Acupuncture is the practice of using thin, sterile needles inserted in various parts of the body that correspond to specific acupoints on the body. While acupuncture has been found to be effective in the reduction of symptoms related to physical diseases, could it also be beneficial in mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression?
Acupuncture and Depression.
In traditional Western medical circles, depression is often treated with psychotherapy and antidepressant medications. Increasingly, however, patients are turning to alternative medical therapies, such as acupuncture, for the management of their symptoms.
According to an article in Scientific American, there has been one new study looking into the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating depression. It was found that not only did acupuncture decrease the depressive symptoms but also it decreased the side effects from taking antidepressants.
Acupoints On The Body.
There are more than 2000 acupoints located in the body. The acupuncture needles are inserted in acupuncture sites that are believed to correlate with certain organs of the body. Western medical experts believe that the addition of acupuncture needles might stimulate endorphins in the brain, which the natural painkillers are made by certain parts of the brain. Endorphins are believed to also increase feelings of wellbeing so that depressive symptoms are less prominent.
There was a recent study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine indicating that electro-acupuncture, which is the practice of putting a small electric current on the acupuncture needles, was as effective as the antidepressant Prozac. in the management of depressive symptoms.
In the study, participants underwent electro-acupuncture for six weeks done five times per week. Others received a dose of Prozac every day. The scientists who performed the study were those that are experts in the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine. They assessed the depressive symptoms of all the participants at the beginning of the study and at two-week intervals. They also assessed the levels of a neuroprotective protein known as GDNF or glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor.
Prior studies to the study in question, other studies have indicated that there are lower amounts of GDNF in those patients who suffer from major depression. In other research studies, the level of GDNF increased after the participants took antidepressants for their symptoms.
After 6 weeks of treatment, both study groups had similar improvements in their depressive symptoms and both had a restoration of their levels of GDNF in the bloodstream. The acupuncture group had a faster improvement in their symptoms when compared to those who took the Prozac. This was especially borne out at the 2-week mark and at the 4-week mark after starting the various treatments.
Another study indicated that acupuncture not only improved depressive symptoms but it decreased the rate of sexual side effects often found when people take antidepressant medication. The study, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, lasted twelve weeks in which patients were randomized to take Prozac or have 12 weeks of acupuncture.
Acupuncture And Anxiety.
Anxiety is difficult to treat using Western methods of medical therapy. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can be used but they have side effects. In the same way, benzodiazepines can be used; however, they can be addictive and aren’t recommended for long periods of time.
According to practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is energy within the body known as qi energy that regulates the health of the body. It passes through energy “highways” known as meridians. When negative life influences, such as poor nutrition, stress, environmental changes, or injury occur, this disrupts the flow of qi energy, leading to diseases like anxiety.
Qi energy is, according to practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine, is nothing more than the metabolism described by Western scientists. Trained acupuncturists insert the acupuncture needles extremely close to the nerves of the body. Depending on where the needles are placed, the CNS can produce endorphins that control emotions like anxiety.
In a study out of the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies in October of 2013, participants who took part in acupuncture sessions lasting 20 minutes each had less anxiety and an improvement in their memory when compared to participants who didn’t undergo acupuncture.
It is believed to work because acupuncture allows the individual to take back control over the body, reducing symptoms of anxiety. The results appear to be effective after even one acupuncture treatment as long as the acupuncturist places the needles in those places corresponding to the brain.