Close up photo of acupuncture on the back
A new analysis shows that acupuncture, in all its forms, can give long-lasting benefits to women suffering from hot flashes

Acupuncture cools hot flashes

16 July, 2014

Natural Health News — Hot flashes, which can be tough to treat, affect nearly all women of menopausal age to a greater or lesser extent.

Researchers behind a new report note that in the more than 2,500 years since acupuncture was first used by the ancient Chinese, it has been used to treat a number of physical, mental and emotional conditions including nausea and vomiting, stroke rehabilitation, headaches, menstrual cramps, asthma, carpal tunnel, fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, to name just a few.

Seeking to understand how acupuncture might affect a whole range of menopausal symptoms, a new meta-analysis published in the journal Menopause, has found good evidence that acupuncture can affect the severity and frequency of hot flashes for women in natural menopause.

An extensive search of previous studies evaluating the effectiveness of acupuncture uncovered 104 relevant studies, of which 12 – with 869 participants – were deemed high enough quality for the analysis.

While the studies provided inconsistent findings on the effects of acupuncture on other menopause-related symptoms such as sleep problems, mood disturbances and sexual problems, they did show that acupuncture helped both the frequency and severity of hot flashes, say researchers from the North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

Lasting effects

The women in the analysis were aged between 40 and 60 years and were experiencing natural menopause. They were given various forms of acupuncture, including traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture (TCMA), acupressure, electroacupuncture, laser acupuncture and ear acupuncture.

Interestingly, neither the effect on hot flash frequency or severity appeared to be linked to the number of treatment doses, number of sessions or duration of treatment. The effects acupuncture on hot flashes lasted for as long as three months.

The researchers noted that in some trials sham acupuncture produced improvements comparable with that of true acupuncture for the reduction of hot flash frequency – though they offered no explanation for why this should be so. Previous studies have suggested that even the tiny sensation of skin pricks used to simulate genuine acupuncture needle sticks might be enough to generate natural chemicals that improve symptoms.

But how does it work?

Hot flashes are the most common symptom of menopause and occur in women because during menopause their ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone and are no longer able to become pregnant. The sudden feeling of heat can cause red blotches to appear on your chest, back, and arms followed by heavy sweating and cold shivers to cool the body back down.

Although the analysis stopped short of explaining the exact mechanism underlying the effects of acupuncture on hot flashes, a theory was proposed to suggest that acupuncture caused a reduction in the concentration of beta-endorphin in the hypothalamus, resulting from low concentrations of estrogen. These lower levels could trigger the release of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), a vasodilating neuropeptide which affects body temperature regulation.

Around half of women experiencing menopause-associated symptoms use complementary and alternative medicine therapy, instead of conventional drug therapies, for managing their menopausal symptoms.

This review suggests that acupuncture may be an effective alternative for reducing hot flashes, especially for those women seeking non-drug therapies.