Detail for: Acupuncture May Help Relieve Hot Flashes


Dr. Elizabeth Kauric


Acupuncture May Help Relieve Hot Flashes



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Date Updated:

Oct 20, 2010


Article Text and Notes:

A new study shows that acupuncture may help relieve hot flashes that occur as a result of breast cancer treatment. Since hormone replacement therapy is contraindicated in patients with breast cancer, alternative treatments for hot flashes are necessary. This study demonstrated that acupuncture was as effective as the antidepressant Effexor (venlafaxine) and had no adverse events, unlike Effexor. In addition, acupuncture provided other benefits that improved overall well-being, such as increased sex drive, energy levels, and clarity of thought. The benefits of acupuncture also lasted months longer than Effexor.

Hot flashes can significantly reduce the quality of life in women receiving antiestrogen hormone treatment for breast cancer, and even women being treated for menopause symptoms. The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) has reported serious adverse effects from hormone replacement therapy , including heart attacks, strokes, blood clots, and breast cancer, which has resulted in many women discontinuing it as a primary treatment. Acupuncture has already been shown to reduce hot flashes in menopausal women, but this is reportedly the first study comparing acupuncture to drug treatment in easing hot flashes in breast cancer patients.

Methods & Results

In this study, 50 patients received 12 weeks of treatment with either acupuncture or Effexor, and overall physical and mental health were measured for one year after the last treatment. Both groups experienced a 50% reduction in hot flashes, significant reduction in depressive symptoms, and improved quality of life. However, acupuncture dominated Effexor in three key ways:

1) Most of the women reported an improvement in energy, clarity of
thought, and sense of well-being with acupuncture.

2) There were 18 adverse events in the Effexor group and no adverse
events in the acupuncture group.

3) Significant increases in hot flashes were experienced within two
weeks after drug treatment was stopped, but the benefits of
acupuncture continued for at least three months post-treatment.


Acupuncture appears to be a safe alternative treatment for hot flashes in women with breast cancer. It is as effective as drug therapy, with additional benefits, and a therapeutic effect that significantly outlasts the drug.


Walker, E. M., Rodriguez, A. I., Kohn, B., et al. (2010 Feb). Acupuncture versus venlafaxine for the management of vasomotor symptoms in patients with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 28(4): 634-640.

For more information on this research or the protocol for treating hot flashes with acupuncture, please refer to the September 2010 edition of Acupoint, available under the “Members” tab on the CCAA website.

Proposed Mechanism for Acupuncture Effects on Hot Flashes

Women who are under cancer treatment or have had a hysterectomy tend to have more severe hot flashes than women going through a natural menopause. Men can also experience hot flashes due to chemotherapy or natural hormonal changes. The physiological mechanisms behind hot flashes are not known in detail, but the predominant hypothesis is that hormone shifts associated with aging result in neurochemical changes that destabilize the temperature-regulating centres of the brain. This lack of control manifests in hot flashes and night sweats, which are sometimes followed by chills.

Acupuncture treatment stimulates production of endorphins and serotonin, which may have a stabilizing effect on the temperature-regulating centres of the brain. The response to acupuncture treatment may be a great reduction in hot flash symptoms, minor improvements that take the edge off, or no change at all. The only way to know is to try a course of ten or more acupuncture treatments and monitor the response.

Considering the high safety profile of acupuncture and the potential for significant benefit, acupuncture is a reasonable choice for those who cannot or will not take hormone replacement therapy.