December 3, 2012 / 12:10 AM / 5 years ago

Study links relaxation method to reduced hot flashes

Dec 3 (Reuters) - Studies of the effects of relaxation techniques on menopause symptoms have yielded mixed results so far, but a study from Sweden comes down in favor of the approach as an alternative to hormone therapy.

Postmenopausal women trained to relax before and during the onset of hot flashes cut the frequency of those events in half during the three-month trial, researchers wrote in the journal Menopause. Women in a comparison group that got no treatments experienced little change in their symptoms.

Hormone replacement therapy is thought to help by stabilizing the hormone fluctuations of the years just before and after menopause, but not all women can take hormones because of other health conditions or risk factors. Many don’t want to because of possible risks from the hormones themselves.

“Applied relaxation can be used to treat vasomotor symptoms (such as hot flashes) in postmenopausal women,” wrote lead author Lotta Lindh-Astrand of Linkoping University.

Lindh-Astrand and her colleagues set out to test the effects on menopausal hot flashes and quality of life of a method called applied relaxation that was developed in Sweden in the 1980s, based on cognitive behavior therapy.

The researchers recruited 60 healthy Swedish women and randomly assigned a little more than half to practice applied relaxation and the rest to a comparison group that received no treatment. The women, mostly in their fifties, had all stopped menstruating a year or more earlier but still experienced hot flashes or night sweats.

The 33 women in the therapy group learned to focus on breathing and releasing muscle tension before and during hot flashes.

For the first week, the women observed and recorded what they felt before and during a hot flash or other menopausal symptom. Next, they were encouraged to spend 15 minutes twice a day tensing and relaxing muscles from head to toe, Gradually, they learned how to decrease the time needed to relax by focusing on controlled breathing and not tensing the muscles.

Toward the end of the study, the women were instructed to practice relaxation 20 times a day in 30-second sessions. The final “homework” exercise required the women to use these breathing and relaxation skills to quickly relax during a hot flash situation.

At the beginning of the study, all participants experienced an average of 10 hot flashes a day. After three months, researchers reported that the applied relaxation group had an average of four flashes a day while the comparison group averaged eight. They also found improvements in sleep and aches and pains, among women in the relaxation group.

“The results tell you that yes, this seems to work,” said Kim Innes of West Virginia University, who has studied mind-body therapies for menopause systems but was not involved in the study.”This was a moderate-sized trial that yielded promising - although not definitive - findings regarding the efficacy of applied relaxation.”

Innes and other researchers said the mechanism behind mind-body therapies and their effect on menopausal symptoms is not compeltely understood, but it could be linked to the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for "fight or flight" responses as well as basic functions like heart rate, blood pressure and sweating. (Reporting from New York by Kathleen Raven at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies)

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