Doctors can prescribe hormone-replacement therapy, but some women are looking for drug-free alternatives.
For menopausal women who don't want hormone replacement there aren't a lot of tried-and-true options. There are many drug-free approaches, but most fail to show any benefit. But one new study shows an age-old treatment might be the remedy some women are looking for.
Thirty percent of Brenda Smith's acupuncture practice is for the treatment of menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, sleep disruptions, fatigue and stress.
"Acupuncture does release endorphins, which helps to regulate stress hormones, and that, as a result, regulates the sex hormones," said Smith.
Now a new report in the Acupuncture in Medicine journal tried to take a scientific measurement of how this ancient art helps menopausal women.
"Acupuncture is very difficult to quantify, and that's part of the problem that people have with the results," said Smith.
In the study, 53 menopausal women were assigned to either 10 acupuncture sessions or 10 placebo sessions. In the placebo sessions they used blunt needles that didn't actually penetrate the skin.
The authors report women who had the actual acupuncture had a decrease in psychological symptoms as well as somatic ones such as hot flashes.
"We know that the acupuncture needles give the body information and they trigger responses, so in the body's understanding of what's being triggered, hormone levels are regulated," said Smith.
The placebo treatment had no effect on any reported symptoms.
But neither group had a consistent change in blood-hormone levels. But since women in the acupuncture group did see a noticeable difference, the study authors concluded acupuncture is a viable alternative treatment for women.
Critics say the study is too small to make any recommendations and that the severity of symptoms was not the same between the two groups.
But acupuncturists suggest women should try it and come to their own conclusions.
"Give acupuncture a good three months to see how it works," said Smith.
Smith says she has a number of clients who see her twice a week for three weeks, then scale down once their symptoms are under control.
She says for more complete relief she often couples acupuncture with herbal treatments.