Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Acupuncture Evidence Misses the Point

Traditional Chinese acupuncture treatments are no better than fake acupuncture for treating menopause symptoms, according to research conducted at The University of Melbourne.

Surprisingly, however, both real and sham treatments tested produced a 40% improvement in the severity and frequency of hot flushes at the end of 8 weeks of treatment, and the benefits remained 6 months after treatment.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (www.tinyurl.com/hf73rgx), examined 327 Australian women aged over 40 who had at least seven moderate hot flushes per day. Half of the group had ten sessions of standard Chinese medicine acupuncture, while the other half received “sham” acupuncture using blunt-tipped needles that didn’t penetrate the skin.

Lead author of the study, Dr Carolyn Ee, said that plausible explanations for the improvement in both groups included the placebo effect, attending a clinic to talk about symptoms, and spontaneous improvement of hot flushes over time.

“This was a large and rigorous study and we are confident there is no additional benefit from inserting needles compared with stimulation from pressuring the blunt needles without skin penetration for hot flushes,” Ee said. “If women want to consider having acupuncture for hot flushes, they should know that although previous studies show it is better than doing nothing, our study demonstrates that needling does not appear to make a difference.”

Women with breast cancer or who have had both ovaries removed were not included in the study. “These women suffer hot flushes that are more severe and often earlier in life, so we think they warrant specific research because breast cancer survivors can’t take hormone replacement therapy,” Ee explained.

She stressed that while acupuncture is a relatively safe treatment, women should also discuss other treatment options for their hot flushes with their doctor.