Acupuncture can reduce symptoms of menopause

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A recent study concludes that a relatively short simple acupuncture treatment could significantly reduce some of the most unpleasant symptoms of menopause.

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

Symptoms of menopause can reduce general well-being and affect all facets of life.

Although the symptoms of menopause are treatable, current methods are far from perfect.

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

For this reason, some people choose non-hormonal therapies. However, these often come with a list of unpleasant side effects, including trouble sleeping, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue.

For this reason, finding non-pharmaceutical interventions for menopausal symptoms is a priority.

In recent years there has been a popularity to balance society as a whole towards so-called alternative or complementary therapies. At the head of a long line of treatments is acupuncture.

With an ancient pedigree and legions of passionate supporters, acupuncture has come ever closer to traditional medicine.

People have used acupuncture to relieve a wide range of conditions, including depression, chronic pain, epilepsy and schizophrenia, with different levels of success.

The most recent study, conducted by researchers from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and the University of Southern Denmark, Odense, pits the power of acupuncture against menopausal symptoms.

Although other studies have looked at acupuncture as a possible remedy for menopausal symptoms, no definitive proof has been provided.

As the authors of the current study write, earlier studies “have been criticized for their methodological limitations, e.g., poor design, inadequate sample size, inadequate control or placebo groups, lack of protocols standardized and a lack of data on adverse effects”.

To further their research, the researchers decided to focus primarily on one outcome: hot flashes. Often continuing for several yearshot flashes affect more than three quarters people going through menopause, and they can be distressing.

Their study included 70 women who were experiencing menopause. The team gave half of the women one 15-minute session of standardized acupuncture per week for 5 weeks. The acupuncturists involved in the study had an average of 14 years of experience.

The other people were part of the control group and received no intervention. The conclusions of the study feature in the review BMJ open this week.

Each of the participants completed a questionnaire that rated their experience of menopausal symptoms. They completed it before the start of the study and then after 3, 6, 8, 11 and 26 weeks. The questionnaire asked about the most common symptoms, including hot flashes, sleep problems, memory problems, urinary and vaginal symptoms, and skin changes.

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

After 6 weeks, 80% of the women in the acupuncture group thought the sessions had helped them.

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

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

Plus, an old enemy – the lack of a placebo – haunts the results. As the authors explain, “At present, there is no validated acupuncture placebo comparator. »

The placebo effect can be particularly strong in situations where an individual receives one-on-one attention from a practitioner instead of just being given a pill.

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

To observers and untrained participants, sham acupuncture looks like standard acupuncture. The essential difference is that the practitioner does not position the needles in the acupuncture points or pierce the skin with them.

However, sham acupuncture is also not ideal as a control. A placebo intervention must be inactive and, depending on some authorssham acupuncture confers a more significant effect than other truly inactive placebos.

As the authors explain, “A study testing sham acupuncture versus real acupuncture is not a placebo-controlled study, but rather a study testing two different types of acupuncture.”

The lack of a suitable placebo has and will continue to hamper the study of acupuncture. As things stand, it is very easy to imagine how it might be possible to obtain measured benefits from acupuncture in other ways. For example, attention from a doctor, a relaxing break from everyday life, soothing words and, of course, expectation could all have a similar effect.

As the authors concede, “even if [the acupuncturists] were instructed to behave in a neutral manner, their beliefs in acupuncture could have affected their interaction with the participants and possibly intensified a placebo effect.

That said, for women who have decided against standard treatments, acupuncture — whether or not its benefits come from the placebo effect — could be a helpful option. There is little risk of serious adverse events, and if someone perceives that their symptoms have improved after acupuncture, surely that is the goal of any intervention.

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