Many women report vasomotor symptoms, including hot flashes and night sweats, during the menopausal transition. While estrogen is clearly one of the most effective treatments for vasomotor symptoms, recent concerns regarding the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have made treaters much more reluctant to recommend HRT, even for short-term management of vasomotor symptoms. A recent study has demonstrated that acupuncture may be an effective non-hormonal treatment for vasomotor symptoms.

In this prospective study conducted in Sweden, 102 postmenopausal women were recruited for two studies performed in parallel. In the first study, women were randomized to receive either transdermal estrogen or placebo. In the second study, women were randomized to three groups and received oral estrogen, acupuncture or applied relaxation for 12 weeks. Menopausal symptoms were measured with daily logs.

The number of hot flashes in a 24 hour period decreased significantly after 4 and 12 weeks in all treatment groups. Both at 4 and 12 weeks, acupuncture decreased the number of flashes more than placebo. Scores on the Kupperman menopausal index decreased in all groups except the placebo group.

While the results of this study are encouraging, other studies have yielded mixed results. A study conducted at Stanford University demonstrated that acupuncture was more effective than placebo in reducing both the severity and frequency of hot flashes in a group of postmenopausal women. Another study of hot flashes in breast cancer patients did not show acupuncture to be effective. A third study in menopausal women was also negative, although this study was much shorter in duration (with only 5 weeks of active treatment).

Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD

Zaborowska E, Brynhildsen J, Damberg, S et al. Effects of Acupuncture, Applied Relaxation, Estrogens and Placebo on Hot Flushes in Postmenopausal Women: an Analysis of Two Prospective, Parallel, Randomized Studies. Climacteric 2007 ;10(1):38-45. (Click here for full text)