Acupuncture and Menopause

Since making its dramatic debut in the United States in 1971, acupuncture is being used successfully by millions of women to treat menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and depression. Originating from ancient Chinese traditions, acupuncture is quickly becoming a preferred alternative to traditional health care.

By stimulating specific points on the body, called "acupoints", acupuncture restores the harmonious balance of qi, (pronounced "chee"), to the body. The individual acupoints correlate to particular organs or energy pathways, (called "meridans"), in the body, and once stimulated produce some of the body's natural hormones and painkillers.

Research shows that acupuncture can trigger the release of endorphins, the hormone which is partially responsible for our sense of well-being as well as having a pain-relieving effect. Recent research suggests acupuncture is also responsible for the release serotonin, which helps in menopausal symptoms such as abdominal pain or cramping, and changes in mood and sleep.

If you decide on acupuncture to relieve hot flashes or other menopausal symptoms, your first visit will be similar to an appointment with your medical doctor. First, you will be asked to fill out a questionnaire about your health history, and at this time the practitioner will likely ask about such things as your menstrual cycle, eating and sleeping habits, and digestive problems. She will note your skin tone, condition of your tongue, and test your pulse on both wrists. Since pulse taking is slightly different in Chinese medicine, the acupuncturist will be simultaneously checking six key areas, revealing details about six organs.

After the preliminary exam the acupuncturist will dab alcohol on the specific acupoints she has determined meets your individual needs. Then with a few quick taps, the acupuncturist will insert the needles, usually three different types, each as slender as a human hair and from one to three inches long. They are quite flexible, and the sensation you feel will depend on where the needle is inserted, your personal sensitivity, and the depth and angle of the needle.

Once the needle is inserted, the acupuncturist may gently "twirl" the needles (and occasionally attach some of them to a low-voltage electrical source to enhance the effect). At this point you are left to rest for anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes, depending on your specific needs.

Generally speaking, a course of therapy cost 35 to 50 dollars, and requires several treatments over several days to weeks. Private insurance coverage can depend on individual insurers and what the treatment is for. With the recent petition to the FDA asking for removal of the "investigative" status of the needles, future coverage looks better. You should check with your insurance company to determine coverage.

Once you've decided on acupuncture, you should check your individual state's regulations for nonphysician acupuncturist. (Accredited physicians can practice anywhere in U.S.) The American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine recommend physicians to have a minimum of 200 hrs. of training in acupuncture at a recognized school, and nonphysicians have a minimum of two years training, licensed and registered in your state, or certified by the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturist. For a list of practitioners who meet these standards you can call 1-610-266-1433 in the US, and 1-416752-3988 in Canada.

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