Acupuncture no better for menopause than ‘fake’ method, says researchers

Jan 19, 2016

Photo credit: Jon Feingersh/Getty Images/Blend Images RR

By Australian Associated Press

Traditional Chinese acupuncture is no better than a fake version for treating menopause symptoms, says a new study.

But, after eight weeks of treatment, both led to a 40% improvement in the severity and frequency of hot flushes, which was sustained six months later.

The University of Melbourne study involved 327 Australian women aged over 40 who had at least seven moderate hot flushes a day.

Half were given 10 sessions of standard Chinese medicine acupuncture in which thin needles were inserted into the body at specific points.

The others had their skin stimulated with blunt-tipped needles, which has a milder effect without penetrating the skin.

Lead author Dr Carolyn Ee said both groups may have improved due to the placebo effect or because attending a clinic to talk about symptoms could help.

She also noted hot flushes tend to improve spontaneously with time.

“This was a large and rigorous study and we are confident there is no additional benefit from inserting needles compared with stimulation from pressuring the blunt needles without skin penetration for hot flushes,” she said.

“If women want to consider having acupuncture for hot flushes they should know that although previous studies show it is better than doing nothing, our study demonstrates that needling does not appear to make a difference.”

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38 comments on “Acupuncture no better for menopause than ‘fake’ method, says researchers

  • so both “real” and fake acupuncture provide 40% improvement

    i guess any sort of acupuncture is good for you then?

    and by association, any sort of homeopathy is good for you too

    so i should go into business providing something new

    i’m going to call it oropetro therapy – exposure to mountain rocks (by a skilled practitioner) will provide a 40% improvement

    that’s my first choice because i live in the mountains and we have a lot of rocks

    i could have special rocks for special conditions

    i think i’ll only treat famous people to start with – Paris Hilton probably needs some therapy by now

    anyway – none of you lot out there are allowed to steal my idea ok?


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  • and before any of you anti-religious types point out the obvious, no, i’ll not be stoning any adulteresses or homosexuals to death

    though sometimes the treatments can be quite painful



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  • Ah, but were the blunt needles being placed in the same special locations as the sharp ones? Shouldn’t at least one group be subjected to blunt needles in the “wrong” places. I mean, if you’re really wanting to isolate the placebo effect.

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  • so you need:

    sharp needles in the right places
    blunt needles in the wrong places
    sharp needles in the wring places
    blunt needles in the right places

    you’ll also need electrical stimulation to really get a true scientific picture

    electrified sharp needles in the right places
    electrified blunt needles in the wrong places
    electrified sharp needles in the wring places
    electrified blunt needles in the right places
    non-electrified sharp needles in the right places
    non-electrified blunt needles in the wrong places
    non-electrified sharp needles in the wring places
    non-electrified blunt needles in the right places

    but also you need to deal with the medical expert effect – like what happens when the “doctor” looks like someone who lives out of a garbage can (no offence intended) as opposed to someone clean cut in a white lab-coat

    lab coat administrator electrified sharp needles in the right places
    lab coat administrator electrified blunt needles in the wrong places
    lab coat administrator electrified sharp needles in the wring places
    lab coat administrator electrified blunt needles in the right places
    lab coat administrator non-electrified sharp needles in the right places
    lab coat administrator non-electrified blunt needles in the wrong places
    lab coat administrator non-electrified sharp needles in the wring places
    lab coat administrator non-electrified blunt needles in the right places
    homeless guy administrator electrified sharp needles in the right places
    homeless guy administrator electrified blunt needles in the wrong places
    homeless guy administrator electrified sharp needles in the wring places
    homeless guy administrator electrified blunt needles in the right places
    homeless guy administrator non-electrified sharp needles in the right places
    homeless guy administrator non-electrified blunt needles in the wrong places
    homeless guy administrator non-electrified sharp needles in the wring places
    homeless guy administrator non-electrified blunt needles in the right places

    and that’s before we even take into account whether or not pulses were taken, breath was smelled and moxibustion was also applied

    i guess too, it being an “ancient Chinese therapy” (queue sounding of gongs) one should take into consideration the effect of the practitioner being Asian or not

    lets also not forget the time of day, the color of the consulting and waiting rooms

    really, i think we should just let anyone do it who wants to


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  • really, i think we should just let anyone do it who wants to

    Yes, as long as my taxes or health insurance doesn’t pay for it, and the patient accepts all liability for any costs incurred when the treatment fails, and they have to go to an evidence based practitioner for a cure, for something that could have been cured in the first place.

