By Pamela Israel
Hot flashes. Depression. Fatigue. Night sweats. These are just a few of the symptoms that many women experience when they go through menopause later in life. Although many doctors prescribe different medications when treating menopause, several alternative therapies have been shown to be highly effective in alleviating symptoms. For example, a study done at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences in 2012 looked at different symptoms that affect women going through menopause. The researchers found that women who received massage twice a week for four weeks had significantly lower physical and psychological symptoms than women who did not receive massage.
Menopause typically affects women ages 45-55 and marks the time of life when menstruation has stopped and she is no longer able to bear children. There are three stages to menopause: premenopause, perimenopause, and postmenopause. Women who are in premenopause have not yet stopped having a monthly period, but are experiencing changes in hormone levels. Women in premenopause may begin having irregular periods and other symptoms of menopause. Perimenopause (which means “around the menopause”), is basically a word used to describe the time around the last monthly period that a woman has. Different sources give different lengths of time that perimenopause can last, (anywhere from four to ten years), but most experts agree that it ends twelve months after the woman’s last monthly period. Women in perimenopause tend to have many symptoms, including trouble sleeping, night sweats, depression, vaginal dryness, osteoporosis, and heart disease. Most symptoms are a result of hormone levels fluctuating a great deal during these years. Postmenopause is a term used to describe women who have not had a period for twelve months or longer, and it is used to describe all women from a year after their last period until death. While most menopausal symptoms disappear after the woman has completely transitioned into postmenopause, long term effects, (such as osteoporosis and heart disease), can occur – and last – well into postmenopause.
There are a lot of different treatments available for women going through the different stages of menopause. One of the most popular is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). With HRT, the hormones that are normally produced by the ovaries (estrogen and progesterone) are taken orally. While HRT does have some effect on symptoms such as hot flashes, it has also been shown to have harmful side effects, such as increasing the risk of stroke and blood clots. There has been some evidence that HRT helps to prevent osteoporosis, but there is also evidence that it can contribute to breast cancer. Other popular treatments for menopause include other prescription medications such as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, which are normally used as antidepressants or as antianxiety medications) and SERMs (Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators, which affect the estrogen receptors in the body and thereby decrease the side effects of menopause).
Since Western Medicine has had limited success treating the symptoms of menopause, many women opt for nontraditional or alternative treatments, such as massage, acupressure and acupuncture. As mentioned above, massage has been shown to help with the physical and psychological symptoms of menopause. In one study, done in Sao Paulo, Brazil, researchers separated 44 women into three groups: those who received therapeutic massage, those who did passive movement therapy, and a control group whose members received no treatment. At the end of 32 weeks, women who received therapeutic massage reported that they had experienced fewer episodes of insomnia and depression, and felt that their quality of life had improved. Those who did passive movement therapy reported that they had fewer episodes of insomnia during the 32 weeks of treatment. Those in the control group reported no improvement in any area. Based on the results of the study, the researchers determined that therapeutic massage can significantly help menopausal women with insomnia, depression, and improved quality of life.
Acupressure, another alternative treatment, is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that is very similar to acupuncture. Both acupuncture and acupressure are based on the concept that the life energy (“Qi”) flows throughout the body via pathways called meridians. With acupuncture, tiny needles are inserted into specific places on the body (called “acupuncture points”). Acupressure does the same thing, but without needles; instead, the points are massaged with a specific pressure. Basically, acupuncture and acupressure work through the idea that when the meridians are blocked, the Qi is prevented from flowing through the body. When the Qi cannot flow, imbalances occur, and you get symptoms and disease. Acupuncture and acupressure work by “unblocking” the meridians and allowing the Qi to flow freely throughout the body (“Acupressure”).
In a study done at the Mashad University of Medical Sciences in Iran, researchers looked at 120 menopausal women to see if acupressure could help insomnia related to menopause. The women were separated into three groups: those who received real acupressure, those who received sham acupressure, and a control group which received no treatment. The participants in the acupressure were taught to massage four real acupressure points on their bodies. Women in the sham acupressure group were taught to massage four places on their bodies that were not actual acupressure points. Every day for four weeks, about two hours before bedtime, the women in the real and sham acupressure groups massaged the acupressure points they had been taught for ten minutes. At the end of the study, it was found that both the real and sham acupressure groups experienced improvement in sleep, although the real acupressure group reported more improvement than the sham group. The researchers concluded that the sham acupressure group experienced improvement in sleep because massaging the body tends to lead to relaxation, which can help insomnia. Also, the researchers noted that massage in general helps with insomnia, so massaging any part of the body before bed tends to help with sleep. Since acupressure techniques can be easily taught to the patient, it can be done as a self-care method at home once the technique is learned. Finally, the study reported that acupressure increases sleep quality in menopausal women by 22% (Abedian, et. al.)
Another study (this one done in Italy), analyzed the effects of acupuncture on hot flashes in menopausal women. In this six-week trial, 100 women were divided equally into two groups. The first group received acupuncture treatment, self-massage training, and diet. The second group (the control group) also received self-massage training and diet, but not acupuncture. According to the researchers, women in the first group reported a significant reduction in the number of hot flashes they experienced. These women also reported that other symptoms (such as depression, bone pain, headache, memory loss, and chest tightness, among others) improved significantly (Baccetti, et. al.).
Clearly, alternative therapies such as acupressure, acupuncture, and massage can have substantial benefits for women going through menopause. As an integrated wellness center, Peaceful Spirit is dedicated to bringing you quality alternative treatments such as acupuncture, massage, and acupressure.
Abedian Z, Eskandari L, Abdi H, and Ebrahimzadeh S. “The Effect of Acupressure on Sleep Quality in Menopausal Women: A Randomized Control Trial.” Iran J Med Sci. 2015. Vol. 40 Issue 4, p 328-334.
“Acupressure.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acupressure
Baccetti S, Da Fré M, Becorpi A, Faedda M, Guerrera A, Monechi V, Munizzi R M, and Parazzini F. “Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine for
Hot Flushes in Menopause: A Randomized Trial.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2014. Vol. 20 Issue 7, p 550-557.
“Menopause.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menopause
Oliveira D.S., Hachul H., Goto V., Tufik S., and Bittencourt L. “Effect of Therapeutic Massage on Insomnia and Climacteric Symptoms in Postmenopausal Women.” Climacteric. Feb. 2012, Vol. 15 Issue 1, p 21-29.
Taavoni S., Darsareh F., and Haghani H. “Effect of Massage Therapy on Menopausal Symptoms: A Randomized Clinical Trial Study.” European Psychiatry. Jan. 2013, Vol. 28, p 1.