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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.

Why Soy for Hot Flashes Works for Some, Not All

Adding whole soy foods to your diet may quell hot flashes, but it's only likely to help if you're one of those women whose bodies produce equol, a soy metabolite. A study published online on November 6, 2014 by the journal Menopause concludes that 20 to 50 percent of North American and European women produce equol. Seattle area researchers surveyed women in a local health care system to identify those who didn't use hormone replacement therapy and who also consumed soy foods at least three times a week. The women who agreed to participate in the study were asked to report on the number and severity of their hot flashes and night sweats. Urine tests showed that only 34 percent of the 357 women volunteers produced equol. Among those women, 76 percent who regularly consumed soy reported a less than average number of hot flashes and night sweats. The researchers noted that measuring equol is done only in research centers, but women can get a reliable indication of whether or not soy foods will help quench their hot flashes by adding them to their diets for four to six weeks. If there's no change, you can assume that soy won't be effective for you. The researchers noted that the positive effect of soy for women who do produce equol still has to be studied and confirmed in larger controlled, randomized studies.

Menopause and Caffeine

First the bad news: women who suffer from hot flashes may be making their symptoms worse if they drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages. The Mayo Clinic recently conducted the most comprehensive study ever to investigate the relationship between caffeine and menopausal symptoms. A total of 2,507 women seen at the Mayo Women’s Health Clinic in Rochester, Minn., participated. The women responded to a health questionnaire devised by the journal Menopause, which published the study online on July 21, 2014. Past studies have reached conflicting conclusions regarding a link between caffeine intake and hot flashes. The good news is that this same study showed that caffeine consumption by perimenopausal women was linked to fewer problems with mood, memory and concentration. While the study’s conclusions were described by its authors as “preliminary,” Stephanie Faubion, M.D., director of Mayo’s Women’s Health Clinic, noted that the results do suggest that limiting caffeine intake may be prudent for women suffering from hot flashes and night sweats.

My take? Hot flashes can make a woman’s life miserable as she enters menopause, but luckily in most cases, the symptoms resolve on their own, usually within six months to a year. For those considering alternative approaches, black cohosh is an effective option and has been well studied, but unfortunately doesn’t work for all women. Dietary measures I recommend include two helpings daily of whole soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, edamame (green soy beans in the pod) and miso, which may help because these foods contain plant-based estrogens. Women can also try the supplements dong quai, vitamin E and evening primrose oil but, like black cohosh, they don't work for everyone. The most reliable treatment is estrogen replacement, which may be worth considering on a short-term basis, at the lowest effective dose, if nothing else helps.

Hops for Hot Flashes, Weight Loss and Cancer Prevention

Researchers at Oregon State University are looking into the cancer protective effects of a flavonoid found in hops, the plants that give beer its bitter flavor. The flavonoid, xanthohumol, can help protect against cancer, at least in cell culture. Investigators at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State have found xanthohumol to be active against breast, colon, and ovarian cancer when these cancer cell lines were grown and treated under lab conditions. The flavonoid might also help prevent prostate cancer. In addition, hops appears to have other health benefits: an extract has been shown to decrease hot flashes in menopausal women, and ongoing studies of the effect of one hops compound may lead to a new approach to weight loss. In animal studies, the compound promoted either outright weight loss or prevented the animals from gaining as much weight as untreated animals. Don’t stock up on beer yet, though, as it doesn’t contain enough xanthohumol to provide any of the potential health benefits. How much xanthohumol would be needed to protect against cancer, control hot flashes and help us lose weight is still being investigated.

Sources:
“An interview with Fred Stevens, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Medicinal Chemistry LPI Principal Investigator,” Linus Pauling Institute Research Newsletter, accessed December 6, 2013, http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/fw10/vitamincbeer.html

“Hops”, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center website, accessed December 7, 2013, http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/herb/hops