The things they do to patients in the name of medicine…
Actually, it would be more accurate to say: The things they do to patients in the name of selling medicine…
A few years ago, researchers stumbled across an interesting phenomenon. Some women who took certain cancer drugs developed menopause-like hot flashes. But the hot flash side effect was less pronounced among patients who were also taking SSRI antidepressant drugs.
You can imagine how the medical community reacted. Not only did doctors begin the off-label use of SSRIs to treat hot flashes in women without cancer, but drug companies also launched studies, hoping to uncover a new SSRI goldmine.
Most of the studies were disappointing, but one trial showed that Paxil and Effexor reduced hot flashes by about 60 percent. This level of relief wasn’t as high as that of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), but in light of all the health problems linked with HRT, the SSRIs seemed more attractive.
Using SSRIs to relieve hot flashes has glaring problems
More attractive? Sure. as long as you overlook three glaring problems.
Glaring Problem One:
Effexor worked best when the dosage was high. But high dosage also brought a high rate of side effects (including nausea, headache, sleep disorders, constipation, hypertension, dizziness, tremor, and loss of physical strength).
Glaring Problem Two:
SSRIs sometimes worsen other menopausal symptoms, such as decreased libido, anxiety, and sleep disorders.
Glaring Problem Three:
No one knows what long-term effects antidepressant drug use might have on women who aren’t depressed.
Long-lasting relief from hot flashes
About the same time the results of the Paxil/Effexor trial were published, another hot flash study at Stanford University received much less attention.
A Stanford team recruited nearly 30 menopausal women who experienced at least seven hot flashes each day. Over seven weeks, each of the women received a total of nine acupuncture sessions.
Twelve of the women received authentic acupuncture, while the rest received sham acupuncture, which was essentially the placebo in this case. In the authentic group, hot flash severity decreased by almost 30 percent, compared to only 6 percent in the “placebo” group.
That’s a promising result. But how would acupuncture stack up against an SSRI?
That question was answered in a study presented at a meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology.
Acupuncture performed as well as the drug with zero side effects
Nearly 50 breast cancer patients who reported at least 14 hot flashes per week were divided into two groups by researchers at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital. Over 12 weeks, about half the subjects were treated with acupuncture and half were treated with Effexor. Women in both groups reported similar levels of relief from hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.
Side effects in the acupuncture group: None.
Side effects in the Effexor group: Nausea, headache, sleep disorders, constipation, etc.
Dr. Eleanor M. Walker, the Henry Ford director of breast radiation oncology, told HealthDay News that subjects in the acupuncture group also reported more energy, greater sense of well being, and improved sex drive, compared to subjects in the Effexor group. When subjects stopped using acupuncture and Effexor, long-term inhibition of hot flashes lasted several weeks longer among acupuncture subjects compared to Effexor subjects.
If you want to find a certified acupuncturist, go to the website for the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at nccaom.org.
“Antidepressants Emerge as Coolant for Hot Flashes” Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times, 10/9/07, nytimes.com
“Acupuncture May Cool Night Hot Flashes” WebMD Health News, 9/22/06, webmd.com
“Acupuncture Eases Breast Cancer Treatment Side Effects” Serena Gordon, HealthDay News, 9/22/08, washingtonpost.com
Jenny Thompson is the Director of the Health Sciences Institute and editor of the HSI e-Alert. Through HSI, she and her team uncover important health information and expose ridiculous health misinformation, most notably through the HSI e-Alert.
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