That sudden flush of heat that overwhelms…blotches of red on your face, neck, arms, back, and chest…heavy sweating followed by cold shivers…all symptoms of hot flashes, courtesy of menopause. Approximately half of all women undergoing menopause treat the change with hormone therapy—a mix of meds with estrogen and progesterone. The health risks of hormone therapy, however, include stroke, heart disease, and even cancer. According to a recent review, half of all women treat their menopausal symptoms with complementary and alternative medicine therapies rather than pharmacological prescriptions. A meta-analysis published this month in the journal Menopause, suggests that acupuncture for hot flashes is indeed a viable treatment. Researchers determined that acupuncture can reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes for up to three months regardless of the number of doses, sessions, or the duration of treatment.
Hot Flash Relief
Researchers studied different types of acupuncture for hot flashes: traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture (TCMA), acupressure, electroacupuncture, laser acupuncture, and ear acupuncture. Analyzing 12 studies made up of 869 women ages 40-60 going through natural menopause, they determined that while acupuncture didn’t exhibit a consistent effect on other menopausal symptoms such as sleep, mood, or sexual disturbances, acupuncture did affect the severity and frequency of hot flashes for up to three months after treatment.
However, it appears that sham acupuncture treatment seemed to reduce the frequency of hot flashes to the same degree as actual acupuncture, which calls into question acupuncture’s true effect. A 2011 study published in Acupuncture in Medicine showed that of 53 women receiving traditional acupuncture or sham acupuncture, those who were treated with acupuncture demonstrated significantly lower scores on the scale of menopausal symptoms (including hot flashes) than did those being treated with sham needles.
Researchers don’t know why acupuncture influences hot flashes, but theorize that it has something to do with acupuncture’s ability to lower the concentration of the neuropeptide beta-endorphin that hangs out in the hypothalamus. Lowering beta-endorphin levels may just trigger the release of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), a peptide that controls body temperature.
There are many other natural treatments for hot flashes, including hypnosis. A 2012 study in Menopause reported that hypnosis lowered the frequency of hot flashes by 75%! The wonderful world of alternative medicine is full of surprises!