Hot flashes are a common side effect of long-term antiestrogen chemotherapy for breast cancer. Other side effects include both depression and a marked decrease in sex drive. Recent studies have shown that acupuncture is an effective treatment for hot flashes and other uncomfortable side-effects of chemotherapy.
The most common approach to reducing these side effects is treatment with a class of antidepressant drugs called “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors”, or SSRIs. These powerful psychoactive drugs do reduce hot flashes, but the relief is short-lived—as little as two weeks before the benefits fade. Also, the side effects of SSRIs are notoriously awful. They range from uncomfortable to devastating and irreversible.
Acupuncture and SSRIs
Fortunately, a recent American clinical study has conclusively shown that acupuncture is just as effective as SSRIs at preventing hot flashes. It also restored the women’s sex drives and improved their sense of well-being. Acupuncture has no side-effects
Even better, acupuncture continued to work long after SSRIs stopped working.
A team of American researchers from the Henry Ford Hospital in Michigan randomly assigned 50 patients to receive 12 weeks of acupuncture or SSRI (venlafaxine, brand name Effexor®) treatment.
Both groups experienced similar, significant decreases in hot flashes, depression and various other quality-of-life symptoms. In this study, acupuncture was just as effective as venlafaxine. However, two weeks after beginning the treatment, the venlafaxine group began to experience hot flashes. The acupuncture group remained significantly improved.
The venlafaxine group also experienced 18 occurrences of adverse SSRI side effects, including nausea, dry mouth, dizziness, and anxiety. Known SSRI side effects number more than two dozen. SSRIs are also involved in serious interactions with other drugs and even with some foods. They are habit-forming, leading to withdrawal symptoms when discontinued.
However, acupuncture produced zero unwanted side effects. It also helped increase the sex drive in participants, as well as improved energy, a sense of well-being and clarity of thought.
The Journal of Chinese Medicine, http://www.jcm.co.uk/catalogue.php?catID=209&opener=0-195-209; Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol 28, No 4 (February 1), 2010: pp. 634-640, http://jco.ascopubs.org/cgi/content/abstract/28/4/634