Studies primarily look at its effect on hot flashes, but it remains controversial.
Independently, many women have reported relief from acupuncture. Jacqui Danilow said she turned to acupuncture to ease her hot flashes that would come on with no warning, she told ABC News.
"Suddenly, you are very warm and you think the thermostat has gone up inside your body and you never know why it happens or what causes it," she said.
Weekly acupuncture treatments "were like a miracle," Danilow said. She rated the severity of her hot flashes at a "10" before her treatment — after four months, they were a "3."
One oft-cited study found that women reported relief from hot flashes and other symptoms on a five-point scale.
Acupuncture is effective for women who are having menopausal symptoms — and can help provide relief, Arya Nielsen, MD, from the Beth Israel Medical Center told ABC News. She has been using acupuncture treatment for 35 years.
"I think women experience fewer hot flashes and less intensity when they have hot flashes, so it returns the quality of life," she said. "This is very significant."
Researchers suggest the reason why acupuncture may work for you is that the treatment is able to boost the production of endorphins, and that could help stabilize body temperature.
A more recent study also found that acupuncture can reduce the number of hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause by as much as 36 percent.
“Although acupuncture does not work for every woman, our study showed that, on average, acupuncture effectively reduced the frequency of hot flashes and results were maintained for six months after the treatments stopped,” said Nancy Avis, PhD, professor of public health sciences at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and lead author of the study.
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, gave acupuncture treatments to one group of women for six months. A second group received no treatment for those six months then received treatments for six months afterward. Then the overall results were tabulated.
Avis said the study was designed to make it more “real world” by leaving the frequency and number of the acupuncture treatments up to the study participants and their acupuncturists. After six months, the first group reported an average 36.7 percent decline in frequency of hot flashes compared to baseline measurements. After a year, the benefits persisted, with group members maintaining an average 29.4 percent reduction from baseline.
Another recent study on a large scale, however, determined that acupuncture was no more effective than a placebo method in which sham needles are used to treat menopause.
There was some improvement in symptoms in both groups, but there were no differences between the groups in severity or frequency of hot flashes, or in secondary outcomes for menopause-specific quality of life, anxiety and depression, Nicholas Bakalar writes in The New York Times.
“Acupuncture has been shown to be more effective than placebo for a number of conditions, specifically chronic pain,” said the lead author, Carolyn Ee, a family physician trained in both Western and Chinese medicine. “To say that it doesn’t work for hot flashes is not the same as saying it doesn’t work.
That’s the controversy. For every mainstream study that finds acupuncture to be effective in treating menopause, there’s a mainstream study that says it’s not. Add in individual reports from women who say they have found relief through acupuncture, and there’s confusion.
The one advantage that acupuncture does have: There is nothing to lose by trying it along with traditional Chinese herbal medicine and dietary changes, supporters say.
As is still the case with much of alternative medicine, more studies are needed and a consensus needs to be reached. In the meantime, you truly have nothing to lose and potentially a lot to gain in the relief of menopausal symptoms.
September 20, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN