Have you ever been curious about acupuncture? Chances are high that you have — according to data from a National Health Interview Survey, there was a 50 percent increase in the number of acupuncture users in the U.S. between 2002 and 2012. Then this article is for you. These days, it seems as if everyone at least knows someone who swears by the curative powers of acupuncture for migraines, back pain, and more. But more recently, women have been turning to it to ease the symptoms of perimenopause. “In my practice, I’ve treated women for hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, anxiety, and a sluggish metabolism,” says Stefanie DiLibero, L.Ac, LE, of Gotham Wellness Acupuncture.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
There are many explanations for how acupuncture works, but DiLibero puts it this way: “The acupuncture channels, known as meridians, are the pathways of energy that run throughout the body, and are connected to different organ systems. Think of meridians like the different lines of a subway system; the acupuncture points are like the subway stops on each of the meridians.”
When there is an imbalance in the body, it’s like the train getting stuck at the station. And if a train is stuck in the station long enough, it will have a ripple effect. On one side of that stuck train, there will be many trains stuck and waiting. On the other side, there will be none.
“Acupuncture needles balance the flow of energy in your body, keeping the trains moving so that the body’s physiology can function without disruption,” DiLibero says.
But there are other theories. According to a 2016 article in Harvard Health Publishing (HHP), acupuncture may relieve pain by releasing endorphins, the body's natural pain-killing chemicals, and by affecting the part of the brain that governs serotonin, a brain chemical involved with mood. Expanding on this explanation, DiLibero adds, “When an acupuncture needle is inserted into the human body and manipulated, a number of reactions occur which can help to improve sleep, lower stress, and balance metabolism.”
Though there is no definitive scientific evidence regarding acupuncture and peri/menopause symptoms, there are a number of promising studies. A small 2016 study found acupuncture caused a 36% decrease in hot flashes among participants. One small 2019 study found that 80% of participants felt that six weeks of acupuncture helped with their symptoms, especially hot flashes. And a small 2022 study found that acupuncture led to improved overall sleep quality.
How Often Should You Get Acupuncture?
It depends on the person, their lifestyle, medical history, and the severity and duration of their symptoms. But DiLibero generally recommends once or twice a week for four to eight weeks. Some patients start experiencing relief immediately, but for others it may take longer to get results. “Acupuncture is like prescription medicine in the sense that you can’t just take one pill and expect all symptoms to resolve; you need to stick with a course of treatment to make long-lasting changes,” DiLibero says.
Does Acupuncture Hurt?
If you’ve ever had anything injected into you or drawn out of you (for example, blood), you know that hypodermic needles can hurt because they are thick and hollow, and work by punching a hole in your body through which fluids can travel. However, acupuncture needles (which are also sterilized, single-use, disposable, and made of stainless steel) are fine and not hollow. “You could fit about 30 acupuncture needles into the opening of a hypodermic needle,” DiLibero says. “Most patients, even the needle-phobic, report feeling little to no sensation upon the insertion of acupuncture needles, as they are as fine as a human hair.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, a typical treatment uses 5 to 20 needles, which remain in place for 10 to 15 minutes.
Acupuncture points for menopause are located throughout the body, DiLibero says. One popular point, which is said to balance hormones, is “Spleen 6.” You can stimulate this point yourself at home with acupressure — it’s on the inside of the lower leg, about four finger widths above the inner ankle, between the muscle and the bone.
Is Acupuncture Useful After Menopause?
According to practitioners, the answer is a definitive yes. In fact, they say that acupuncture is useful for the entire life cycle. DiLibero says that some additional benefits of acupuncture her older patients receive include pain and mood management, decreased insomnia, and the regulation of digestive disorders.
The bottom line? Having an alternative or complement to Western pharmaceuticals can not only ease your physical pain, but it can also soothe your mind.
“When I had chemotherapy to treat my ovarian cancer, I also did acupuncture,” says Shieva Ghofrany, MD, of Coastal Obstetrics and Gynecology in Stamford, Connecticut, and co-creator of Tribe Called V. “I’m a big believer in an integrated approach. Why would you limit your options? Acupuncture has a lot of good data. It has been studied for hot flashes,” she says. “The hard part is that you need to commit to it, and most of us want a quicker fix.”
But if there’s one thing that growing older has taught us, it’s that quite often, good things come to those who wait.
Didi Gluck is a New York City-based writer and editor who has covered beauty, health, and fashion for more than 25 years. She has been the beauty and health director of Marie Claire, Shape, Real Simple, Redbook, and MORE, and contributed to InStyle, Allure, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Travel & Leisure, Town and Country, Better Homes and Gardens, Popsugar, and Southern Living.