    All liability for stupidity lies with the stupid.

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  • agreed.

    just like magic crystals and dream catchers people have every right to buy or sell this service as long as it’s not funded by the government and comes with a suitable disclaimer, e.g. “you may just feel a prick”

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  • 7
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    really, i think we should just let anyone do it who wants to

    I disagree. Selling someone pseudo-medical care is like selling someone a car with a cardboard engine. It is fraud and it should be considered a felony. These medieval practices have no place in a modern and just society where values are based on reason and evidence.

    People and companies who sell goods and services to the public need to be held accountable if they deceive the public and sell them snake oil. Widespread ignorance and gullibility of the public does not and should not justify their exploitative and abusive practices.

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  • Another piece of dishonesty in the article. At my age, most of my female friends and relations have long since gone through the menopause. I have never seen a menopausal woman with skin and body tone like the model in the photograph. Menopause generally wreaks havoc on a woman, physically and psychologically, and anodyne articles and pictures cannot change that awful reality. Because there’s no safe “cure”, it’s open season for ever quacksalver, con artist and charlatan. Poor women.

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  • NNA

    Widespread ignorance and gullibility of the public does not and should not justify their exploitative and abusive practices.

    Agree. Most of the public doesn’t have what it takes to analyze experimental data. Not that it’s their fault most of the time. Some people have not done the coursework because they were doing something else instead. Plenty of the substances peddled by these charlatans are medically harmful. Besides that, people trust the questionable substances so much that they check out of effective treatment that we know does work. When there is harm then we can confidently claim that the practice is unethical. It would be difficult to discourage these victims from falling for the scams but the government needs to take maximum action that it can to educate with mass media and go after the thieves who make plenty of money from their scams.

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  • Not everything so black and white. I am more distrustful of surgeons than I am of acupuncturists, but for different reasons. I also do not believe in flu shots or annual physicals.
    I myself do not think acupuncture works, except for preventing menopause and stopping the aging process in general.
    Don’t trust regular doctors too much. Do your own research. Don’t let prejudices influence you too much in either direction.
    But trust me: acupuncture can stop aging! This is science! Evidence? Look it up. There’s tons of it.
    So blah.
    Laurie, read that book, Before Adam. (Serialized in 1906 -7.—The guy was way ahead of his time as an author; I think he may have been one of the first sci-fi writers, in addition to all his other achievements.) I just got it. Its about an American kid tormented by a succession of dreams about his Mid-Pleistocene ancestor. He has dreams and visions, goes back into time, in a sense. London’s the best.
    Btw, my mother (seriously) thinks that acupuncture can be “wonderful”; it’s worked for her – so how bad can it be?

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  • Presumably because of drug side effects, I have been living with severe nausea for decades A friend send me off to a traditional chinese healer. He gave me a basket of strange herbs, bits of moss, shell, mushroom, wood… I had to boil this for a long time. It gave off a foul odour and tasted even worse. I found I could get some down by chilling it. To my astonishment, it worked. Unfortunately the man left the country so I could not repeat it.

    It seems logical woo should have some core that works, or it would have have a hard time taking off. Obviously homeopathy is an exception.

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  • i’m going to answer a few of the comment replies above here (above see “see below”)

    It’s like Déjà vu all over again

    Being my age has its advantages. I get to hang out with some remarkable people at times. By that I mean sit around in a good restaurant eating and especially drinking with old codgers like me.

    I’ve a particularly dear friend who’s a specialist in tropical diseases but who’s real expertise is in BBQ steak and fine alcohols – we tend to savor a lot of his awesomely diverse collection. We got together because we share a sociological state that somewhat isolates us and often finds us the only two people at parties with a tertiary education. Been drinkin buddies ever since – spend most of our time at such parties applying our knowledge of the DSM to the people around us – pretty good fun (as long as none of the others ever catch on).

    I’ve another dear friend who’s been my best friend since he rescued me from myself and a guaranteed beating at a western suburbs Sydney school when we were about 16. I had just transferred from another school (my dad was the manager of what is now the Villawood Detention center – you know, where they keep the dangerous immigrants and boat people). I was sitting alone reading Freud at lunch time and he snatched the book from me and looking at the title proclaimed that i “could not read such stuff around here” and took care of me ever since. He became one of Sydney’s top acupuncturists – studying in England and China with more letters after his name than even any of my children. He has a pretty awesome bunch of clients – CEOs, bankers, media stars etc.

