If you’re a woman in the throes of menopause who is experiencing any of the telltale symptoms — hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, insomnia, vaginal dryness, libido changes — you might have explored a variety of treatments for relief.
Some women try to get more phytoestrogens naturally in their diet, others try a combination of exercise and herbal formulas, and some find hormone replace therapy necessary. For others, acupuncture could be the answer.
Some studies show that acupuncture may provide relief from menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) from the National Institutes of Health agrees that there are likely some benefits to alternative therapies such as acupuncture to ease the symptoms of menopause. However, because studies are often small, NCCAM suggests that more research is necessary.
How much of this could be due to the placebo effect? In at least one study, women who were given a placebo needle had less relief than women who were given real acupuncture needles. In other studies, however, women felt no difference between real and fake needles. Another study surmised that acupuncture could be effective against hot flashes because it boosts the production of endorphins, which may stabilize the body's temperature controls.
Scientists may be undecided about the positive effects of acupuncture, but practitioners are convinced of its healing powers.
“The beautiful thing about acupuncture and Chinese medicine is people say, ‘Oh I have this. Does acupuncture treat that?’ Well, yes, it treats everything,” says Lauren Buckley, a licensed acupuncturist at South Philly Community Acupuncture in Philadelphia.
“What we are doing is treating a pattern imbalance in the body,” she says. “And the way we treat a pattern imbalance in the body is by gathering all the symptoms you have that should be comprehensive of all systems in your body — respiratory, gynecological, digestion, cardiology, skin, hair, nails, bowel movements — all the data from your body systems. And the data is then consolidated into imbalances in chi and blood, yin and yang, interior and exterior, and hot and cold — those are the eight principals in acupuncture.”
Buckley says that women come to here, wanting to know if acupuncture can treat insomnia, night sweats or vaginal dryness. She tells them it can, but what it’s really treating is the root imbalance in the body. “Once we get to the root imbalance in chi and blood flow, then we are able to fix the symptoms. So I tell people, yeah, I’m fixing their irregular cycle, but really I am fixing a liver/spleen/blood imbalance,” she says.
Sometimes women combine acupuncture treatments with Chinese medicine — herbal medicinal formulas that may be a combination of many herbs tailored specifically to that woman’s symptoms.
Not every woman who comes in for acupuncture is 100 percent relieved of her menopausal symptoms, but people rarely leave without some type of improvement, Buckley says. The remedy isn’t a one-time gig, either, but takes eight to 12 sessions — twice a week at first then tapering off, depending on how it goes. They may have to return occasionally if symptoms flare.
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