While the menopause affects every woman slightly differently, with people experiencing very minor symptoms to very severe, it’s rarely something that feels positive, particularly in the West. For some, menopausal symptoms cause considerable discomfort, stress and bring additional challenges to everyday life. However, research into menopause management is increasing after a historical absence from studies.
Acupuncture is an ancient practice that originates from China and remains an important part of Traditional Chinese Medicine today. Having arrived in the West during the 20th century, acupuncture is now recommended by some major health organisations for issues such as migraine, lower back pain, osteoarthritis and stress relief.
Recently, a study has looked at whether acupuncture can relieve symptoms of the menopause.
Acupuncture and the menopause
The study was published in BMJ Open in 2018 and conducted by a group of Danish researchers. One of the major considerations in the strength of acupuncture studies is that no placebo has yet been created; there’s not much that can replicate the feeling of an acupuncture needle!
Common symptoms of the menopause include hot flushes, sleep disturbances, fatigue, joint pain and cognitive changes amongst others. Hot flushes are one of the most widely reported symptoms and a considerable number of women find their quality of life negatively affected.
While hormone replacement therapy can offer effective treatment for menopausal symptoms, it has significant side effects and potential long-term health issues that make it an unsuitable choice for many women.
In contrast, acupuncture is generally viewed as a safe therapy with no negative side effects. It’s also usually affordable and widely available.
The study primarily focused on whether a five-week course of acupuncture had a clinically relevant effect on the number of hot flushes experienced by women with moderate-to-severe menopausal symptoms. With no placebo available, a control group was used, who received an acupuncture treatment in week six, compared with the five-week course the intervention group received. Western Medical Acupuncture was used rather than the type used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The results of the study are fascinating; the intervention group (those who had the course of acupuncture), experienced a statistically significant reduction in hot flushes by three weeks and six weeks. This was also the case for several other symptoms, including night sweats and menopausal-specific sleeping problems.
This study reveals that acupuncture can offer relief to menopausal women suffering from hot flushes and other symptoms and that further study could be greatly beneficial.
Other benefits acupuncture can offer menopausal people
Stress and anxiety can make the menopause harder to cope with and can replicate menopausal symptoms. The menopause causes a drop in oestrogen which is important to regulating cortisol levels and means that those going through menopause may well feel more stressed, more often.
As the symptoms of menopause can make sufferers feel stressed as well, it’s important that stress relief techniques are adopted.
Stress reduction comes in many forms and each person responds better with some techniques than others. Acupuncture has been shown to lessen stress perception and induce feelings of relaxation in numerous studies and anecdotal evidence. While it may not work for everyone, it can be an important tool in menopausal stress relief.
A side effect of acupuncture is often that the patient gets to speak to the practitioner, feel heard and take some time to sit or lie down in peace. This benefit of the practice alone is a powerful way to manage both stress and anxiety, and should not be overlooked nor under-appreciated.
Increasing research in female health
Female health has, unfortunately, been left behind historically and many studies use male participants or focus on health issues that apply to both biological sexes. This has meant that female-specific health issues have received far less attention than needed. This is changing though, and new interest in the menopause and how to effectively manage its symptoms will hopefully help millions of people around the world.
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