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Acupuncture For Hot Flashes

Some drug treatments for breast cancer are designed to keep estrogen levels low, causing a change in hormone balance that can trigger symptoms of menopause in women, including hot flashes. Because female hormones can foster the growth of cancer cells, these patients can’t take estrogen, even if symptoms become severe. Fortunately, new research from the University of Pennsylvania suggests that acupuncture may help relieve the hot flashes. The study, which included 120 breast cancer survivors who reported multiple hot flashes daily, examined the effects of four different treatments to assess the effectiveness of electroacupuncture, a therapy where the acupuncture needles deliver weak electrical currents. The women were divided into four groups. One group was treated with 900 mg of gabapentin daily, an epilepsy drug that has been shown to help reduce hot flashes. Another group received a gabapentin placebo. A third received two electroacupuncture treatments a week for two weeks, then one treatment weekly. The fourth group underwent sham electroacupuncture treatment. After eight weeks, the women who received electroacupuncture reported fewer and less severe hot flashes than women in any of the other groups. Those who received the sham acupuncture also had measurable relief followed by those who took gabapentin. The women who took the gabapentin placebo improved least. The investigators found that 16 weeks later, the women who underwent real or sham electroacupuncture were still experiencing fewer hot flashes – some were even more improved than at the end of the eight-week study. Compared to the sham group, the women who received the real electroacupuncture had a 25 percent reduction in hot flashes, but the researchers said the modest size of the study precluded a statistically definitive conclusion.

What Works Best for Your Allergies? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed using acupuncture as a form of relief for allergies: Acupuncture for Allergies? Check out the article and let us know what you use or do for relieving allergies.

Acupuncture to Ease Dental Woes

Here’s a potential solution for patients who are always nervous and anxious in a dentist’s chair: researchers in Italy found that acupuncture reduced the likelihood of gagging among patients having impressions taken of their upper and lower teeth. In this small study - only 20 dental patients with a history of gag reflex took part – participants ranging in age 19 to 80 had teeth impressions taken under normal circumstances. They then had the procedure repeated with acupuncture. The first time around, the patients reported an average gag reflex for upper teeth impressions of 7 on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 representing the most nausea and gagging. With acupuncture, the average score was 1 on the 0 to 10 scale. The results for impressions of the lower teeth were similar. The needles were inserted at acupuncture points on the face and wrist about 30 seconds before the impressions were taken. Because this study was so small, the findings will have to be confirmed by further research before they can be widely accepted or considered in clinical practice. The study was published online on November 5, 2013 by the journal Acupuncture in Medicine.

Acupuncture for Depression

Acupuncture worked better than medicationAntidepressants used in conjunction with acupuncture worked better than medication alone in a newly published study from the U.K.’s University of York. Investigators there also tested counseling combined with antidepressants, which they found worked as well as acupuncture and drugs.

The researchers randomized a group of 755 men and women being treated with antidepressants for moderate to severe depression to receive either 12 weekly acupuncture sessions, 12 weekly counseling sessions or the medication alone. After three months, the team reported a “significant reduction” in average depression scores for patients who underwent acupuncture or counseling in addition to antidepressants compared to the group that received medication as the only treatment. Improvements in the acupuncture and counseling groups continued to be observed for up to six months, but at nine and 12 months there were no further gains in scores indicating recovery from depression among these patients. The study was designed to evaluate how effective acupuncture and counseling would be for patients with moderate to severe depression who remained in primary care.

My take? I’m not surprised that acupuncture worked well for some of the patients in this study – the World Health Organization has recognized it as an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression. While not addressed by the U.K. study, I believe that there is no better therapy than regular aerobic exercise for more immediate, symptomatic treatment of mild to moderate depression. Many studies have demonstrated the efficacy of a daily workout for improving emotional health and boosting self-confidence. For best results, I recommend 30 minutes of continuous activity at least five days a week.

Hugh MacPherson et al, “Acupuncture and Counselling for Depression in Primary Care: A Randomised Controlled Trial,” PLoS ONE September 24, 2013

Acupuncture for Lymphedema

New evidence suggests that acupuncture may help relieve lymphedema of the arm, an accumulation of fluid that can occur after lymph nodes are removed during surgery, and a condition that frequently follows a radical mastectomy for breast cancer. A study at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City showed that acupuncture for lymphedema is safe and well-tolerated. Participating patients had acupuncture twice a week for four weeks. Of the 33 patients taking part in the study, 11 had a significant reduction in swelling of the affected arm and another 18 had at least a small reduction, the researchers reported online on April 10, 2013 in the journal Cancer. Several weeks after their acupuncture sessions, patients said they saw lasting improvement in alleviating swelling. A randomized clinical trial of acupuncture for patients who have had lymphedema for at least six months despite conventional treatment is now underway to assess the potential benefits of acupuncture and how long they last. The study is expected to conclude in October 2014.

Barrie Cassileth et al, “Acupuncture in the treatment of upper-limb lymphedema: Results of a pilot study.” Cancer July 1, 2013 119(13):2455-61. doi: 10.1002/cncr.28093. Epub 2013 Apr 10

“Acupuncture for Chronic Lymphedema After Breast Cancer Treatment,”, accessed July 19, 2013