Acupuncture May Be Good for Menopause Complaints

A recent study concluded that a relatively short course of acupuncture can significantly reduce some of the most bothersome symptoms of menopause.

Menopause typically begins in the sixth decade of life and lasts for an average of 4-5 years.

Menopause symptoms can reduce quality of life and affect every aspect of life.

While the symptoms of menopause can be treated, current methods are far from perfect.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is effective for many people, but due to its side effects, HRT can increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

For this reason, some people choose non-hormonal treatments. However, these often come with a list of irritating side effects such as sleep disturbances, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue.

Therefore, the availability of non-pharmaceutical interventions for menopausal symptoms is high on the agenda.

An Alternative Approach

In recent years, there has been a popular shift towards so-called alternative or complementary therapies throughout society. At the beginning of a long series of treatments is acupuncture.

With an ancient pedigree and legions of passionate supporters, acupuncture has moved closer to mainstream medicine.

People have used acupuncture to ease a wide variety of conditions, including depression, chronic pain, epilepsy, and schizophrenia with varying levels of success.

Odense, the latest study by researchers from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark and the University of Southern Denmark, increases the potency of acupuncture against menopausal symptoms.

Other studies have shown acupuncture as a possible remedy for menopausal symptoms, but conclusive evidence has not emerged.

As the authors of the current study write, previous studies have been criticized for “methodological limitations, for example, poor design, insufficient sample size, inadequate control or placebo groups, lack of standard protocols, and lack of data on adverse effects.”

Acupuncture and Hot Flashes

To investigate further, the researchers decided to focus mainly on one result: Hot flashes. Hot flashes, which usually last for several years, affect more than three-quarters of menopausal people and can be bothersome.

In the study, they worked with 70 women who were experiencing menopause. The team gave half the women a standard 15-minute acupuncture session per week for 5 weeks. The acupuncturists participating in the study had an average of 14 years of experience.

The remainder were part of the control group and received no intervention. The study findings appear this week in the journal BMJ Open.

Each of the participants filled out a questionnaire assessing their experience of menopausal symptoms. They completed this before and after the study began at 3, 6, 8, 11, and 26 weeks. The questionnaire covered the most common symptoms, including hot flashes, sleep problems, memory changes, urinary and vaginal symptoms, and skin changes.

After just 3 weeks, participants in the acupuncture group noted a decrease in hot flashes.

At the 6-week follow-up, 80 percent of women in the acupuncture group believed the sessions had helped them.

Acupuncture didn’t just reduce hot flashes. Those in the experimental group also experienced significant reductions in sweating intensity or frequency (including night sweats), sleep disturbances, emotional symptoms, and skin and hair problems.

The Placebo Effect Problem

Although the results were statistically significant, the authors noted that there were relatively fewer participants and the duration of the study was only short.

Also, a placebo deficiency may alter the findings. As the authors explain, “Currently, there are no validated acupuncture placebo comparators.”

The placebo effect can be particularly powerful where an individual receives one-on-one attention from a practitioner rather than simply taking a pill.

One technique that researchers say could be useful for future studies is sham acupuncture.

To untrained observers and participants, sham acupuncture looks like standard acupuncture. The critical difference is that the practitioner does not either insert needles into acupuncture points or puncture the skin with them.

However, sham acupuncture is also not ideal as a control. A placebo intervention should not be active, and according to some authors, sham acupuncture provides a more significant effect than other, truly inactive placebos.

As the authors explain, “a study test against real acupuncture is a study that tests two different types of acupuncture, not a placebo-controlled study.”

The lack of a suitable placebo has and will continue to hinder acupuncture from working. It is easy to imagine how it would be possible to reap the measured benefits of acupuncture in other ways. For example, getting a doctor’s attention, a comforting break from the interruption and hustle of everyday life, soothing words and, of course, anticipation can all have a similar effect.

As the authors admit, although acupuncturists are told to be neutral, their beliefs about acupuncture may have influenced the participants and possibly exerted a placebo effect.”

However, for women who decide not to use standard treatments, acupuncture – whether its benefits come with a placebo effect – may be a useful option. There is no danger of very serious adverse events, and if one finds that their symptoms improve after acupuncture, it is certainly a good outcome of any intervention.

MedicalNewsToday, Acupuncture may reduce menopause symptoms, 2019


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