Not only is acupuncture as effective as drug therapy at preventing hot flushes in breast cancer patients who have been receiving long-term anti-oestrogen therapy, it also increases women’s sex drive and improves their sense of well-being.  Venlafaxine (Effexor – a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) – the therapy of choice for such symptoms – has numerous adverse effects. An American team randomly assigned fifty patients to receive 12 weeks of acupuncture or venlafaxine treatment. Both groups exhibited significant decreases in hot flushes, depressive symptoms and other quality-of-life symptoms, including significant improvements in mental health.  These changes were similar in both groups indicating that acupuncture was as effective as venlafaxine. By two weeks post-treatment, the venlafaxine group experienced significant increases in hot flushes, whereas hot flushes in the acupuncture group remained at low levels. The venlafaxine group experienced 18 incidences of adverse effects (nausea, dry mouth, dizziness, anxiety), whereas the acupuncture group experienced no negative effects. Acupuncture had the additional benefit of increasing sex drive in some women, and most reported improvements in their energy, clarity of thought and sense of well-being. (Acupuncture versus venlafaxine for the management of vasomotor symptoms in patients with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer: a randomized controlled trial. J Clin Oncol. 2010 Feb 1;28(4):634-40).

A multicentre randomised clinical study of menopausal women has concluded that acupuncture carried out in addition to usual care is associated with marked clinical improvement in hot flushes and other menopause-related symptoms. One hundred and seventy five Korean women were randomised to receive 12 sessions of acupuncture over four weeks in addition to usual care, or to usual care alone. The mean change in the average 24 hour hot flush score was -16.57 in the treatment group compared with -16.93 in the control group, a significant difference. Scores for psychological, somatic and urogenital symptoms of menopause also showed significant improvement in the acupuncture group compared with the control group. (Effects of acupuncture on hot flashes in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women – a multicenter randomised clinical trial. Menopause. 2009 Nov 10.

A Norwegian study has found that acupuncture in addition to self-care can contribute to a clinically relevant reduction in menopausal hot flushes. The research was a multicentre, pragmatic, randomised, controlled trial with two parallel arms comparing the effect of individualised acupuncture plus self-care against self-care alone for hot flushes and health-related quality of life in 267 postmenopausal women. Hot flush frequency decreased by 5.8 per 24 hours in the acupuncture group and 3.7 per 24 hours in the control group. Hot flush intensity decreased by 3.2 units in the acupuncture group and 1.8 units in the control group. The acupuncture group also experienced statistically significant improvements in vasomotor, sleep, and somatic criteria compared with the control group. (The Acupuncture on Hot Flushes Among Menopausal Women (ACUFLASH) study, a randomized controlled trial. Menopause. 2009 May-Jun;16(3):484-93).

A pilot study on the effect of acupuncture in decreasing hot flushes in menopausal women has concluded either that there is a strong placebo effect or that both traditional and sham acupuncture significantly reduce hot flush frequency. Fifty-six postmenopausal women (aged 44 to 55) were randomised to one of three treatment groups: usual care, sham acupuncture (shallow needling at non-therapeutic sites) or TCM acupuncture. The TCM acupuncture group received one of four treatments based on a TCM diagnosis. There was a significant decrease in mean frequency of hot flushes between weeks one and eight across all groups, although the differences between the three groups were not significant. However, the two acupuncture groups showed a significantly greater decrease than the usual care group, but did not differ from each other. (A randomized, controlled pilot study of acupuncture treatment for menopausal hot flushes. Menopause. 2008 Jun 2. [Epub ahead of print]).

A small qualitative study carried out in the UK has found that a standardised auricular acupuncture protocol delivered in small group clinics is beneficial for women suffering from hot flushes caused by hormone treatment for breast cancer. The 16 women interviewed found the acupuncture to be helpful and relaxing. Many reported reductions in hot flush frequency, as well as improvements in overall emotional and physical wellbeing. The group treatment setting was regarded as supportive and encouraging. (Ear acupuncture for hot flushes – The perceptions of women with breast cancer. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2007 Nov;13(4):250-7).

Acupuncture is associated with a significant decrease in the severity, but not the frequency, of postmenopausal hot flushes. In a randomised, placebo-controlled pilot study, 29 postmenopausal women averaging at least seven moderate to severe hot flushes per 24 hours, were randomised to receive seven weeks (nine treatment sessions) of either active acupuncture (standardised, individually-tailored point prescriptions) or placebo acupuncture (non-penetrating placebo needles at sham acupuncture points). Those receiving active treatment had a significantly greater reduction in hot flush severity than those receiving placebo. There was no significant difference in the reduction of hot flush frequency between the active and placebo groups, however both groups experienced significantly fewer episodes of flushing.

(Acupuncture for postmenopausal hot flushes. Maturitas. 2007 Apr 20;56(4):383-95)