This is cool.
Learning how to visualize being near a lake or a mountain where you feel a cool breeze, a gentle rain or light snowflakes on your skin reduces hot flashes.
How does it work? Medical hypnosis.
We’re not talking about the “you’re getting sleepy,” dangling a pocket watch stereotype that you see in old movies, but clinically established medical therapy that you can do yourself. With this sort of hypnosis, you are always conscious of what’s going on. You’ll simply learn how to put yourself into a very relaxed state…and influence your own body in profound ways.
If you’re a woman going through the menopause transition, you’ll be able to do it at the very moment you need it—when your heart starts to beat faster, your face and body flush, and you start to sweat. A hot flash is coming.
A drug-free treatment is particularly welcome news for the millions of American women who are shying away from hormone therapy, which is undoubtedly effective treatment for hot flashes but increases the risk for blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, breast cancer and gall bladder disease.
They want a safe and effective alternative. Now, they have one.
THE CASE FOR HYPNOSIS GETS STRONGER
To learn more about medical hypnosis for hot flashes, we caught up with Gary Elkins, PhD, director of the Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Back in 2009, we covered his pilot study of 26 women treated for breast cancer who took drugs that brought on menopause suddenly. Hypnosis led to fewer hot flashes.
Now he’s shown its effectiveness in a larger, randomized, placebo-controlled study of 187 women who underwent menopause naturally. That kind of study is the gold standard of medical research. The women in the study were really suffering from hot flashes—at least seven a day. None were taking hormones or supplements for hot flashes.
The hypnosis group attended five weekly training sessions. In each 45-minute session, they learned how to use mental imagery to elicit feelings of coolness, being in a safe place and relaxing. They were given CDs to use at home to practice self hypnosis.
The control (placebo) group also had weekly sessions, but they were just given tips on dealing with symptoms and general encouragement and sent home with informational CDs about dealing with hot flashes.
All the women kept daily journals so they could record the frequency and severity of their hot flashes. For several 24-hour periods, they also wore devices on their skin that objectively measured hot flash frequency.
Results: The skin devices recorded that the hypnosis group had a 41% drop in hot flashes, and by week six, the women reported 64% fewer hot flashes and a 71% drop in severity. For the placebo group, there was a 7% increase in device-recorded hot flashes, a 7% drop in self-reported hot flashes and an 8% drop in severity.
Those are huge differences and clearly show a benefit from the self-guided imagery.
The benefits were sustained, too. Six weeks after the hypnosis training sessions ended, the women in the hypnosis group, who still practiced daily, reported 74% fewer hot flashes than at the beginning of the study (compared with 17% for controls). Their sleep improved, too—which maybe isn’t so surprising, since hypnosis is named for Hypnos—the Greek god of sleep.
Exactly how hypnosis reduces hot flashes isn’t known, but researchers have some clues. One theory is that the regular practice of hypnosis may improve the functioning of a part of the central nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system—which affects both heart rate and temperature control. In other words, you’re learning to have an effect on a body system that is usually beyond conscious control.
HOW TO GET STARTED WITH MEDICAL HYPNOSIS
Will hypnosis work for any woman who gets hot flashes? There’s no guarantee, but “everyone has some degree of hypnotic ability or hypnotizability,” Dr. Elkins says. “We found that people who were high in hypnotizability achieved reduction in hot flashes very quickly—within a week or two—while women in the lower range needed a few more weeks of hypnosis sessions.”
An essential part of the program, he explains, is daily practice of hypnotic relaxation using audio recordings. “With daily practice, hot flashes become less frequent and less severe,” he says. “After hot flashes have been significantly reduced, hypnosis can be used on an as-needed basis.”
Typically, training sessions last about an hour and cost between $100 and $300, and most people need about four to 10 sessions, plus home practice. Learn more, including what happens during hypnosis training, in Bottom Line’s Time to Try Medical Hypnosis. To find a health professional trained in hypnosis, go to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. Dr. Elkin has also written an explanatory article for the public, The 13 Steps of Hypnotic Relaxation Therapy for Hot Flashes.
For more on drug-free approaches to menopause, see Bottom Line’s Menopause Central: Your Guide to Part 2 of Your Life.
HELP FOR MORE THAN HOT FLASHES
Medical hypnosis can also be effective for many other health concerns—weight loss, pain management, quitting smoking and treatment of tension headaches, allergies, asthma, chemotherapy nausea and anxiety. Learn more in Bottom Line’s guide, Hypnosis: Drug-Free Help That Really Works.