequency of hot flashes for up to 3 months'
The research team analyzed 104 studies that assessed the effectiveness of acupuncture. The team included 12 of these studies in their research, involving 869 women between the ages of 40-60 who were going through natural menopause.
The women included in the study underwent various forms of acupuncture, including acupressure, electroacupuncture, laser acupuncture, ear acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture.
The investigators found that women who underwent acupuncture experienced a reduction in the severity and frequency of hot flashes for up to 3 months. Furthermore, the treatment appeared to have a beneficial effect on hot flashes regardless of the number of doses, sessions or duration of treatment received.
However, the researchers note that sham acupuncture reduced the frequency of hot flashes as much as true acupuncture.
The team is unable to explain why acupuncture appears to help alleviate hot flashes among menopausal women, but they hypothesize that acupuncture may trigger a reduction in the concentration of beta-endorphin - a neuropeptide found in the cells of the central and peripheral nervous system - in the hypothalamus of the brain. They say lower levels of beta-endorphin may activate the release of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), which regulates body temperature.
Commenting on the team's findings, Dr. Margery Gass, executive director of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), says:
"More than anything, this review indicates that there is still much to be learned relative to the causes and treatments of menopausal hot flashes. The review suggests that acupuncture may be an effective alternative for reducing hot flashes, especially for those women seeking non-pharmacologic therapies."
A 2012 study, also published in the journal Menopause, suggested that hypnosis can also minimize the occurrence of hot flashes during menopause by around 75%.