Estrogen is no longer the preferred therapy because recent, large studies have shown that the hormone increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer and Alzheimer's disease for some women. Given that news, millions of women have abandoned hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and are seeking other ways to ease symptoms. So-called natural remedies such as soy, herbal products or acupuncture have not proven safe or effective at this point.
The latest Rochester study is the first to compare gabapentin and estrogen head-to-head against a placebo. Although it showed a substantial placebo effect similar to other menopause studies women taking the sugar pill reported a 54-percent reduction in hot flashes the women taking gabapentin and estrogen reported even better results, with a 71 percent to 72 percent decline in symptoms.
"Gabapentin does appear to be as effective as estrogen," said lead author Sireesha Y. Reddy, M.D., assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "Until now its efficacy relative to estrogen was unknown."
Approximately 75 percent of postmenopausal women between the ages of 35 and 60 experience hot flashes. Gabapentin (sold under the trade name Neurontin) was approved by the FDA in 1994 to treat epileptic seizures but has been used off-label for years to treat headaches, shingles pain and other ailments. Scientists hypothesize that gabapentin may reduce hot flashes by regulating the flow of calcium in and out of cells, which is one mechanism for controlling body temperature.