To Your Health
April, 2008 (Vol. 02, Issue 04)
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In February 2008, the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology published a study investigating the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture on primary dysmenorrhea (painful periods).

More than 200 women participated in the trial, which determined that 15 weeks of acupuncture treatment correlated with significantly lower pain intensity (1-10 scale) than those who received conventional medical care. The study authors concluded, "Acupuncture in patients with dysmenorrhea was associated with improvements in pain and quality of life as compared to treatment with usual care alone and was cost-effective within usual thresholds." The beauty of acupuncture in this scenario is that it has very few negative side effects (occasional bruising at the needling site and reports of dizziness) compared to the variety of drugs used to treat the condition.

Fibroids: Uterine fibroids or "myomas" are non-cancerous growths composed of muscle and fibrous tissue that occur on, inside or outside the uterus wall. At least 20 percent of women over the age of 35 have fibroids ranging in size from microscopic to as large as a cantaloupe, and their cause is unknown. More than 200,000 hysterectomies are performed each year because of fibroid tumors.

Fibroids are unusual in that even large fibroids may produce no symptoms. It depends on their location, size, number and activity. Symptoms include heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding, spotting in between periods, pain, pressure or heaviness. Some women also will have to urinate frequently. Large fibroids can sometimes be felt in the lower abdomen.

A December 2004 article in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine evaluated the use of an herbal formula in pill form on 120 women with uterine fibroids. Use of the formula resulted in a reduction in size of the fibroids along with improvement of symptoms such as irregular menstruation, spotting between periods and abdominal pain, with a total effective rate of 95.8 percent. The herbs showed no toxicity in analysis and were considered safe.

If fibroids are 2 cm or smaller, acupuncture can be a viable solution; if they are larger than 2 cm, herbal medicine may be more appropriate.

Premature Ovarian Failure (POF): POF is a condition where the number of eggs in a woman's body has been reduced significantly or the follicles are not responding to hormonal stimulation. This problem affects one in every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 29 and one in every 100 between the ages of 29 and 39. In such cases, there is a marked reduction in estrogen production, the follicles don't produce mature eggs, and the endometrium is too thin for proper implantation.

Signs and symptoms of POF include shorter cycles (usually with no ovulation) or inconsistent periods (skipping a month here and there). Menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness may manifest as well.

What's the lesson here? According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than 106,000 Americans die per year due to the proper use of prescription medications, which emphasizes the value of natural, drug-free therapies. With regard to infertility, studies in the U.S. and abroad are showing promising results for the use of acupuncture and Oriental medicine in dealing with reproductive health matters. It's being shown to be safe, effective and non-invasive compared to standard medical approaches. Ask your doctor for more information.

Bill Reddy was an aerospace engineer before becoming a licensed acupuncturist with practices in Annandale and Alexandria, Va. He is a board member of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.