The authors based their findings on 53 middle aged women who all fell under category of postmenopausal – they had stopped menstruating for a year. Their somatic (hot flashes), urogenital (vaginal dryness), and psychological (mood swings) symptoms were measured using a 5 point (MRS) scale.
Of the participants, 27 received traditional Chinese acupuncture twice a week for 10 weeks, with needles left in position for 20 minutes without any manual or electrical stimulation. The rest were given placebo acupuncture. Prior to the study, estrogen levels, follicular stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone levels were recorded and again after the first and last acupuncture sessions to determine any changes.
The results revealed that those women who received traditional acupuncture had greatly reduced MRS scores for somatic, psychological, but not urogenital, symptoms at the end of the 10 weeks than their peers given the placebo treatment. The symptom that saw the largest decline in severity was that of hot flashes. Furthermore, the effects of the treatments appeared to be cumulative, with stronger results occurring between the first and last sessions.
The researchers also observed a rise in estrogen levels, while luteinizing hormone levels fell in the Chinese acupuncture group. Low levels of estrogen and high luteinizing hormone and follicular stimulating hormone levels are characteristic of menopause, as ovarian function begins to decline.
However, since there were already differences among the groups in these various hormones to start, there was little in the way of additional evidence to indicate that hormonal changes were themselves responsible for any changes in symptom severity, according to the authors.
The authors suggest that the explanation for the reduced severity of hot flashes might be that acupuncture boosts endorphin production, possibly stabilizing the body’s internal thermostat. The authors caution that their study was small and they did not monitor long-term symptom relief. However they believe that Chinese acupuncture could be a viable alternative to hormone replacement therapy for women struggling to cope with unpleasant menopause symptoms.