Mindfulness Training Benefits Women During Menopause

This study examines whether participation in an awareness program helps menopausal women cope better with the physical and emotional changes that occur during menopause. Volunteers troubled by menopause-related hot flashes and night sweats were randomly divided into experimental and control groups, and their basic discomforts were recorded. The experimental group, after a standard course in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) class, coped better with the changes in their lives. According to the authors, the data “suggest that MBSR may be a clinically significant resource in reducing the degree of bother and distress women experience from hot flashes and night sweats.”

During menopause, about 40 percent of women suffer from problems like mood fluctuations, hot flashes and loss of sleep, which disrupt their daily lives. Since publication of new reports about the possible health risks caused by hormonal therapies, more women are searching for a safer way to cope with the physical and emotional changes. Acute psychological reaction to physical symptoms makes it hard to record their actual severity. Attempts are being made to design behavioral treatments that will help menopausal women deal with the changes in their bodies. These treatments help increase understanding of the changes, learning to discriminate between the intensities of symptoms, and maintaining a psychological distance from them. This study tests the effect of the mindfulness training program (MBSR) on the ability to deal with menopause.

* In this study, 110 postmenopausal women or those entering menopause, bothered by frequent hot flashes and night sweats, were selected, based on their willingness to record symptoms and attend the MBSR class. They were randomly divided into experimental and control groups.
* The experimental group underwent intervention in MBSR class, where they learned to focus on each part of their body and understand the sensations experienced. Meditation and mindfulness exercises to understand the movements of the body were taught.
* Frequency and intensity of hot flashes, perceived stress, anxiety, quality of sleep, and life during intervention and for weeks afterwards were recorded in the volunteers. The data were analyzed statistically.

* The group that attended the MBSR class showed notably reduced distress due to hot flashes and night sweats, as compared to the control group. Stress and anxiety levels, which were above acceptable level scores prior to the MBSR participation, dropped after the training.
* There were clinically meaningful improvements in quality of life and sleep quality that were noted.
* The positive effects of MBSR class were maintained even after 20 weeks (11 weeks after the end of intervention).

Next steps/Shortcomings
The comparison between the two groups falls short, as the MBSR group also benefited from interaction with the class, while the control group was completely inactive. Drug studies have reported a placebo effect in reducing the intensity of the hot flashes. In this behavior-based training, no placebo effect was recorded. Most of the participants were educated Caucasian women and did not represent the larger society.

The study shows that understanding the body’s response to menopausal changes makes it easier to face them. Symptoms like hot flashes are made worse by stress and anxiety. Mindfulness training helps women distance themselves from the symptoms, and record their intensity more accurately. Though the frequency of hot flashes did not change after the training, their intensity was reduced. Participation in the training also improved the general sense of well-being and quality of life in menopausal women. Mindfulness training is less invasive yet as successful, if not more so, than a hormonal drug treatment, and it should be considered clinically significant.

For More Information:
Mindfulness Training for Coping with Hot Flashes: Results of a Randomized Trial
Publication Journal: Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Society, 2011
By James Francis Carmody, PhD; Sybil Crawford, PhD; University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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