For over 3,000 years acupuncture has been used to prevent and manage disease. Although originally practiced in ancient China as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture has become increasingly popular in the Western World. But can this millennia-old treatment alleviate symptomatic uterine fibroids?
In terms of Traditional Chinese Medicine, uterine fibroids are nothing new. Dating back to the third century BCE, healers referred to these noncancerous growths in primitive texts as a category of Zheng Xia—translated as masses in the uterus with a feeling of pain, fullness, and bleeding.1
Thousands of years later, uterine fibroids are still found to affect 20-80 percent of women by age 50.2 Even though the majority of fibroid cases show no symptoms, a small percentage of women suffer from this debilitating condition, leaving them to look for any and all available treatment options.
At the Beijing Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital of the Capital Medical University in Beijing, China, Y. Zhang of the Department of Acupuncture and a team of researchers investigated the benefits and harms of acupuncture in women with fibroids.
Collecting studies from nine electronic databases, the team published their results in The Cochrane Collaboration.3 Overall, 106 studies were found—but none were included in the final literature review because all were lacking quality research and data.
The authors concluded that there currently isn’t high quality evidence available to support the efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of uterine fibroids.
Despite collective data such as this, research like the Study of Pelvic Problems, Hysterectomy, and Intervention Alternatives (SOPHIA)4 shed light on acupuncture as a possible treatment option. V.L. Jacoby of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, studied 933 premenopausal women ages 31-54 years with symptomatic fibroids for an average of approximately 4 years.
Through annual interviews, Jacoby and her team gathered information about the use of fibroid treatments and compared data for women who underwent uterus-preserving surgery with those who didn’t.
At the end of the study, 36-43 percent of women who tried complementary alternative treatments, including the 15 percent who underwent acupuncture, found it to greatly improve symptoms.
The authors did not investigate the effects of acupuncture alone, but concluded that many women use complementary treatments and report significant improvement with few side effects.
It’s still not fully understood how alternative treatments like acupuncture improve symptoms, but theories do exist.
The idea surrounding acupuncture’s success is grounded in the belief that the needles penetrate specific points, stimulating meridians or energy pathways that flow throughout the body. This way, acupuncture helps the body to regulate and correct any energy blockages, leading it back to a balanced state.5
From a biological standpoint, these acupuncture points may stimulate the brain and the spinal cord to release chemicals that help the body to self-regulate, heal, and support overall well-being.5
How acupuncture may treat symptomatic fibroids is no different. Fibroids are thought to be stimulated by sex hormones and growth proteins. Researchers speculate that acupuncture can help regulate the glands and systems that play a role in producing and secreting these hormones.3
In 1996, the FDA approved acupuncture needles for single use by licensed practitioners. If proper protocol is followed, acupuncture has very few complications. However, because health complications have occurred from inappropriate needle use, the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture encourages finding a licensed acupuncture practitioner either through your primary doctor or national referral organizations.5
Currently, more quality long-term studies are needed to conclude if and how acupuncture works to treat symptomatic fibroids. Whether acupuncture’s success can be attributed to science or simply the placebo effect—it’s best to first discuss any and all alternative treatment options with your primary care provider.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Alicia Armeli is a Health Freelance Writer and Photographer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Certified Holistic Life Coach. She has master’s degrees in English Education and Nutrition. Through her writing, she empowers readers to live optimally by building awareness surrounding issues that impact health and wellbeing. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad and volunteering within her community.
1.Zhou, J., & Qu, F. (2009). Treating gynaecological disorders with traditional Chinese medicine: a review. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, 6(4): 494-517.
2.Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2015). Uterine Fibroids Fact Sheet. Retrieved March 30, 2016, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/uterine-fibroids.html
3.Zhang, Y., Peng, W., Clarke, J., & Liu, Z. (2010). Acupuncture for uterine fibroids (review). The Cochrane Collaboration. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007221.pub2. Retrieved March 29, 2016, from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Zhishun_Liu/publication/41103940_Acupuncture_for_uterine_fibroids/links/00b7d537234444486a000000.pdf
4.Jacoby, V. L., Jacoby, A., Learman, L. A., Schembri, M., Gregorich, S. E., Jackson, R., & Kuppermann, M. (2014). Use of medical, surgical, and complementary treatments almon women with fibroids. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 182: 220-225. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2014.09.004
5.American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. (2016). NCCAM Acupuncture Information. Retrieved March 28, 2016, from