Menopause and acupuncture is something that many practitioners get asked about, sometimes by women unable or unwilling to use the HRT suggested by their GP.
The menopause occurs when women’s ovaries cease the regular production of egg cells and menstruation ceases. It occurs most commonly between the ages of forty-five and fifty-five; although natural menopause can occur from the middle thirties. A considerable change in the balance of hormones related to the reproductive system occurs, and this can lead to a wide range of symptoms, which can be viewed as unpleasant side-effects of the natural process of menopause.
These symptoms usually begin prior to the cessation of the menstrual cycle and may often be accompanied by changes to the regularity of the cycle. This time is sometimes referred to as being perimenopausal.
Possibly the most commonly quoted symptom are the random hot flushes associated with menopause. These are sudden and often overwhelming surges of heat, usually in the upper body in the chest, face, and neck area. This may or may not involve sweating and redness of the skin.
Another common complaint are nightsweats, which involve waking in the night having sweated quite profusely. For a practitioner working with menopause and acupuncture treatment, this is the symptom we try to focus on first of all. This is because traditional Chinese medicine, from which acupuncture originates, sees nightsweats as being very draining for a body already going through considerable changes. The moisture lost through nightsweats is viewed as different from daytime sweating, and as a symptom it can actually contribute to the problem, creating a catch-22 situation.
Other symptoms include insomnia and sleep issues, mood changes, palpitations, vaginal dryness, and loss of libido.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the main conventional treatment to address menopausal symptoms. It is a replacement of the declining levels of oestrogen that had been the main hormone involved in regulating the menstrual cycle. Many women find HRT very effective. Some women, however, such as those with increased risk of oestrogen-related cancer, cannot use HRT. Also the treatment can cause side-effects and has been associated with higher risk of blood clots or breast cancer.
A university of Copenhagen study published in 2019 concluded that menopause and acupuncture treatment could be a viable alternative to hormone replacement therapy. One of the lead researchers on the study, Dr Kamma Sundgaard Lund described acupuncture as “a realistic option” for those women unable or unwilling to use HRT.
Seventy women with menopausal symptoms rated moderate-to-severe were included in the randomised controlled study. They underwent six weeks of acupuncture treatment and reported improvements in symptoms including hot flushes, excessive daytime and nightime sweating, mood swings, sleep issues, and skin/hair problems. Eighty per cent of the women in the study reported menopause and acupuncture treatment as beneficial.
For more information about the Copenhagen study, click here to review the findings in BMJ Open.
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