The ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture has been used to treat physical, mental, and emotional conditions, from headaches to asthma, for thousands of years. Now, it may help with menopause-induced hot flashes.

Researchers from the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) analyzed 12 studies and found acupuncture has the power to reduce hot flash frequency, severity, and other menopausal symptoms. They published their findings in the journal Menopause. Previous studies have concluded with inconsistent results on the effects acupuncture has on menopause symptoms, which include sleep problems, mood disturbances, and sexual problems. However, none until now have examined its effect on hot flashes.

"The review suggests that acupuncture may be an effective alternative for reducing hot flashes, especially for those women seeking non-pharmacologic therapies," NAMS Executive Director Dr. Margery Gass said in a press release. Hot flashes are the most common symptom of menopause and occur in women because during menopause their ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone and are no longer able to become pregnant. The sudden feeling of heat can cause red blotches to appear on your chest, back, and arms followed by heavy sweating and cold shivers to cool the body back down.

Hot flashes happen to more than two-thirds of women in North America, so finding a solution to such a temperature fluctuation would be a relief to masses. Approximately half of all menopausal women use complementary and alternative medicine therapies, such as acupuncture instead of drug therapies to manage their symptoms.

Researchers found menopausal women between the ages of 40 and 60 had lessened the frequency and severity of their hot flashes for as long as three months after an acupuncture treatment. The women tried various types of acupuncture, including traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture, acupressure, electroacupuncture, laser acupuncture, and ear acupuncture.

Acupuncture stimulates different points on the body by penetrating the skin with thin, solid metallic needles either put in with electronic or manual stimulation. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, more than three million Americans use acupuncture for chronic lower-back pain, headache, and osteoarthritic knee pain.

The study only evaluated the effects of acupuncture as a treatment for hot flashes but was unable to pinpoint the underlying mechanism behind the curative treatment. One theory, however, was acupuncture decreased the concentration of beta-endorphin in the brain, which then decreased concentrations of estrogen in the body. The lower levels of calcitonin gene-related peptide that secretes from estrogen also affects the body’s ability to maintain its body temperature.

"More than anything, this review indicates that there is still much to be learned relative to the causes and treatments of menopausal hot flashes," Gass said.

Source: Chiu H, Han B, Tsai P, et al. Effects of acupuncture on menopause-related symptoms and quality of life in women on natural menopause. Menopause. 2014