Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center researchers say acupuncture treatments over an eight-week period can significantly reduce the number of hot flashes for about 50 percent of women.
In the Sept. 28 issue of the journal Menopause, scientists reported that about half the women in a study showed a reduction in the frequency of hot flashes while half did not.
“Women bothered by hot flashes and night sweats may want to give acupuncture a try as a relatively low-cost, low-risk treatment,” said Nancy Avis, lead author of the study and professor of public health sciences at Wake Forest School of Medicine, part of Wake Forest Baptist.
She said some women have said they have some discomfort from the needle insertion during an acupuncture procedure, but it’s usually fairly mild.
“There are no long-term side effects or risks as opposed to some medications,” she said.
Avis said women will know quickly if acupuncture will work for them.
“Women who had a reduction in their hot flashes saw a benefit beginning after about three to four weeks of weekly treatments,” Avis said.
She said that some insurance companies cover acupuncture but not all of them.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health provided a nearly $1.5 million grant to fund the study that included 209 perimenopausal and postmenopausal women ages 45 to 60 who had on average at least four hot flashes or night sweats per day. The women were chosen at random to receive up to 30 acupuncture treatments within six months or to a control group.
The study recruitment began in April 2011 and the last follow-up was completed in January 2014.
Of the 170 women who received acupuncture, 11.9 percent of them had an 85 percent reduction in hot flashes by the eighth week of the study, Avis said. Forty-seven percent of the study group reported a 47 percent reduction over this same time frame. However, 37 percent showed only a minimal reduction of 9.6 percent in frequency of hot flashes, while 4 percent reported a 100 percent increase in hot flashes.
“We had hoped to identify some of the characteristics of the women who benefited from acupuncture, but like so many treatments, we could not really tell ahead of time who would benefit,” Avis said.
The researchers don’t fully know what causes hot flashes, Avis said. As a result, they don’t know exactly what would explain effective acupuncture.
“We think that something happens in the hypothalamus, in terms of regulating temperature that causes hot flashes,” she said. “Acupuncture can have an effect on that maybe through endorphins. But these are hypotheses.”
She would like to do a study to try to understand why acupuncture works.
She added that hot flashes can be a problem for breast cancer survivors, especially young women, so she would like to possibly do a study on that group.
“Some of them were in the study, but I’d like to focus (on) that group,” Avis said.
The study’s co-authors include Beverly Levine, Scott Isom and Timothy Morgan of Wake Forest Baptist; and Dr. Remy R. Coeytaux of Duke University School of Medicine.
Coeytaux has a financial interest in an organization involved in recruiting study subjects and administering acupuncture treatments at one of the two study sites, Wake Forest Baptist said in a release. His spouse is the primary shareholder of Chapel Hill Doctors, which is an organization that was subcontracted by Wake Forest School of Medicine as a site for subject recruitment and treatment.