As acupuncturists specializing in the treatment of women’s health issues, one of the most common issues that Betsy and I treat are hot flashes and night sweats. Whereas they occur most often in peri-menopausal women, they can have other causes them as well. Many women undergoing treatment for breast cancer are routinely prescribed anti-estrogen drug therapy, which often causes significant hot flashes, night sweats, depression, and other symptoms that strongly impact these patients’ quality of life. Clinically, we have seen that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are usually very effective at treating all types of hot flashes and night sweats. We were excited to see that a new study just published online this week in the Journal of Oncology validated what we have seen clinically.
Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital randomized patients undergoing breast cancer treatment to two treatment groups. The first group was treated with acupuncture for 12 weeks. The second group was given venlafaxine (commonly known as Effexor), which is currently the standard drug therapy. Both groups were treated for 12 weeks, and then were followed for one year after treatment.
The study’s results were startling. Researchers found that “both groups exhibited significant decreases in hot flashes, depressive symptoms, and other quality-of-life symptoms, including significant improvements in mental health from pre- to post-treatment. These changes were similar in both groups, indicating that acupuncture was as effective as venlafaxine. By 2 weeks post-treatment, the venlafaxine group experienced significant increases in hot flashes, whereas hot flashes in the acupuncture group remained at low levels. The venlafaxine group experienced 18 incidences of adverse effects (eg, nausea, dry mouth, dizziness, anxiety), whereas the acupuncture group experienced no negative adverse effects.”
Interestingly, the acupuncture group also experienced additional benefits. Patients receiving acupuncture also reported “increased sex drive in some women, and most reported an improvement in their energy, clarity of thought, and sense of well-being.”
Eleanor Walker, M.D., the study’s lead author and the division director of breast services in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Henry Ford Hospital concluded that “acupuncture offers patients a safe, effective and durable treatment option for hot flashes, something that affects the majority of breast cancer survivors. Compared to drug therapy, acupuncture actually has benefits, as opposed to more side effects.”
We find these results very exciting, and not just because they validate scientifically the effects that we regularly see clinically. These results are actually a bit than much of the acupuncture research that has been done to date and has looked only at whether or not acupuncture was effective. This study went further and actually compared acupuncture with the current standard of care drug treatment. The investigators found, as we often do in our clinic, that acupuncture was even more beneficial for the patient than the standard drug therapy. We hope that as this style of research result will further fuel acupuncture’s acceptance amongst medical providers, the public at large, and perhaps most importantly, amongst those who decide whether health insurance will reimburse for acupuncture services.
Acupuncture Versus Venlafaxine for the Management of Vasomotor Symptoms in Patients With Hormone Receptor-Positive Breast Cancer: A Randomized Controlled Trial.
Walker EM, Rodriguez AI, Kohn B, Ball RM, Pegg J, Pocock JR, Nunez R, Peterson E, Jakary S, Levine RA.
J Clin Oncol. 2009 Dec 28. [Epub ahead of print]