Acupuncture – an effective alternative to HRT?

women's healthThe menopause can so often be a time that brings disruption and misery to a woman’s life.  It can involve one or more of a range of symptoms, which are experienced to varying degrees and levels of distress. These can include night sweats and hot flushes, insomnia, anxiety, depression, fatigue, headaches, aches and pains, palpitations and genital and urinary problems.

It is estimated that up to 60% of women’s lives are sufficiently disrupted to warrant visiting the GP, where the standard treatment is a prescription of HRT (hormone replacement therapy). For some, this brings immediate relief with no or little side-effects and the added benefit of preventing the development of osteoporosis.

For others the side-effects of HRT (weight gain, bloating, breast tenderness, nausea, cramps, indigestion, fluid retention, headaches, mood swings, depression acne and backache) outweigh the benefits.

A woman may be reluctant to take HRT because of the associated risks of cardiovascular disease and breast cancer. Others feel uncomfortable about taking medication for such a long period of time. Some are not able to take it because of a pre-existing condition such as high blood pressure. Some have been on HRT for many years but feel unsure about stopping because of the return of the original symptoms.

So what’s the alternative…?

Well you might decide to just grin and bear it and hope that it passes. Unfortunately it can take several years to get through and even post-menopausal women continue to experience hot flushes from time to time.

Alternatively, you might try acupuncture.

According to traditional Chinese philosophy, our health is dependent on the body’s energy (or qi) moving in a smooth and balanced way along channels in the body. The flow of energy can be disturbed by a number of factors, including emotions, injury, age, lifestyle and even the weather.

In Chinese medicine it is the kidneys that are responsible for reproduction, growth and development. The menopause is a sign that a woman’s childbearing years are coming to an end and the body is preparing for a new stage of life. During this process the energy of the kidneys is depleted and the balance of yin and yang is disrupted.
As yin decreases the body heats up – causing hot flushes, night sweats, dizziness, menstrual irregularities and anxiety. Yin and Yang are interdependent so yang deficiency can then arise causing chills, fatigue and depression. As time passes the vitality of other meridians is disrupted – our liver qi may stagnate causing mood swings and depression, our heart qi may become hyperactive causing insomnia and palpitations.

The beauty of acupuncture is that it treats the person rather than the disease. This means there is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment – the patient presents with a set of symptoms that are unique to them and treatment is tailored to that individual.

But does it work?

Recent research carried out by Wake Forest School of Medicine in the US has shown that there is strong evidence that acupuncture is effective at reducing night sweats and hot flushes. And we know that acupuncture is effective at reducing stress, which is a common trigger for the symptoms.  In fact there have been numerous trials that have shown it works.

My clinic experience also tells me that it helps. To give just one example, one client who has recently been through the menopause couldn’t believe that her gynaecologist doesn’t routinely recommend acupuncture as an alternative to HRT when she found her quite extreme symptoms were completely under control within a matter of weeks after starting a course of treatment. Other patients find that at the very least it makes the symptoms more manageable so that they can get on with their busy lives.

My advice would be to give it a try. If you’re thinking of HRT why not see if acupuncture can help before – you might find you don’t need it or are able to take a lower dose. If you want to take HRT but can’t because of an underlying condition, acupuncture could help with the menopausal symptoms and the underlying condition. And if you’re happy taking HRT it’s still beneficial to have acupuncture as it treats the underlying imbalance rather than just masking the symptoms, which will keep you fit and well and mean that should the time come to stop taking medication your body will be much more able to give it up.

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