Study: Hypnotherapy Reduces Hot Flashes

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Learning how to find a mental "safe place" cut hot flashes by 75 percent.

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PROBLEM: When menopausal women say they'll do anything to relieve their hot flashes, many do mean anything, including alternative therapies that they might not otherwise consider.

METHODOLOGY: Researchers at Baylor, Indiana, and U.T. Austin conducted a randomized, controlled study (a rarity for alternative medicine). About half of their 187 subjects underwent hypnotherapy, while the other half was put through a similar placebo program that did not alter their consciousness.

Hypnotherapy involved five weekly sessions with experts who coached the women into creating mental images of coolness and relaxation. The placebo group got five weekly sessions that didn't amount to much more than an opportunity for them to chat about how horrible hot flashes were.

The women recorded the frequency and severity of their hot flashes in journals. They were also hooked up to skin conductance monitors to get more objective data.

RESULTS: After twelve weeks, the women who had been hypnotized reported experiencing 75 percent fewer hot flashes; their skin monitors recorded a reduction of 57 percent. The control group only reported a 13 percent reduction, which the skin monitors confirmed. The hypnotherapy group also reported that, due to the reduction in hot flashes, they were sleeping better and experiencing less disruption in their lives.

IMPLICATIONS: It's unclear how, exactly, hypnotherapy helps hot flashes, but the results from the skin monitors suggest that the effects aren't just imagined. The researchers think that hypnotherapy may influence the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for unconsciously slowing the heart rate and reducing sweat.

The full study will be published in the journal Menopause.

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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