Menopausal Women Find Relief From Alternate Therapies

Menopausal Women Find Relief From Alternate Therapies

Menopause — it’s a time in a woman’s life that she may fear, worry, or wonder about — but one that remains incredibly personal and, at times, precarious.

Menopause symptoms can vary greatly and run the gamut from being hardly noticeable, except for the absence of menses, to the daily inconvenience of everything from night sweats to irritability and painful joints, not to mention vaginal dryness and painful intercourse.

Other women may also complain of urinary incontinence, exhaustion, and negative changes in mood, not unlike typical PMS symptoms.

Overall, not a pretty scenario at any age.

Acupuncture

Fortunately, researchers are now learning much more about menopause and its treatments.

You might even be surprised at recent findings, which make claims that alternative therapies — not hormone treatments — can actually make menopause symptoms much more tolerable.

In fact, recent studies have shown that alternative exercise programs, such as yoga or tai chi, can actually help lessen or even eliminate some symptoms, such as urinary incontinence.

And acupuncture, the Asian art of inserting needles into specific points in a person’s body, may also be useful in combating or reducing the elevations in body temperature colorfully known as hot flashes.

Published this month in Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), a new meta study (one that analyzed 104 earlier studies) makes claims that acupuncture can affect the severity and frequency of hot flashes in menopausal women.

The new study examined all different types of treatment, including traditional acupuncture, acupressure, electroacupuncture, laser acupuncture, and ear acupuncture and found all were effective at lessening symptoms for as long as three months.

The theory behind the effectiveness of acupuncture is just that. It suggests that exact pressure to certain points on the body caused a “reduction in the concentration of endorphins in the hypothalamus, resulting in low concentrations of estrogen, [which in turn] triggers the release of CGRP” or calcitonin gene-related peptide, a neuropeptide that widens blood vessels and has been shown to reduce pain.

“More than anything, this review indicates that there is still much to be learned relative to the causes and treatments of menopausal hot flashes,” said NAMS executive director Margery Gass, MD.

“The review suggests that acupuncture may be an effective alternative for reducing hot flashes, especially for those women seeking non-pharmacologic therapies.” According to the studies, that’s about half of menopausal women in the United States.

Weight Loss

Another recent study correlates weight loss and reduced hot flashes. That article, “Behavioral Weight Loss For the Management of Menopausal Hot Flashes: A Pilot Study” will be published in 2015 in Menopause.

“This is encouraging news for women looking for relief for this bothersome midlife symptom,” said Gass. “Not only might behavior weight loss provide a safe effective remedy for many women, but it also encourages a health-promoting behavior.” Since most women entered into the study to reduce their hot flashes, Gass believes it may be a great incentive for women to lose weight in general.

Other menopausal women have already been told to try yoga, if not to reduce hot flashes, then to combat another inconvenient problem: urinary incontinence, which can be especially problematic if the woman in question has had many children that in turn weakened her abdominal muscle structures.

Yoga and Urinary Incontinence

In a 2014 study published this past April in Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery, the official journal of the American Urogynecologic Society, University of California at San Francisco, researchers examined how specific yoga regimes, such as those designed to improve pelvic muscles, can significantly help women control problems with urinary incontinence after six weeks.

The most successful study participants experienced a 70 percent improvement in symptoms, especially incontinence brought on by normal activities, such as sneezing, coughing, laughing, or bending over. Since incontinence is also associated with depression and/or anxiety, yoga might help lessen those symptoms as well.

“Yoga is often directed at mindful awareness, increasing relaxation, and relieving anxiety and stress,” said study author Alison Huang, MD, assistant professor in the UCSF School of Medicine. “For these reasons, yoga has been directed at a variety of other conditions — metabolic syndrome or pain syndromes — but there’s also a reason to think that it could help for incontinence as well.”

Huang recommends a 6 to 10 week course of yoga therapy aimed at strengthening the pelvic floor muscles over more expensive physical therapies programs. Since about 25 million American women suffer with urinary incontinence brought on during menopause, yoga seems like a perfect starting point to reduce symptoms.



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