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
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
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 -
School of Medicine,
Stanford Hospital & Clinics and
Children's Hospital. For more information, please visit the Web site of the
medical center's Office of News and Public Affairs at