Typically lasting 5-10 years, the menopausal transition is associated with symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disorders, mood swings, and depression. As these symptoms often hinder a woman from successful functioning in everyday life, conventional therapies, especially hormone therapy, are commonly prescribed to diminish symptoms. Many women, however, are seeking complementary and alternative treatments due to the side effects and health risks associated with conventional therapies.1
Menopause is a significant issue for women. An estimated 2 million women reach menopause in the U.S. every year. Half to two-thirds of these women will experience hot flashes, night sweats, and other symptoms during menopause.2 There are close to 55 million women in the post-menopausal stage of their lives. Postmenopausal women also have a significantly higher incidence of debilitating illnesses such as osteoporosis, heart disease and certain cancers associated with aging. The annual cost implications of postmenopausal women's health are quite significant: $10 billion for cardiovascular disease, $14 billion for osteoporosis, and $6 billion for breast cancer.3
Given the severity of menopausal symptoms and the growing concern over the potential side effects of hormone replacement therapy, it is important to assess the potential of Oriental medicine and related practices to provide a healthier, cost-effective and integrated solution.
I recently conducted a literature review to assess the effectiveness of three treatments, namely acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and yoga for women suffering from menopausal symptoms. An emphasis was placed on randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and systematic reviews.
There was significant evidence for the positive impact of acupuncture on several menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, sleep disturbances, and mood swings. Similarly, the evidence supported the use of yoga therapy to treat hot flashes, sleep quality and stress. The evidence for Chinese herbs was not as compelling. One of the key limitations of published research on Chinese herbs was that they used a standard herbal formula rather than a customized herbal formula tailored to the specific conditions of the patients.
The research studies reviewed consistently illustrated the severity of menopausal symptoms and related health issues and reinforced the need to more effectively address menopause-related quality of life, productivity and health concerns.
This is the first review that has assessed the effectiveness of all three treatment options namely acupuncture, Chinese herbs and yoga in addressing menopausal symptoms.
Based on these findings, further research is needed to explore the use of a more personalized treatment plan that integrates all three therapies. There was evidence in several studies that a more tailored approach to treatment based on the patient’s Chinese medicine diagnosis and their unique health situation would be more effective than a standardized approach.
Recommendations for Future Research:
My strong hypothesis (and the basis of my integrative medicine practice) is that an integrated and personalized treatment approach incorporating acupuncture, Chinese herbs and yoga therapy would be very effective for women suffering from menopausal symptoms. The objective of the research would be to assess this hypothesis.
A 5-group randomized controlled trial (RCT) conducted over 12 weeks is recommended with measurements conducted at baseline and after the administration of the intervention. Study participants will be assigned to one of five groups namely a control group (no intervention), a group receiving acupuncture treatments only, a group receiving Chinese herbs only, a group receiving yoga therapy and a final group being treated with an integrated approach incorporating all three treatments. Practitioners would be instructed to personalize their treatments based on the patient’s Chinese medicine diagnosis.
Dr. Bebe Chianni Lin utilizes her integrated approach to treating patients in her Santa Monica healing center, the Center for Acupuncture & Integrative Medicine.
1) NIH, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “Menopausal Symptoms: In Depth”, February 2012 https://nccih.nih.gov/health/menopause/menopausesymptoms
2) National Library of Medicine – PubMed Health, “Menopause: Overview”, August 2013 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072495/
3) Indiana State Department of Health, “Menopause”, January 2016 http://www.in.gov/isdh/18106.htm