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Treat Menopause Hot Flashes without Hormones, Supplements: New Study

Treat hot flashes without hormones or supplements

Having hot flashes is no laughing matter: just ask any of the 70 percent of women going through menopause who suffer with the bouts of excessive sweating and flushing. While numerous researchers have suggested a variety of substances to help quell hot flashes, a new study found an effective approach that did not involve hormones or supplements.

How should we treat hot flashes?

Since hot flashes are associated with the decline in estrogen that women experience as they go through menopause, one treatment for hot flashes has been hormone therapy. Unfortunately, use of estrogen is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, and blood clots.

These findings sent investigators back to the drawing board, and a variety of alternative treatments have been suggested, including acupuncture, cognitive behavior therapy, exercise, soy, and black cohosh. Another therapy that has been studied recently is applied relaxation.

At Linkoping University and Linkoping University Hospital in Sweden, a team led by the Women's Clinic consultant Elizabeth Nedstrand studied the effects of applied relaxation versus no treatment on 60 women who were suffering with moderate to severe symptoms of hot flashes (at least 50 episodes per week) and who were otherwise healthy.

The applied relaxation technique involved breathing therapy, which focused on helping the women relax each of their muscle groups and therefore achieve overall relaxation. The women were shown how to do the technique so they could continue their therapy at home.

All of the women were asked to keep a diary during the intervention and for three months after it ended, noting the number of hot flashes and commenting on their quality of life. The women also submitted a saliva sample so the researchers could look at their level of the stress hormone cortisol.

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Here's what the researchers found:

  • Women who participated in the relaxation therapy reduced the number of hot flashes they experienced daily from an average of 9.1 to 4.4
  • The benefit of the relaxation therapy remained for three months after the last therapy session
  • Women who practiced relaxation therapy also said they had a better quality of life, including enhanced memory, concentration, and sleep, and reduced anxiety
  • Although women in the relaxation group experienced many benefits, there were no significance differences in their stress hormone secretions when compared with women in the control group
  • Women in the control group has an insignificant decline in the number of hot flashes per day, from 9.7 to 7.8

More about hot flashes
Hot flashes are a symptom that can continue for a decade or more after menopause, according to a study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. In that study, investigators noted that of the more than 10,400 postmenopausal women they evaluated, they were surprised that "menopausal symptoms persisted in over half of the women. They were still having hot flushes on average ten years after their last period."

Efforts to reduce or eliminate hot flashes have met with mixed results. A recent study published in GMS Health Technology Assessment, in which the authors reviewed 22 studies (15 that used phytotherapy, six with acupuncture, and one systematic review), is a good example.

The reviewers reported that high doses of isolated genistein (a soy extract) reduced the intensity and frequency of hot flashes, but low doses did not. Any benefits from black cohosh and hop extracts could not be determined, and a new study published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews supports the findings regarding black cohosh.

The GMS review also noted that ginkgo biloba was not effective, but that "acupuncture has a significant influence on hot flashes especially in severe cases.

The bottom line
Based on the results of the newest study, however, relaxation may be the best way to treat hot flashes, especially since it requires no supplements or professional therapists, such as an acupuncturist. According to Nedstrand, their study confirms that relaxation can effectively treat menopause hot flashes, and she hopes "women can be offered this treatment in primary care and from private health care providers."

Aidelsburger P et al. Alternative methods for the treatment of post-menopausal troubles. GMS Health Technology Assessment 2012; 8: Doc03
Leach MJ, Moore V. Black cohosh (Cimicifuga spp) for menopausal symptoms. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012 Sep 12; 9:CD007244
Lindh-Astrand L, Nedstrand E. Effects of applied relaxation on vasomotor symptoms in postmenopausal women. Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Society 2012: doi:10.1097/gme.0b013e318272ce80

Image: Morguefile