Women’s menstrual cycles are governed by a complex interplay between hormones which ebb and flow during different parts of the month. Even a slight imbalance in these hormones can create problems such as painful, irregular or even missing periods. Below are some – but not all – of the common gynaecological conditions successfully treated with acupuncture.
While mild period discomfort can be considered normal, in up to 20% of women the cramping is so severe that it can interfere with daily life. Both manual and electroacupuncture have been found to be more effective in reducing menstrual pain and its concurrent symptoms than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, improving quality of life during menstruating1Woo, H. et al., “The efficacy and safety of acupuncture in women with primary dysmenorrhea“, 2018.
Endometriosis is a serious oestrogen-dependent inflammatory condition which not only results in severe menstrual pain, but has been found to cause changes in the peripheral and central nervous systems, predisposing to further long-lasting pain conditions. This is why it is important to be addressed promptly, but current western medical treatment options are limited and may result in the pain ultimately relapsing. While limited research has been done into the effectiveness of acupuncture for this condition, the results are promising. It has been reported that acupuncture can reduce the level of serum Cancer antigen 125 (CA-125), found in women with advanced stages of endometriosis – relieving the pelvic cavity pain that is associated with this disease2Xu, Y. et al., “Effects of acupuncture for the treatment of endometriosis-related pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis“, 2017.
PCOS is where women have multiple cysts on their ovaries and is characterised by the clinical signs of infrequent or very light periods, failure to conceive, and excessive hair growth. Although the current published literature is deemed to be of low quality, the results suggest that acupuncture has a regulatory effect on several hormones that control ovulation – luteinising hormone (LH), follicular stimulating hormone (FSH), testosterone and fasting insulin levels; thus regulating ovulation and menstruation and reducing concurrent symptoms3Jo, J. et al., “Acupuncture for polycystic ovarian syndrome“, 2017.
Although a normal – and in Japan even celebrated part of women’s lives – menopausal symptoms caused by a natural drop in oestrogen affect up to 80% of women in that stage of life, with one in ten experiencing them for over a decade4Wild, S. “Symptoms of menopause – how to manage hot flushes“, 2019. Luckily, acupuncture has been found to be very effective in reducing the frequency and severity of hot flashes and other concurrent symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, loss of libido, and skin, hair and vaginal dryness5Lund, K. et al., “Efficacy of a standardised acupuncture approach for women with bothersome menopausal symptoms: a pragmatic randomised study in primary care (the ACOM study)“, 2018.