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Study looks at the use of acupuncture during menopause


Jane Munro
9 December 2010
A study looking at the use of acupuncture in the treatment of menopause has received funding of $480,000 from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

The study will be conducted by a research team including Professor Stephen Myers, director of NatMed Research with the Health and Wellbeing Research Cluster in Southern Cross University's School of Health and Human Sciences.

Professor Myers, one of the chief investigators on the project entitled 'Randomised sham-controlled trial of acupuncture for post-menopausal hot flushes', said there was strong preliminary data that suggested acupuncture could be effective in managing the symptoms of menopause.

"Menopause is a universal experience for women in middle life and hot flushes are the primary symptom they experience. In some cases these hot flushes may severely affect the quality of their life. Interestingly enough a lot of women who experience these symptoms are high consumers of both medical and complementary medicine. In Australia today 87,000 women, or five per cent of women experiencing hot flushes, use acupuncture to treat menopausal symptoms," Professor Myers said.

"There is some clinical trial work that has not been of the strongest methodology suggesting acupuncture is very effective for menopause. What we are setting out to do over the next three years is use the best methodology available in acupuncture research to actually determine if these preliminary studies are correct in their observations that it is an effective treatment.

"We don't really understand the full mechanism of how acupuncture may work in this specific instance but we do know something about the fact it has an effect on neural mechanisms and those effects are thought to involve, among other things, endogenous opiates, serotonin and noradrenaline.

"The study will be conducted as a randomised sham control trial as it is obviously very difficult to placebo control interventions such as acupuncture and surgery. So one of the ways of being able to do a randomized trial where there is a degree of blinding for the patient about the nature of the treatment they get, and to be able to assess if there is a placebo affect from that treatment, is to do sham acupuncture which is pretending to do the acupuncture when the acupuncture is not really done.

"We are delighted the project has been funded and we can move forward with the work because it's an exceedingly important area that causes a substantive degree of disability for women who are severely affected by hot flushes.

"Acupuncture is a safe and relatively low-cost approach to treatment and if it is actually effective then we will have an alternative to hormone replacement therapy with its potential for serious side effects that women will be able to opt for."

The research project team is being led by Dr MariE Pirotta from the General Practice and Primary Health Care Academic Centre at the University of Melbourne and includes Professor Stephen Myers from Southern Cross University, Professor Helena Teede from the Jean Hailes Foundation, Monash University, Professor Charlie Xue from RMIT University and Ms Patty Chondros from the University of Melbourne.

Photo: Professor Stephen Myers is one of the chief investigators on a study looking at the use of acupuncture in the treatment of menopause.