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Treating menopause with acupuncture: volunteers needed


Sharlene King
26 June 2012
Hot flushes can be the bane of a woman’s life as she struggles to cope with changes in her body during menopause.

Now postmenopausal women on the Gold Coast and in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales are being invited to take part in a new study that uses acupuncture to treat hot flushes.

Southern Cross University, in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, Jean Hailes for Women’s Health at Monash University, and RMIT University, is looking for healthy, postmenopausal women who have not had needle acupuncture in the past two years, and who can attend 10 free sessions of acupuncture (either real or placebo). Volunteers must be over 40, having regular hot flushes, and not menopausal as a result of surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Professor Stephen Myers, the Director of the NatMed-Research Unit at Southern Cross Plant Science, based at Southern Cross University, said hot flushes were caused by hormonal changes in the body and affected up to 75 per cent of women during menopause.

“Hot flushes are often bothersome and in some cases very debilitating for women and may last for several years or more.

“Hormone replacement therapy is an effective treatment but carries a small risk of potentially serious side effects, especially for those women with risk factors for heart disease or breast cancer.”

Acupuncture is a relatively safe treatment and some small studies suggest it may help women with hot flushes.

“The evidence for the benefit of acupuncture in hot flushes is good and the aim of this clinical trial is to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that acupuncture is an effective treatment for this condition,” said Professor Myers.

The study has been underway in Melbourne since September 2011.

Trial coordinator, Dr Carolyn Ee, a GP and acupuncturist from the Department of General Practice at the University of Melbourne, said it was important for women to have choice when selecting a menopause treatment option.

“Many women prefer a ‘natural’ approach to managing their symptoms and this can be driven by a range of factors including personal beliefs, previous experience with prescribed medications, and a desire to avoid taking a prescribed medication for something that is considered a ‘normal’ part of life (menopause) as opposed to a disease.”

Dr Ee said acupuncture increased the levels of certain chemical transmitters that affect temperature regulation.

She said there was evidence that acupuncture also affected a specific area of the brain involved in awareness and control of body temperature.

“In my consultations, I’ve seen many women experiencing hot flushes. For some women, hot flushes are a distressing and socially embarrassing issue. Some women were happy to try acupuncture to help manage hot flushes and I found some positive results with those women.”

For more information about taking part in the study, go to email [email protected] or call 03 9035 5018.

The study has received Ethics approval from the University of Melbourne HREC1135293 16/6/11 and Southern Cross University ECN-11-192 25/8/2011.

Eligibility criteria:
* women 40 years or older
* having regular hot flushes
* not menopausal as a result of surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy
* 12 months since the last menstrual period
* have not started any treatment for hot flushes within the past 12 weeks
* not taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
* able to attend acupuncture treatments (‘real’ or placebo’) at Ballina in Northern NSW or at Southport on the Gold Coast

Level of involvement:
* Ten acupuncture treatments (either ‘real’ or ‘placebo’) provided free of charge by experienced acupuncturists in Ballina and Southport. The treatments are funded through the government’s National Health and Medical Research Council.
* Treatments are given over eight weeks (during which time no new treatments for hot flushes can be taken).
* A telephone interview with Dr Carolyn Ee (a medical doctor and acupuncturist) and a brief face-to-face interview with their own practitioner. The interview includes an examination of the tongue and pulse which are an integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis.
* Keeping a hot flush diary over seven days and answering short questionnaires before, during and at three and six months after finishing treatment.

Photo: Acupuncturist Phil Baxter with a patient at his treatment rooms in Ballina.