Relaxing music cuts hot flashes by one third

More than half of US women have to deal with hot flashes during menopause. Unfortunately, drugs to help reduce hot flashes either have major side effects (like increasing cancer risk!) or aren't very effective. So, researchers at University of California San Francisco set about testing a novel, non-pharmaceutical approach to decreasing the number of hot flashes women experience. Their findings were published in the Green Journal in May 2015.

They recruited 123 women to participate in the trial. All of the women received a device that looked identical, but half of the devices were programmed to train users to slow their breathing. The device is called RESPeRATE and is FDA approved to aid in the treatment of high blood pressure. The other half of devices played relaxing, non-rhythmic music. This very cool little piece of technology can record how quickly a user is breathing as well as how often and how long a person uses the device.

It was no surprise to the researchers that after 12 weeks of using this device for at least 15 minutes per day, the women in the Breathing Training arm were breathing slower. Their breathing rates dropped from 12.7 breaths per minute to 8.5 breaths per minute during the sessions. The breathing rate of the women who were listening to music was largely unchanged at about 13 breaths per minute. 

Here is the surprise: the women who listened to music had a significant drop in the number of hot flashes they experienced each day, and this drop was significantly better than the Breathing Training group. The music group had 35% fewer hot flashes and 44% fewer moderate-to-severe hot flashes. The Breathing Training group had 21% fewer hot flashes, which wasn't enough of a difference to be "statistically significant" (meaning the reduction could just be due to chance).

These findings support two other randomized trials in 2013 (by Carpenter & Sood) that did not find an improvement in hot flashes with breathing training compared with their control groups.

The Take Home Message: Setting aside at least 15 minutes a day to sit quietly and listen to relaxing music helped reduce hot flashes by one-third for the women in this trial. If something as low risk as listening to music can help with this difficult problem, why not give it a try?