In a new study, hypnosis helped to cut hot flashes by as much as 74 percent.
For the study, researchers randomly assigned postmenopausal women volunteers to hypnotherapy or “structured attention,” which was used as a control intervention with minimal effect.
The women who underwent hypnosis had five weekly sessions in which they received suggestions for mental images of coolness, a safe place, or relaxation, whatever their preference, according to the researchers. They also got an audio recording of a hypnotic induction and were asked to practice it daily.
The control group had five sessions in which a clinician discussed their symptoms, and provided attentive listening, interpersonal exchange, monitoring, measurement, and encouragement, while avoiding negative suggestions. The control group also got a recording that they were asked to listen to daily, but this one had information about hot flashes.
All the women kept diaries that tracked hot flash frequency and severity, and they also had hot flash frequency measured objectively by a skin conductance monitor.
After 12 weeks, the women who underwent hypnosis reported 75 percent fewer hot flashes, compared with 13 percent fewer among the controls, and an 80 percent reduction in hot flash scores (a combination of frequency and severity), compared with 15 percent in controls, according to the researchers.
Skin conductance showed a 57 percent reduction in hot flashes for the women who underwent hypnosis, compared with 10 percent in the controls.
The hypnosis participants also reported significantly less interference with their lives from hot flashes and better sleep, according to the researchers.
How hypnosis eases hot flashes isn’t clear, the researchers admit. They speculate that it may be because hypnosis may improve the function of the parasympathetic nervous system, popularly called the “rest and digest” system. This system is thought to put the brakes on the sympathetic or “fight or flight” nervous system that controls body functions that ramp up during hot flashes, such as sweating and heart rate.
Researchers from three different institutions were involved: the Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory at Baylor University, Waco, Texas; the School of Nursing at Indiana University in Indianapolis; and the College of Education at the University of Texas, Austin.
The study was published in Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society.