    I’d always meant to get the 2 together so that i could share good times with my 2 best friends.

    So it happened – my doctor friend and i met first and did The Rocks pub crawl slowly towards the pub where we were to meet up with one of his good friends (psychiatrist, specializing in battle related issues) a very bristly (personality, not hair) fellow with whom i got along instantly. By that time of course we were all pretty tipsy being it was St Patricks Day but after a few really delicious dark beers we headed off to the eatery where we were to meet my acupuncturist friend.

    He turns up and is pretty reserved being that for all the degrees he’s got (3 or 4 or something) he felt a bit threatened by the combined weight of all our book larnin and the fact we were having a hoot of a time and were quite obviously drunk as skunks. He’s no stranger to how modern medicine views acupuncture so it took him a while to relax.

    Damn if he didn’t at some point he find a way into try and ruin a perfectly good argument about teenage risk taking by introducing acupuncture into the conversation and the shrink being the sort who likes to get people riled up (hey aint that his job?) pounced on him leaving me and my good doctor friend to try and moderate (while enjoying side-jokes at both their expense along the way).

    In a nut shell it was pretty much like the stuff above – that acupuncture was ok as long as other people were not paying for it and at that particular time that was quite an issue because Australia has rightly started to cut back on public health support for most of the wacky “medical practices”. Misleading people? Well, it seemed to be agreed that if we legislate against misleading people the world’s economy would collapse if not for the fact that people always find loopholes in any laws.

    So there it was – a bunch of quite inebriated old codgers and one not quite so inebriated acupuncturist agreed it was ok to do acupuncture on a bunch of rich folk who are happy to pay for it.

    ah but there’s more

    a couple of years later i’m sitting having an awesomely good Chinese dinner with one of my sons who is a neuroscientist who became a doctor and then a GP (yes i know an all down-hill run) and the story above came up being as he asked how my friends in Aus were doing.

    In the middle of me enjoying recounting such an awesomely enjoyable St Pat’s dinner he tells me something very interesting.

    He estimated that 60% of all of his work as a GP could be carried out with placebos. In fact, he said, pretty much most of the scripts he wrote were no better than placebos and it might save the public health system quite a lot of money if he was allowed to actually prescribe placebos instead.


    get it?

    How can we insist that any wacky practice not be covered by a public health system if (real) doctors know that most of what they do is in reality no better and no worse?

    It’s easy to pompously proclaim (as i have done many times in the past) that wacky medicines should not be paid for by my tax dollars.

    But really, how does one really judge how this should all be?

    I do not think anything in life is black and white except paints and colored pencils


    [Link to user’s website removed by moderator]

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  • PoP, that’s a load of bollox and you know it. Are you interested in finding out if acupuncture works at all or have you already decided, not a scientific attitude, more a political one?

    If interested, then examine the claims: some kind of stimulation in Special Places does something. The claimants seem to have standardised on using fine needles to do this stimulation. Changing sharp to blunt is one dimension of examining this kind of claim. Changing to the “wrong” places would be another. No need to run the full gamut, just set up your controlled experiment with everything else held as constant as possible, and run it enough times to collect enough results to feed into a stats program, see if anything leaps out at you. Or not. Then report what you actually find, not what you know already “can’t possibly work”.

    I’ve no idea if the reported experiment was sound. Sharp vs blunt unfortunately isn’t enough to discount acupuncture, if that’s your objective. Right vs wrong places would be much more pointed, excuse the pun, because if stimulation of any-old-place works just as well, then it makes more of a case for the placebo effect, from the general attention that the patient is receiving.

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  • Hey PoP, that’s much better, and a fascinating tale. 60% placebos. Wow.

    Maybe you can help me get some of the good ones, the local pharmacy seems to have run out. At least, they wouldn’t sell me any. Fortunately there’s a “natural foods” shop round the corner with a homeoeoeoepathy section.


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  • yeh, damn it, how come i can’t buy placebo marijuana and placebo morphine etc

    the homeopathy thing came up for me (again) on the weekend. One of my neighbors in the mountains is an elderly woman (great bag-pipes player) who has some nasty skin ulcers. She’d had no luck with the local GP (who did all he really could, not much) so she’d gone to a homeopath. All this came up because we’d brought her a big bar of a New Zealand brand of chocolate that’s particularly scrumptious only to be told by her that her homeopath said she could no longer have any. F@#king @55hole.

