Dr Carolyn Ee, a general practitioner and acupuncturist from the Department of General Practice at the University of Melbourne, has already done a pilot study of 23 women but is seeking more women now as the criteria for participation has expanded.
“I tried using acupuncture for a few women who were flushing and they felt a lot better,”she said.
Dr Ee said there was controversy about universities teaching complementary medicine, but that it was important to look at these treatments as many people use them.
“Our study is one of the ways in which we are using very strict scientific principles to examine an old therapy,” she said. “There have been smaller studies and they suggest acupuncture is effective in helping to manage hot flushes, but this will be a large study that will shed a lot more light on the area.”
Dr Ee said acupuncture was a safe treatment but now doctors needed to know what conditions could be treated with it. Recent research has shown that hot flushes persist for an average of 5.2 years, which is much longer than the two to four years previously reported.
Hot flushes are experienced by 80 per cent of women in Australia and some find the flushes distressing and socially embarrassing.
Dr Ee is calling for another 180 volunteers for the study, which has already enrolled more than 100 women. New research on menopause now allows for the use of a blood test to determine menopausal status and eligibility for the study. Previously women were only eligible if it had been 12 months since their last menstrual period.
“We are excited because this change in criteria allows many women to take part in the study who would not have been eligible previously – including women who have had a hysterectomy”, Dr Ee said.
She will interview the volunteers and those who are suitable will receive 10 free sessions of acupuncture over eight weeks. Half the women will receive real acupuncture treatment and the other half will receive mock acupuncture treatment.
“If it’s not beneficial, we can let women know that it’s not worth spending their time and money on this particular intervention. But if acupuncture is seen to be effective in relieving hot flushes, we’ll then be able to tell women and their health practitioners how effective it is, what degree of benefit it offers and how long the benefits last for.”
Dr Ee said fewer women in Asia have hot flushes during menopause so the acupuncture treatment chosen for this study was based on a typical Chinese medicine diagnosis for heat in the body.
Acupuncture is thought to work by stimulating nerves in the skin and muscles to trigger responses in the body that reduce pain or blood pressure or improve the digestive and immune systems.
Annie Rahilly (Media Uni)
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