Balancing Body and Mind with Acupuncture for Menopause

Menopause, the permanent end of menstruation, is a natural transition that all women experience as the body ages.  For many women, menopause is a time of renewed creativity and expanded personal identity.  But, the changes comes with some discomfort.  About 70% of women experience uncomfortable symptoms during the years leading up to menopause.  Acupuncture for menopause helps relieve many of the symptoms that can occur during this time, including:

  • Hot flashes & night sweating
  • Insomnia 
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability, anxiety & depression
  • Emotional swings 
  • memory problems
  • Irregular periods
  • Heavy periods

Acupuncture for menopause works with the body and mind to balance our internal systems, easing the changes that naturally occur with life transition.  

(A note on terminology:  Technically, the four- to eight-year window leading up to menopause is called “peri-menopause.”   In popular usage, “peri-menopause” is just called “menopause.” For simplicity, this article uses the term “menopause” to refer to both peri-menopause and menopause.)

Hormone Replacement Therapy:  Risks and Controversy

The conventional Western biomedical therapy routinely offered to women during menopause is hormone replacement therapy (HRT).  After decades of debate, it is still controversial.  HRT can relieve the symptoms of menopause quickly, but has significant long-term risks.  This includes an increased risk of reproductive cancers, liver disease, stroke and thromboembolism.  HRT is contra-indicated for women with a history of breast cancer.  Risks increase with time, and HRT is not meant to be used for more than a few years.

In recent years, the use of bioidentical hormones has become popular.  They are perceived by patients as a “natural” treatment.  In fact, bioidentical hormones are chemically synthesized from plant sources to be identical to human hormones, and are custom compounded to regulate the dosage for the individual patient.  There is no clear evidence that they are safer than conventional HRT and little is known about the long-term risks.  Bioidentical hormones are synthetic, and they are still HRT.

Given the risks and controversy around HRT, there’s a lot of incentive for women to find a safer route than taking drugs.  Acupuncture for menopause offers a safe, low-risk alternative to relieve symptoms.

How Does Acupuncture for Menopause Work?

To understand how acupuncture for menopause works, we have to understand a little more about what happens in the body.  During menopause, there is a reduction in estrogens and other sex hormones.  The physiological mechanism that causes hot flashes and night sweating is not completely understood, but it is believed that there is a reduction in certain neurochemicals (endorphins) caused by the drop in estrogen levels.

Acupuncture functions as a neuro-modulator with widespread effects on the neuro-endocrine-immune network, including the sex hormones. One effect of acupuncture is a release of endorphins (sometimes called the “feel good” hormones).  While it isn’t completely understood how acupuncture works, it’s likely that endorphin release is part of the mechanism that makes acupuncture for menopause so effective for so many symptoms, including hot flashes, insomnia, depression and anxiety, and memory problems.

Is Acupuncture for Menopause a Placebo?

A growing body of research supports the efficacy of acupuncture for menopause.  Many of the clinical trials have focused on the effects of acupuncture on vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes and night sweats).  In general, most studies conclude that acupuncture is effective compared to no treatment at all.  Patients self-report feeling the treatment improved overall quality of life, beyond reducing hot flashes.

There is some debate as to whether or not the response to acupuncture for menopause is a “placebo” effect.  In other words, is it simply a response to the attention and care given to the person, rather than a result of the acupuncture needling?  To tease this out, clinical trials use “sham” acupuncture – i.e., stimulation of the skin with needles at places that are not acupuncture points.  Interestingly, the “sham” acupuncture often also has a beneficial effect, though usually not as large as the acupuncture itself.  One possible explanation is that stimulation of “sham” points on the skin still results in some hormonal response and endorphin release.

Whatever the explanation, it’s clear that acupuncture for menopause has widespread, non-specific benefits for a range of distressing symptoms, including hot flashes.  For the average woman seeking greater wellness, the end results are what matter most.

A Transition, Not a Disease

Menopause is a transition, not a disease.  By working with the body-mind and not against it, acupuncture for menopause can ease many of the symptoms of menopause and create internal balance.  Acupuncture for menopause offers a low-risk, non-drug therapy with widespread benefits for relieving hot flashes, improving sleep, and impacting overall quality of life.

Inner Works Acupuncture is a Five Element acupuncture clinic in Portland, Oregon, offering acupuncture for menopause and many other health conditions. Call us today at (503) 227-2127 to schedule an appointment.