    So how to approach telling her that homeopathy is complete bunk while not leaving her feeling completely despondent about her medical condition. Ho hum. I hate those situations.

    Anyway, i bit the bullet and as gently as possible told her she was just wasting her money (and it was a lot of money for someone on a small pension). She showed me the printed advise from the homeopath (she had to travel quite a way to to see him too). It was 3 pages of drivel. It was totally unfair balderdash to push on an old lady. I’ve a mind to paying him a visit.

    None of it is black and white but some things are – taking money from the poor and on top of that taking away what’s left of their simple pleasures.

    That sucks.


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  • 🙂 thanks moderator (got to keep you on your toes eh?)

    here was what the link was to – apropos

    Black and White

    to see the world in “Black and White”
    ah ignorance is bliss
    you’re good or you are evil
    no middle ground in this

    you’re for me or against me
    no sitting on the fence
    no hiding behind “fairness”
    no “give me time” defense

    and what if we were all like this
    and could not let it pass?
    With stones in plenty near to hand
    our houses made of glass?

    i guess you’d say i’m “Liberal”
    a catch-cry of the “right”
    by i am one for Liberty
    – for freedom i will fight

    the world in which we find ourselves
    is coloured Black and White
    and everyone is hurling stones
    and calling for a fight

    i hope that in the future
    we find a way to peace
    and shed our need for “us and them”
    and see all hatred cease

    the hope is with our children
    so raise them without hate
    raise them to understand both sides
    and judge with equal weight

    and every child you ever meet
    give blessings to them too
    help each and every growing mind
    find love in what you do

    and maybe oh just maybe then
    we’ll find the peace we crave
    and if we don’t we’ll take instead
    our hatred to the grave


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  • As I understand it, Hom*pathy had its initial successes due (mainly?) to the good-lifestyle-advice given to the patients, under the guise of “the medicine is very delicate, it won’t work if you drown it out with coffee, alcohol, chocolate, fatty foods, bla bla bla…..”, along with needing fresh-air-n-exercise, so the total package actually worked, people got better (from complaints that could be cured by change in diet and such). A cunning blend of placebo and sound advice. So this practitioner seems to be following in the same manner, as, I suppose, he should.

    Shame about the chocolate though.

    There’s a fairy tale about a king, suffering ennui and various other ailments that none of the palace quacks could cure. A reward is offered etc, and along comes a particularly canny wizard/doctor who guarantees a cure: drink the early-morning dew from a certain kind of flower that only grows around the peak of a nearby mountain. But it has to be taken fresh, no sending servants up to get it. With the result that the king has to struggle to the summit before dawn each time he wants the medicine. And after a while, he gets to enjoy seeing the sunrise from the peak….. and is cured.

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  • Thanks, too kind. I’m not so good at doing melodies, sadly, have put a few to music and have written a few songs but none of them are particularly good. I’m hoping one day to discover what my true talent is but i think it’s likely that it came and went when i was a kid (i was pretty good at throwing stones).


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  • During physiotherapy after having the medial cartilage removed from my right knee, the physio’ told me that she did acupuncture; she treated me, gratis, in her apartment on Rosslin Hill, Hampstead.

    In other words, I had the treatment free on the NHS.

    This was in the seventies, a time when acupuncture was kind de rigeur; nonetheless she made it clear that it wasn’t known how efficacious it was, and that it might only have a placebo effect; or should that be affect?

    Now, of course, it’s known exactly how well it works.

    And as for the notion that it’s an ancient Chinese technique, as far as I know, it wasn’t possible to produce the kind of needles required until the late nineteenth century; I’m sure someone here will correct me if I’m wrong about that.

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  • Equine acupuncture releases these chemicals, Jeopardy! game show answer. Question: what are endorphins.

    Makes good horse sense, in theory. However, I now question this game show’s intent, as some clues seem to be endorsements and bias (or am I wearing tin-foil hat).

    Quick delve of websites runs the gamut; from “good – energy – channels – woo”, to a more scrupulous site saying acupuncture should be a last resort, and done by someone who “knows” what they are doing.

    One thing for certain, the horse can’t articulate.

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  • ah sweet opiates.

