Over the last decade, various studies have evaluated the effectiveness of acupuncture for the treatment of menopausal vasomotor symptoms.  In a recent meta-analysis, studies that reported on the frequency or severity of hot flashes, menopause-related symptoms assessed using the Menopause Rating Scale (MRS), and quality of life (QoL) assessed using the Menopause-Specific Quality of Life (MSQoL) questionnaire were included.  Twelve studies with a total of 869 participants met the inclusion criteria and were included in the final analysis.

The researchers found that acupuncture significantly reduced the frequency (g = -0.35; 95% CI, -0.5 to -0.21) and severity (g = -0.44; 95% CI, -0.65 to -0.23) of hot flashes. Based on scores from the Menopause-Specific Quality of Life (QoL) questionnaire, acupuncture significantly improved QoL in the vasomotor domain, but did not affect QoL in the psychiatric, physical, or sexual domains. The effects of acupuncture on the frequency and severity of hot flashes persisted for up to 3 months.

While true acupuncture was superior to no treatment, the effects of true acupuncture on the reduction of hot flash frequency did not differ significantly from those of sham acupuncture.  This result is in line with previous studies.  A previous review concluded that approximately 60% of randomized clinical trials revealed that sham acupuncture was as effective as true acupuncture, especially when superficial needling was applied to non-points.

Previous studies have yielded inconsistent findings regarding the effects of acupuncture on sleep problems, mood, and sexual functioning. The results from this meta-analysis demonstrates that acupuncture significantly decreased scores on the psychological, somatic, and urogenital subscale scores on the Menopause Rating Scale (g = -1.56, g = -1.39, and g = -0.82, respectively; P < 0.05).  Because only four studies were included in this analysis to examine the effects of acupuncture on menopause-related symptoms, the researchers noted that more studies are required.

This meta-analysis supports that acupuncture may improve hot flashes, menopause-related symptoms, and quality of life in the vasomotor domain among women in natural menopause.  These findings indicate that acupuncture is a reasonable alternative to hormonal therapy for women suffering from vasomotor symptoms.  On the other hand, it may be as effective for managing other menopause-related symptoms.  Future studies are needed to determine appropriate treatment intervals.

Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD

Chiu HY, Pan CH, Shyu YK, Han BC, Tsai PS.  Effects of acupuncture on menopause-related symptoms and quality of life in women in natural menopause: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.  Menopause. 2015 Feb; 22(2):234-44.