Recently in the UK, Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been hitting the headlines; a national shortage left thousands of women in the UK without treatment leaving with some seeking unsafe unregulated alternatives. Secondly, researchers have warned that the increased risk of breast cancer from HRT can last more than a decade after treatment stops. The Lancet study concluded 50 people taking the combined therapy, one would develop breast cancer as a result of the drugs.
"Previous estimates of risks associated with use of menopausal hormone therapy are approximately doubled by the inclusion of the persistent risk after use of the hormones ceases," said Prof Valerie Beral from the University of Oxford (2019)
The medicines and healthcare products agency (MHRA) have urged patients to discuss risks and benefits at their next GP appointment with no urgent need for action. It is important that patients are made aware of the new findings so that they can make an informed decision. Cancer Research UK (2019) elaborates that risk of cancer with HRT depends on many factors. This includes the type of HRT, when people start taking it, how long they take it for, their age and underlying health. The British Menopause society (BMS) responded to the Lancet paper welcoming further data. The BMS also the reminded readers that whilst there may be a small increase in the incidence of breast cancer linked with the use of HRT; we must compare the risk with other known factors such as alcohol intake and obesity that have shown to be at much greater risk.
Could Acupuncture be a plausible alternative?
As an acupuncturist, I find myself working with menopausal symptoms on a daily basis with patients finding longterm effective relief for menopausal symptoms. The most common symptoms that patients present with are hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, headaches, fatigue, forgetfulness and low mood. The median duration of menopausal vasomotor symptoms is about 4 years but, in around 10% of women, they last longer than 12 years (Polity 2008). It’s no wonder that so many women turn to HRT knowing the unpleasant symptoms can last for over a decade. A recent Danish study hit the headlines earlier this year with high methodological quality concluded that ‘…The standardised and brief acupuncture treatment produced a fast and clinically relevant reduction in moderate-to-severe menopausal symptoms during the six-week intervention. No severe adverse effects were reported…’ Lund et al (2009) This study was quoted in many tabloids and subsequently brought an increase of women seeking relief of menopausal symptoms through the doors of acupuncture clinics nationwide.
Acupuncture is a relatively painless modality when used by a qualified practitioner, by using hair fine sterile needles in carefully selected locations we can stimulate a biochemical healing response to regulate hormones, release endorphins, regulate the nervous system, reduce pain and so much more. In my experience, acupuncture can greatly reduce and even resolve symptoms associated with menopause after a course of treatment. Once improvement has been achieved, some patients benefit from monthly to seasonal treatments dependant on the severity and the nature of the complaints. Traditional Acupuncture offered by a licensed acupuncturist is a safe alternative to hormone replacement therapy and is worth exploring if you are suffering with menopausal symptoms. A few of the wonderful ladies I have had the pleasure of working with have been kind enough to share their experiences in the treatment of acupuncture for menopausal symptoms…
"I read that acupuncture could help to ease menopause symptoms so thought I would give it a go. After my first visit to Claire she drastically improved my hot flushes, improved my sleeping & I had a lot more energy. I’m so glad I decided to give it a try as she has totally transformed me. I now only go monthly & although I don’t have any of the symptoms that I originally went for I enjoy it so much I will continue to go as it makes me feel so energised.”
“My acupuncture sessions have significantly reduced the severity of hot flushes and the number I experienced each day has halved since having the treatment”
“Acupuncture dramatically reduced my frequent daily flushes to the odd one per week, sometimes I have weeks without any. Since starting acupuncture, my sleep and mood has improved and I feel less anxious in general”
“Acupuncture stopped my hot flushes (menopause) I have also suffered with sleep problems Claire worked her magic and now I sleep so well - my life is a joy once again.”
“I was at my wits end with menopause symptoms, night sweats, hot flushes, aches and pains and low moods. I desperately didn't want to use conventional medicine so i telephoned Claire from a recommendation. After my first treatment (which i find very relaxing) i started to feel a little bit more like me. After 3-4 treatments i went from approximately 8 flushes a day and 2-3 nights sweats to 1-2 flushes a day. Now i rarely get any. My aches and pains are a lot more manageable and my low moods are being worked on. Acupuncture really has changed my life.”
Whilst acupuncture may not always be a ‘magic on/off switch’ (although its wonderful and welcomed when it is!) it really can reduce the incidence and severity of menopausal symptoms such as flushes and insomnia. In turn, a reduction of symptoms can really improve quality of life. If you have been suffering with menopausal symptoms, there are things you can do today. By making lifestyle changes such as reducing or cutting out caffeine, sugar, spicy foods and alcohol this greatly improve symptoms as these are known to exacerbate hormonal symptoms and also disrupt sleep. Maintaining a healthy body weight, incorporating gentle exercises into your routine such as walking, tai chi or yoga could also be beneficial. If you would like to try acupuncture for menopausal symptoms you can find your local licensed acupuncture practitioner visit www.acupuncture.org.uk
The British Acupuncture Council shares how Acupuncture may help reduce symptoms of the menopause and perimenopause by:
regulating serum estradiol, follicle stimulating hormone and luteotrophic hormone (Xia 2008);increasing relaxation and reducing tension (Samuels 2008). Acupuncture can alter the brain's mood chemistry, reducing serotonin levels (Zhou 2008) and increasing endorphins (Han, 2004) and neuropeptide Y levels (Lee 2009), which can help to combat negative affective states.stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Pomeranz, 1987, Zijlstra 2003, Cheng 2009).
British Menopause Society (2019) BMS Response to Lancet Paper on the link between different forms of HRT and breast cancer incidence Available at: https://thebms.org.uk/2019/08/bms-response-to-lancet-paper-on-the-link-between-different-forms-of-hrt-and-breast-cancer-incidence/
Beral V, Peto R, Pirie K, Reeves G. Menopausal hormone therapy and 20-year breast cancer mortality. Lancet 2019; published online Aug 29. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(19)32033-1.
Cancer Research UK (2019) Does hormone replacement therapy increase cancer risk? available at https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/hormones-and-cancer/does-hormone-replacement-therapy-increase-cancer-risk
Lee B et al. Effects of acupuncture on chronic corticosterone-induced depression-like behaviour and expression of neuropeptide Y in the rats. Neuroscience Letters 2009; 453: 151-6.
Lund KS, Siersma V, Brodersen J, et al.
Efficacy of a standardised acupuncture approach for women with bothersome menopausal symptoms:
a pragmatic randomised
study in primary care (the ACOM study). BMJ Open 2019;9:e023637. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2018-023637
Politi MC et al. Revisiting the duration of vasomotor symptoms of menopause: a meta-analysis. J Gen Intern Med 2008; 23: 1507-13.
Menopausal symptoms (2015) British Acupuncture Council Factsheets (available at https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/1137-menopausal-symptoms.html)
Samuels N et al. Acupuncture for psychiatric illness: a literature review. Behav Med 2008; 34: 55-64
University of Oxford Menopausal hormone therapy increases breast cancer risk for years (2019) available at http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2019-08-30-menopausal-hormone-therapy-increases-breast-cancer-risk-years