It seems that needles trump pills when it comes to treating hot flashes in breast cancer survivors, according to a study by the University of Pennsylvania.
Health professionals tested 120 women during a 24-week period and found acupuncture reduced hot flashes in cancer survivors.
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The women received treatment for eight weeks and documented their hot flashes for six months. The research found that acupuncture beat out both sham acupuncture, which involves no needles, and gabapentin, an epilepsy drug previously known to be effective in treating hot flashes for breast cancer patients.
“Acupuncture reduces cortisol, which is the stress hormone that increases the hot flashes,” well-known acupuncturist MaoShing Ni told LifeZette.
At the Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica, California, Mao, as he is known to his patients, specializes in integrative oncology for breast cancer survivors.
Acupuncture improved hot-flash symptoms better than drugs among breast cancer survivors, and may help women going through natural menopause as well.
“Many of my breast cancer patients have severe hot flashes and cannot take hormones, and they have found relief in acupuncture,” he said.
One patient, Lorraine Care, was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer five years ago and underwent three months of chemotherapy. Already a patient of Mao, she started weekly treatments because the side effects were so intense, she said.
“He was able to hold off the hot flashes,” said the 55-year old documentary filmmaker. “He worked with my oncologist and managed everything as it came up.”
Today, she sees Mao once a month to help control the hot flashes caused from the estrogen-blocking medication.
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This isn’t the first time acupuncture has been hailed as a method of reducing hot flashes.
Researchers at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit treated two groups of breast cancer patients in 2008. One group was given the antidepressant Effexor. The other received acupuncture once or twice a week. The study found that the acupuncture group did just as well as those who were taking the antidepressant when it came to curbing hot flashes.
The women who received acupuncture also reported having more energy and fewer side effects from the cancer drugs. Some even reported an increased sex drive compared to the group on the antidepressant.
The results lead many to ask if acupuncture treatments would also be helpful to women going through natural menopause, since both sets are dealing with declining estrogen levels.
Mao said the answer is yes. He said acupuncture works for all women dealing with low estrogen and hot flashes.