Sham acupuncture is as effective as real acupuncture in treating hot flashes in women, and the placebo effect likely plays a role in both, according to a new Australian study.
In real acupuncture, thin needles are inserted into the skin at specific points. Sham acupuncture uses blunt-tipped needles that don’t penetrate the skin.
The study included 327 Australian women older than 40 who had at least seven moderate hot flashes a day. Half received 10 sessions of real acupuncture over eight weeks and the other half received the same number of sessions of sham acupuncture.
By the end of the treatment period, women in both groups had a 40 percent reduction in the severity and frequency of their hot flashes. The benefits were still evident six months after treatment, the University of Melbourne researchers found.
There are a number of possible explanations for the improvement in both groups, including the placebo effect, the benefits of going to a clinic to discuss symptoms, and the fact that hot flashes tend to improve on their own over time, according to study leader Dr. Carolyn Ee, a general practitioner trained in Chinese medicine.
“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 [flashes],” she said in a university news release.
“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,” Ee added.
Women considering acupuncture for hot flashes should also discuss other treatment options with their doctor, she advised.
Previous research suggests acupuncture helps treat a number of conditions, including chronic pain, menstrual pain, tension headaches, hay fever and chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting.
The study findings were published online Jan. 19 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has more about acupuncture.