Lara C. Pullen, PhD
July 16, 2014
Acupuncture is an effective treatment for women who are experiencing natural menopause. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials indicates that acupuncture reduces hot flash frequency and severity and improves quality of life (QoL) in the vasomotor domain. The beneficial effects of acupuncture on hot flashes persists for as long as 3 months.
“In clinical settings, acupuncture should be considered as an adjunct treatment for reducing menopause-related symptoms, particularly hot flashes, in addition to HT and other pharmacologic therapies,” write Hsiao-Yean Chiu, RN, PhD, from the College of Nursing, Taipei Medical University in Taiwan, and colleagues in an article published online July 14 in Menopause.
The investigators analyzed 12 trials with 869 participants, 1 of which compared acupuncture with menopausal hormone therapy. Several of the studies included in the review did not use intent-to-treat analysis, and the investigators note that their conclusions may overestimate the beneficial effects of acupuncture on menopause.
Most of the studies located acupuncture points based on the practitioner’s previous experience or published protocols for treating hot flashes. In their review, the authors could not find any indication that treatment dose, number of sessions, or duration of sessions had any treatment effect. In addition, the studies indicate that sham acupuncture was as effective as actual acupuncture at reducing hot flash frequency.
The published studies found inconsistent effects of acupuncture on sleep problems, mood disturbances, and sexual problems, making it difficult to document a clear benefit in QoL domains affected by these symptoms.
“Although the beneficial effects of acupuncture on QoL in postmenopausal women have been explored in a previous meta-analysis, our study differed from the previous one in that we separately analyzed the effects of acupuncture on menopause-specific QoL in three domains. Our findings revealed that acupuncture significantly improved QoL in the vasomotor domain, but not in the psychiatric, physical, and sexual domains, whereas the previous meta-analysis demonstrated no significant improvement in overall QoL in postmenopausal women after acupuncture,” the authors write.
In their discussion, the authors explain that decreasing levels of estrogen may be associated with reduced concentration of β-endorphin in the hypothalamus, thereby causing hot flashes. They go on to suggest that acupuncture may be able to modify levels of hormones and influence symptoms, although none of the studies that they reviewed actually evaluated the effects of acupuncture on hormone levels.