Over the years, numerous studies have found that acupuncture and the therapies of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are safe and effective methods for the treatment of anxiety and depression. Compared with pharmaceutical substances, studies suggest that one particular modality – acupuncture – is as or more effective than medicines, without the debilitating side effects associated with anti-depressants and anxiolytics.
Many studies have been conducted to determine if the therapies of TCM are viable, alternative treatments for anxiety and depression. Acupuncture in particular has been of keen interest for researchers. In the past, most studies have focused on clinical outcomes and have used subjective reporting scales to determine effectiveness. Pioneering studies such as the one done by the University of Arizona, have shown that acupuncture can be as or more effective than tricyclic anti-depressants like amyltriptaline in the treatment of depression. More recently, studies have included more objective measurements such as blood levels of neurotransmitters (epinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and endorphins), PET, fMRI, CAT scans in order to understand the mechanisms behind acupuncture’s effects. Evidence supports that cerebral changes in neurotransmitters as well as activation in areas of the brain that control our emotions are seen with the administration of acupuncture. These studies show that acupuncture can directly influence our moods via our physiology.
When one adds dietary therapy, nutritional and herbal supplementation, meditation, therapeutic movement (Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, etc), one can greatly enhance the chances for a successful therapeutic outcome. The addition of these therapies further supports production and utilization of neurotransmitters as well as healthy brain function. They accomplish this by providing necessary nutrients and minimizing negative impacts. For instance, B vitamins, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants are known to support brain and nerve health. The amino acid tryptophan or its cousin 5HTP are well known to support the production of serotonin. Herbs such as Kava Kava and St. John’s Wort have both been shown to help with anxiety and depression respectively. Avoiding the consumption of excessive amounts of simple sugars and instead eating complex carbohydrates has been known to improve mood by helping to balance blood sugar and therefore our emotions. Additionally, those with sensitivity to gluten find avoiding those foods to be helpful in supporting positive moods. Finally, exercise is a great way to help calm the mind by clearing out the extra amounts of adrenaline and cortisol that stress produces.
Another benefit of TCM is it’s general lack of side effects. Compared to pharmaceutical approaches in the treatment of mood disorders, which sometimes create a host of serious and debilitating side effects, TCM is very safe. This feature of TCM is often very attractive to those who don’t react well to conventional approaches. Given potential side effects, cost, addiction, and impact on quality of life, TCM seems to be a rational first-line approach for the treatment of mild, mood disorders.
The one potential negative aspect of treating mood disorders via natural medicine can be that the rate of improvement may be relatively slow and mild compared to a pharmaceutical intervention. Many people feel positive changes upon entering care under a TCM practitioner, but generally require longer course of treatments via acupuncture and herbs to see maximum effect. If a person is suffering from bad panic attacks or is feeling suicidal, TCM would not the first line treatment of choice in my opinion. It would be better medicine to offer a stronger pharmaceutical treatment and psychiatric intervention for immediate relief in an acute crisis. Then, one can consider using more gentle methods to create mental and emotional balance and harmony.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is a great choice for the treatment of anxiety and depression. If you would like further information check out my website at www.hughsacupuncture.com.