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Home > Newsletters > July 2003

Researcher Studying Effects of Acupuncture on Hot Flashes

Each year, millions of women experience the discomfort and annoyance of the dreaded hot flash, yet treatment options for this menopausal symptom remain less than perfect.

Researchers at Stanford University are now studying whether acupuncture, a traditional form of Chinese medicine that has gained popularity as an alternative therapy in the United States, can help alleviate hot flashes.

Although no formal studies have been conducted on acupuncture to treat hot flashes, there is anecdotal evidence suggesting it could be effective, said the researchers. The Stanford study is the first to fully explore its potential usefulness and comes on the heels of reports that the risks of hormone replacement therapy or HRT, which is a current treatment for hot flashes, may outweigh benefits.

According to the Northern American Menopause Society, there are more than 475 million menopausal women in the world. The menopause process, during which the body’s production of female hormones is reduced, can last anywhere from six to 13 years, leading to side effects such as night sweats and hot flashes.

Up to 75 percent of menopausal women experience some form of hot flashes. These episodes, caused by a rapid decline of estrogen levels in the body, can lead to sleep disturbances, intense heat and rapid heartbeat. More than a passing nuisance, hot flashes can make it difficult to concentrate, disrupting a woman’s regular routine.

In 1976, the FDA approved the use of HRT for treating menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, yet many women have been reluctant to take hormones. Concerns over HRT were heightened by recent Women’s Health Initiative studies showing that the treatment may increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and breast cancer. In an accompanying editorial to the most recent study, it was suggested that women taking HRT for hot flashes consider alternatives.

Although the Stanford study is the first to focus on acupuncture for treating hot flashes, a recent pilot study in England found that acupuncture reduced the frequency and severity of hot flashes in women being treated with tamoxifen for breast cancer. Study coordinator Yael Nir has had success in treating postmenopausal women with acupuncture in her own practice.

During the one-year, placebo-controlled study at Stanford, volunteers may receive 10 treatments over an eight-week period. Volunteers must be in natural menopause, between the ages of 45 and 65, in good health and not currently on HRT. They also should be experiencing bothersome hot flashes. Interested volunteers may call (650) 724-8956.

Rachel Manber, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavior sciences at the School of Medicine is collaborating on the study with Bertha Chen, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology.

Stanford University Medical Center integrates research, medical education and patient care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. For more information, please visit the Web site of the medical center's Office of News and Public Affairs at http://mednews.stanford.edu.

This Month's Articles

July 2003
Volume 1, Number 6

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Researcher Studying Effects of Acupuncture on Hot Flashes

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