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Acupuncture reduces hot flashes in menopausal women, according to study

Menopause, the end of the reproductive (childbearing) period of women and marked by cessation of menstrual flow, carries with it body changes such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness and mood swings. Menopause happens because the woman's ovaries stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Several studies have explored treatments for menopausal symptoms that present psychological and bodily discomfort for women. A recent study published in Acupuncture in Medicine of the British Medical Journal Group tested the effect of acupuncture, which has been used in many gynecologic conditions, on menopausal symptoms.

The research studied 53 middle-aged women in their post-menopausal stage, which meant they had spontaneously stopped having periods for a year. The participants were divided into two groups one group was treated with Chinese acupuncture and the other sham acupuncture. The treatment group received 20 minutes of acupuncture twice a week for 10 weeks, without any manual or electrical stimulation. Menopausal symptom severity and hormone levels were then measured.

Results showed that the women who were given traditional acupuncture had significantly reduced somatic (hot flashes) and psychological (mood swings) symptoms at the end of the 10-week treatment than those in the placebo group; although urogenital symptoms such as vaginal dryness and urinary tract infection remained unchanged.

The findings seemed to suggest that these effects were unrelated to the changes in levels of the hormones responsible for menopause. The researchers noted that because of the differences between the two groups in levels of female hormones, they cannot conclude that the rise or fall of the hormones can cause changes in the severity of the symptoms. They explained that the reduced severity of hot flashes might have been due to the body boost of endorphins after acupuncture. Endorphins, the feel-good chemicals of the body, could have stabilized the body's temperature controls.

The study concluded that traditional acupuncture can be an alternative for those women who are unable or unwilling to use hormone replacement therapy to treat menopausal symptoms.

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Angela H. Todd, MD, FACOG, is the medical director of Phoenix Obstetrics & Gynecology Services, located at 219-49 Jamaica Avenue, Suite A, in Queens Village, NY 11428. Call (718) 217-5336 for information.