Menopausal women who practice yoga may experience more relief from symptoms like night sweats and hot flashes than their peers who don’t do this type of exercise, a review of existing research suggests.
The study team examined data on 1,306 women in 13 different clinical trials that randomly assigned some participants to practice yoga and others to get no treatment or to try a different type of intervention such as health education or other forms of exercise. All of the women suffered from menopause symptoms at the beginning of the trials.
Yoga was better than no treatment at reducing total menopause symptoms, anxiety related to symptoms, hot flashes and night sweats, and vaginal dryness and pain during sex, the study found.
“There were already clear hints from earlier studies that yoga might be good for relieving menopause-related psychological symptoms such as mood swings, depression or sleep problems,” said lead study author Holger Cramer, research director of the department of internal and integrative medicine at Kliniken Essen-Mitte and the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany.
“Based on the new data, yoga can also effectively relieve physical symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue or bladder problems,” Cramer said by email. “This indicates a potentially beneficial effect of yoga for all women with menopausal symptoms.”
Women go through menopause when they stop menstruating, which typically happens between ages 45 and 55. As the ovaries curb production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone in the years leading up to menopause and afterward, women can experience symptoms ranging from vaginal dryness to mood swings, joint pain and insomnia.
In the current study, yoga was better than other types of exercise for so-called vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats.
Yoga was also better for overall menopause symptoms than health education.
The analysis included four clinical trials from the U.S., three from India, two each from Brazil and China, and one each from Germany and South Korea.
Half of these studies included at least 54 participants, although they ranged in size from 30 to 355 women.
The small trials ranged in length from 4 to 16 weeks and had women practice yoga or do other interventions anywhere from 1 to 14 times weekly.
Women who did yoga in the trials tried a variety of different forms, including hatha yoga that focuses on breathing and meditation and Iyengar yoga, which concentrates on body alignment.
One limitation of the study is that the variety of approaches to yoga used in different trials made it difficult to determine what type of practice might help most with menopause symptoms, the authors note in Maturitas.
Even so, the results offer fresh evidence of the potential for yoga to help with menopause symptoms, said Dr. James Stahl of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Geisel School of Medicine Lebanon, New Hampshire.
“All of the mind-body tools, yoga, acupuncture, qi gong, and meditation probably work through multiple mechanisms - through remodeling how the mind-body perceives sensations and signals, how the mind-body responds to those stimuli and finally through helping set or reset the mind-body’s steady state,” Stahl, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.
Because yoga is a relatively low-risk physical activity that can be easily adapted to different fitness levels, patients should consider it for symptom relief, said Dr. Rachael Polis, a researcher at Crozer-Keystone Health System headquartered in Springfield, Pennsylvania.
“Yoga is relatively low-impact, inexpensive, can be practiced anywhere, and during any time of day,” Polis, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.
“For this reason, it’s a great early intervention for patients to attempt,” Polis added. “I do recommend someone new to yoga take classes with a well-trained instructor who can teach correct body alignment and suggest posture modifications when needed.”