    In Thailand there’s an over the counter remedy called “Brown’s liquid” – various other names too but it’s opium and licorice and it’s cheap

    ah, maybe it’s not over the counter now i think about it because my sister in law works in a hospital pharmacy and maybe we got it from her – really can’t recall but i know it’s very common in households as a cough remedy

    there’s at least two bottles of the stuff on the shelf of our house in Thailand, if it wasn’t for the other crap they put in it i’d have been drinking it every day instead of Beer Chang.


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  • Two distinct assertions. Or do you mean “BECAUSE” in between?
    Which is highly unscientific I must add. Treating as 2 distinct questions to be addressed is fine, but presupposing it doesn’t work because you don’t have a satisfactory theory is not how science advances.

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  • Okay, the “study demonstrates that needling does not appear to make a difference.” Depending upon who reads this article, varied people will have contrasting opinions about it, and oddly enough they may all be correct, to a degree.

    During my college days, while studying biology, in a genetics course, a professor gave a short speech that included some information about acupuncture. The main point of the discussion was to encourage students to keep accurate labs notes while conducting an experiment, and to write down things that may note seem important. The visiting professor worked for the Vermont Genetics Network, and directed the mircoarray lab at UVM. The professor discussed an experiment using microarray to examine cellular changes to a cell experiencing acupuncture. Measurable changes to expression were detected in certain test groups, related to how the needle was spun. The student who conducted the experiment recorded her activities in a typical method, but she even noted the direction she spun the needles per test, clockwise or counter clockwise. If she hadn’t kept meticulous notes, the correlation between the direction of spin of the needle and the changes in gene expression would not have been noted.

    Assuming there is real science behind acupuncture, I imagine the subtle differences, in anatomy, in every human does make acupuncture more of an art in practice. A needle placed exactly in the same place, at the same depth, on two people, will likely not pierce the exact same cells, assuming a special cell structure is the desired target. Numerous attempts by a practitioner may be required to “find” the right spot on a patient. This situation could only confound a study. Also, certain cells may be more susceptible to the influence of a needle, and to what degree it aids, or helps, a person I can only speculate. There may be more than one mechanism influencing outcomes, such as the body reacting to foreign material aside from the possible cellular changes in expressed proteins. If skin and muscle nerve cells can be affected by acupuncture in addition to other types of cellular functions, it would be a rather different process of discovery to determine the outcome of a change in a bodily function over time vs skin sensitivity (for surgery for example), especially if the illness often resolves itself over time, it might require very large populations for statistical analysis to find a trend.

    A facility that is close to where I live offers a $10 acupuncture session once a week, in a group setting, so there are many people receiving treatment at the same time. I have never tried it, but I plan to make an effort to see if it can help my condition. I have spoken to numerous people who suffered for many years from nerve pain in the neck area, related to muscle skeletal problems, accident related. Three different people expressed positive outcomes from their treatment. Each had tried various drugs, massage therapy, chiropractic treatments, with no relief. In one case, after the first treatment session, the patient noticed relief from pain that had been a daily ache for years. Two required a few treatments over time, but all three claim that they no longer suffer, and haven’t had any more treatments, several years after receiving acupuncture. It would seem that maybe there are some types of problems that acupuncture can alleviate, even cure?

    I first heard about acupuncture in the early 1980s, as a kid. A documentary show was comparing the days a patient spent in a hospital, between the US and China, for, if I remember correctly, appendectomy surgery. The Chinese hospitals that used certain procedures prior to surgery, utilizing acupuncture to aid anesthesia, used less anesthesia drugs during surgery and their patients left a few days earlier because of the lower doses of drugs used to effectively treat pain.

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  • a few things

    this site is worth a read – if just for the colourful way he lampoons acupuncture

    and this


    really, read those last two first

    and for real fun – check out this awesomely excellent movie – the frequent acupuncture scenes are a hoot – especially the scene where he needles himself to cause him to expel poison from his system


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  • Correction: “. . . that may note seem important.” should be “. . . that may not seem important.”

    Musing on why spinning a needle in a certain direction would invoke gene up/down regulation, without knowing any pertinent details about the experiment’s methods and procedures, I bet the needle surface wasn’t uniform. Perhaps to the human eye, and touch, the needle’s tip appeared smooth and uniform, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if the needle’s surface had directional burrs at a microscopic level. If this were the case, twisting the needle in a cell, in the direction against the burr teeth, would tear at the cellular matrix with a bit more damage to it, and, theoretically, might explain why it would cause the nucleus to up regulate cytoskeleton proteins more so when compared to other tests that spun the needle in the opposite direction.

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