When my hot flashes started, at age 48, they didn’t creep up on me slowly: They were a burning sledge hammer that hit about four or five times an hour throughout the day. Wham! I’d slip off my sweater and flick on the little fan under the desk in my office. Shiver! The sweat cooled down, and, clammy and chilled, I’d put the sweater back on and turn off the fan. Fifteen minutes later: Wham! All over again.
My hot flashes were a burning sledge hammer that hit about four or five times an hour throughout the day.
Bothersome, uncomfortable, embarrassing—all of those things made worse by what accompanied these heat tsunamis. A few times a day, I’d also get a sudden blood sugar plunge. I’m hypoglycemic and have controlled it well through the years by eating often and carefully, almost completely avoiding the awful sensation of a drop—a lightheaded, shaky, anxious, nauseous, and completely dim-witted (the brain basically runs on glucose) feeling. Usually when my blood sugar sinks, I get warning signs, but there was no build-up to these plunges; they smashed like a truck, and I had to sit very still and wait for them to pass. What would happen, I worried, if one hit while I was in a meeting….or worse, driving?
I tried all the recommendations to control hot flashes—black cohosh, evening primrose, vitamin E, even Prozac for a while. Nope. The cycle of hot-shivery-hot-shivery-hot + blood-sugar-drop-shivery continued.
Six months or so into my own personal Hades, I was sitting at lunch with a work acquaintance who has a few years on me. After my fifth round of take-off-sweater/put-on-sweater, she grabbed a napkin, scrawled something on it, and handed it to me. “That’s my acupuncturist,” she said. “Call her.”
Acupuncture for Hot Flashes: Not My Mother’s Needle Point
Three days later, I was sitting across from Shirley, and she was peering at my tongue. For a long time. In Chinese medicine, she explained, the look of the tongue is an important indicator of the body’s health and harmony. (For the record, Shirley wasn’t Chinese—in fact, she reminded me of one of my suburban mom’s bridge partners.) And then she took my pulse. She would do these two things at every appointment. They were the diagnostic tools that would help her figure out where to place the needles.
I just felt a slight pricking sensation plus an inner “Eeeew” when she put some on my face.
After a long and detailed interrogation about my health, Shirley ushered me into her treatment room and had me lie on my back on the table. She showed me the needles. I don’t have a particular aversion to them, but was glad to see they were teensy and thin. And I admit: I closed my eyes while she inserted them. She seemed to be going in a specific pattern—my right hand, my belly, my left ankle, my right calf, my left hand….I lost track. It didn’t hurt at all; I just felt a slight pricking sensation (plus an inner “Eeeew” when she put some on my face). Then she told me to lie still for about 20 minutes, dimmed the lights and put on that droning/chanting music you hear in spa dressing rooms, and left.
Finding the Zone
For the first few minutes, I lay stiff and frozen, thinking, THERE ARE NEEDLES STICKING IN ME THERE ARE NEEDLES STICKING IN ME THERE ARE NEEDLES STICKING IN ME. And then, my body relaxed. Soon, I was in a zone, a deep floating zone, and I saw lights and moving shapes behind my eyelids. I’ve never had that feeling, of being there and somewhere else, with no real sense of time or place. It was lovely and calm and slow. And then gently, Shirley touched my arm, brought me back to the surface, and removed the needles. She told me to sit up slowly and said I might feel spacey for a little while, and then I floated home.
Some experts think it’s the placebo effect—but don’t you have to believe that something is legit at the start for that to work?
Here’s the crazy thing: My hot flashes stopped that day. VAMOOSE, they were gone. For six months, not a single hot flash, and no blood sugar madness. I saw Shirley about once a month during that time, and though I continued for a while longer, the flashes returned—but they were very mild and only hit a couple times a day, with no blood-sugar drops. And then life got busy and the flashes were manageable, so I stopped the treatments.
I can’t explain why acupuncture for hot flashes worked, and I still think the whole thing is a bit woo-woo. There doesn’t seem to be much research on the topic; some experts think it’s the placebo effect—but don’t you have to believe that something is legit at the start for that to work?
All I know is: I loved it. And for me, it took away the fire.