Pinpointing the problem

The menopause is something which all women will go through, usually as a natural result of aging. But just because it’s a universal occurrence, doesn’t mean it’s always an identical experience.

For some, symptoms caused by falling estrogen will be mild, causing only slight inconvenience. Others though will understandably struggle with what can be drastic, sometimes sudden personal changes.

Menopause means an end to your menstrual cycle and is the body’s way of signaling it’s no longer able to have children naturally. Yet symptoms of this shift can appear years before your last period and carry on for some time after.

Signs include fatigue, mood swings, insomnia, night sweats, hot flashes, loss of libido and problems with normal sexual function.

Clearly any of these are potentially distressing. So it’s easy to see why most women would probably prefer – if they can’t avoid the menopause altogether – to at least stick a pin in it for a while and delay it.

Well, as it happens, literally sticking a pin (or pins) in it won’t delay menopause, but it may help ease your transition.

According to a new Danish study, regular acupuncture sessions help relieve many of women’s most common symptoms.

Needle work

Thankfully, the possible stress from the menopause is far better understood these days. So treatments are available if it’s negatively affecting quality of life. Probably the most recent and high profile of these options is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).

HRT is the topping up your lost female sex hormone, estrogen, with a lab-built replacement. This correcting of your body’s internal balance ideally removes unwanted side-effects.

The treatment has been a game changer for many when it comes to tackling the menopause. Sadly it’s not suitable for everyone, so alternatives are always welcome.

For this trial, a team from the University of Southern Denmark recruited 70 women. All with moderate and severe menopause symptoms. Participants were split into two groups. One group receiving weekly acupuncture for 5 weeks, or a control group who started sessions in week 6.

Sure enough, of the women getting regular sessions, 80% reported changes for the better. Less hot flushes, insomnia, irritability and night sweats were some positives.

One of the study’s authors, Prof Frans Boch Waldorff, says of the results:

“We can’t explain the underlying mechanism behind acupuncture, nor determine how much of the effect is caused by placebo.”

Despite this however, he’s all for giving it a try.

“But this was a safe, cost-effective and simple procedure, with very few side-effects reported by the women. Women seeking acupuncture treatment for menopausal symptoms should be informed of the current evidence, and its limitations, so they can make a decision.”

What is acupuncture?

So, if you do decide to go this route, what does it involve? Well, acupuncture is placement of thin needles at specific points around the body.

It’s been a Chinese remedy since 1000 BC. The aim was to restore balance between our natural positive force, yin and negative force, yang. In theory, proper placement of the needles does this and allows our system to self-repair and remain healthy.;

There’s no evidence this is why acupuncture works. Quite honestly, much like the Danish researchers, the jury is still out on that question.

But there are plenty of studies (roughly 3000 since the 1970) showing, for some problems, it does work.
As ironic as it sounds, for pain relief in particular. Which is why it’s often given alongside physio now. Other issues acupuncture may help are chronic fatigue syndrome, skin conditions and digestive problems.

Needles are single use, pre-sterilized. They vary in width but are thin enough not to cause pain.
Is it worth it?

If you’re struggling with symptoms, don’t skip straight to this option. Always visit a doctor first to assess your situation and get advice.

If you get the go ahead though, acupuncture is worth thinking about.

A study this small, where even the authors can’t explain what went right, might not sound too convincing. Yet even if the help acupuncture offers is a placebo, our question is: so what?

Placebos have a bad rep. They’re seen as a con. Something to avoid. But at the end of the day, a good result is a good result. Whether it’s a placebo or not. If it lightens the load of something we’re dealing with and isn’t dangerous, where’s the harm?

All this is assuming the benefits of acupuncture even are a placebo, of course.

So why not give it a try? You’re looking at 20 to 30 minutes per week of Hellraiser as a trade off for years more of Sex & The City.

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